Nearly 40 countries, including those from the Middle East, have joined the U.S.-led coalition to fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), but Turkey did not sign the coalition's Jeddah communiqué.
Three factors stand out as the most effective part of Ankara's attitude. The first of them is that Turkey is the only country that has physical contact with ISIS-controlled areas among the other countries supporting the coalition. Therefore, Turkey is the country that is most subject to the risk of terrorist attacks. The second is Turkey's stance against the Bashar Assad regime that lost legitimacy by killing 200,000 of its civilians. Turkey cannot make sure and is deeply concerned about which elements will benefit from the military assistance and arms provided by the coalition for local forces in the region. The third, which was also considered as a major motivator behind Ankara's hesitation, was the situation of the 49 Turkish Consulate staff held hostage by ISIS during the days when the coalition's communiqué was agreed upon. Last week, however, Turkey secured the release of the hostages with a successful operation, removing this reason.
How Turkey will support the anti-ISIS coalition in the near future will become clearer following President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's visit to the U.S. However, there are those who criticize Ankara's plausible attitude and put forward some reasons that cannot be verified with solid evidence. Turkey's border with ISIS-controlled territory is hundreds of kilometers long. One fallacies is that Turkey does not want to side with an anti-Sunni terrorist organization block considering its regional prestige. The second and, perhaps the most ridiculous one is that the Turkish government does not regard ISIS as a big problem, or even worse, Turkey favors ISIS ideologically.
Let us analyze these arguments one by one. First of all, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government does not consider ISIS an Islamic organization, so it does not matter whether it is Sunni or not. Therefore, the assertion that Turkey is keeping quiet in the face of an organization that oppresses Muslims in order to appeal to those same Muslims is absurd. So far Turkey has supported many local elements belonging to Shiite groups in Egypt, Iraq, Syria and other Arab countries, meaning that Turkey chooses its regional allies not according to sect but to their democratic attitude against dictatorial regimes.
The claim that Ankara shares an ideological affinity with ISIS is a gross injustice imposed on the Turkish government, which has suffered most from ISIS. First of all, Turkey is the first country to have its share of ISIS attacks as the organization carried out bloody assaults in Turkey. Secondly, Turkey is the first country to strike ISIS positions. Third, until a few days ago, this structure was holding 49 Turkish diplomats and their families hostage. Fourth, the Turkish government formally declared ISIS a terror organization on Oct. 10, 2013. Fifth, Turkey's spurts to take security measures against those involved with ISIS are appreciated by the whole world. According to official data, more than 5,000 people from Europe and other countries have so far been deported on the grounds that they would join ISIS after passing through Turkey. Sixth, Turkey follows France and the U.K. in terms of the number of people that have joined ISIS. There are many items to be enumerated, but I do not think even these are enough to refute the arguments that there is neither any kind of affinity nor sympathy between these two incompatible groups.
The international community should leave aside these baseless slanders and should focus on real causes to receive Turkey's support. Turkey, which has opened its doors to more than 2 million Syrian refugees escaping Assad's atrocities, is also home to more than 150,000 people who fled from ISIS. This figure will increase further with the interference of the international community.
The responsibility assumed by Ankara is perhaps the hardest and the most crucial among the burdens on other countries by war. In short, Turkey has already joined the international community's fight against ISIS by shouldering the heaviest burden. Those who expect more of an effort from Ankara should push aside fallacies and start to talk about concrete solutions such as forming a buffer-zone for humanitarian purposes.