Understanding Turkey's stance on ISIS

Published 18.09.2014 02:07

Forty-nine Turkish consulate officials are still held hostage by ISIS. Undoubtedly, this prevents Turkey from actively participating in the military coalition against ISIS

It has become clear whether Ankara will join the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) or not. The developments confirm what I wrote on Friday in this column. At the meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Turkey didn't sign the joint communique that also emphasized military measures against ISIS. Turkey didn't join the meeting held at the beginning of the week either. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel were told in detail during their visits to Ankara last week about Turkey's limits, red lines and that Turkey will not provide military assistance to the anti-ISIS coalition.

We can see that the U.S. thoroughly understood Turkey's stance and reasons. We can read this between the lines in statements made by Washington. Kerry said, "Within the coalition there are many ways that Turkey can help in this effort, and we will continue our conversations with our military and other experts spending time to define the specific role that Turkey will play." Marie Harf, the deputy spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of State said, "Each country will decide on their own what they would like to sign on to and what they would like to do, but I want to underscore they're [Turkey] our very close counterterrorism partner."

Despite these statements, various confusing news about Turkey's stance toward ISIS circulate on some international media outlets, some of which target Ankara. Among these news analyses and comments, the one conspicuously overstepping the mark was a piece titled "Our non-ally in Ankara" published in The Wall Street Journal. Some pieces published in The New York Times hinted that Turkey supports ISIS. Ankara still maintains silence about these comments made both in Turkey and abroad.

It never issues denial or comments about any news. The reason for this is not different from the reasons that caused it to stay out of the coalition against ISIS. A source says, "No matter what they say, we will remain silent about this issue. We will not speak through the press. We are already talking in plain terms in the talks with our allies. Our stance is very clear." Turkey has also shared this clear stance with the U.S. officials who visited Ankara.

According to that, there is no change whatsoever in Turkey's stance toward counter-terrorism. ISIS is considered a terrorist organization and Ankara doesn't set ISIS apart from other terrorist organizations. Ankara gives unconditional support to its allies in their fight, not only against ISIS, but also against every kind of terror in the region. Kerry and Hagel were unequivocally told about this.

So, what is Ankara worried about with regard to military operations against ISIS? There are three answers to this question. First of all, ISIS is holding 49 Turkish citizens from the Turkish consulate hostage and an operation against ISIS might endanger their lives. The second reason worrying Ankara is related to Turks doing business in Iraq as tens of thousands of Turks work in Iraq and such an operation might also make them targets for ISIS. Third, the coalition against ISIS doesn't produce basic solutions to the problems in the region. It doesn't address the causes that breed the chaos in the region. The operation against ISIS will probably minimize ISIS's activities, but it will not put an end to the chaos in the region. There is no guarantee that other actors maintained by the chaos in the region will not target Turkey when the coalition's operation against ISIS ends.

Everything else aside, Kerry and Hagel were also told about complaints. It's apparent that Ankara's allies have not fulfilled their responsibilities so far regarding threats from Syria. NATO member Turkey thinks it is left alone in an unstable region.

Turkey's views about former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's administration in Iraq and Bashar Assad's administration in Syria have been clear. These have been conveyed to allies from the start. Ankara's allies, particularly the U.S., converged on the same position with Turkey concerning these two issues, but delayed reaction toward regional realities has complicated the problems.

Despite hosting hundreds of thousands of Syrians, Turkey gets little if any support from the U.N., EU, and U.S. Ankara is shouldering this burden on its own. Allies have no humanitarian assistance plan at hand to relieve Turkey in the face of a new wave of refugees.

And here is one of the most critical issues. Some international media outlets accuse Turkey of "not preventing the passage of ISIS militants to Syria and Iraq." This issue came to the fore as well during talks with American officials. The one that complains during these talks is not the U.S., but Turkey. The reason for the complaint is that allies want ISIS militants to be sent back from Turkey. Countries like Germany, France, and Britain, where ISIS militants were born and raised, watch the militants leave their countries and head for Turkey. They leave them alone and then tell Turkey, "Such people will enter your country, stop them." Ankara cannot understand why these countries let ISIS militants leave their countries. Can you understand?

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