YAIAR – Turkey’s dilemmas with ISIL (I)

Turkey’s dilemmas with ISIL (I)Turkey is facing several dilemmas with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). In a series of articles, I will try to analyze various aspects of this dilemmaTurkey and the emergence of ISILTurkey has been criticized for having facilitated the emergence of ISIL by turning a blind eye to potential adherents who use Turkey as a country of transit.

These criticisms are only partly justified, first because ISIL was going to emerge with or without the recruits who may have used Turkey as a country of transit. Second, the Western countries could have tightened, in the first place, their own passport control rather than complaining about Turkeyand#39s responsibility for having let them enter Syria from Turkey.

Third, apart from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq are also used as countries of transit.Turkey has a visa exemption agreement with Syria In other words, Turkish and Syrian citizens are able to cross the Turkish-Syrian border in either direction without a visa Therefore, the border crossing was not controlled very strictly.

Many members or recruits of the Salafi or jihadist organizations must have benefited from this lax control of the border crossing. This includes the adherents or recruits of ISIL coming from the European countries.

To what extent Turkeyand#39s eagerness to prevent the jihadists from joining the ranks of ISIL was genuine is difficult to measure, but the Turkish authorities maintained that they did not support ISIL deliberately. In fact, when Turkey was requested to prevent a suspect with Western citizenship from crossing the border into Syria, it did not fail to take immediate action to fulfill this request.

I do not want to justify Turkeyand#39s lax passport control practices, but there is definitely a lack of full cooperation. Mutual recrimination does not serve any purpose.

Three British schoolgirls who joined ISIL in mid-February, probably through Turkey, represent a case in point: The British authorities could not stop them from leaving the country. Turkey did not stop them from entering Turkey, because there was no reason to do so.

But, once in Turkey, they went to one of the Turkish provinces bordering Syria and crossed the border into Syria with the help of smugglers.Turkeyand#39s consulate general in MosulTurkey became more aware of the seriousness of the ISIL threat after the seizure of the Turkish Consulate General in Mosul together with 49 members of its staff.

Turkish authorities had to exert tremendous effort to secure the release of these hostages, who remained in the hands of ISIL for 101 days. The details of the deal between Turkey and ISIL have not been made public, and perhaps they will never be.

But the international press and media claimed that the release of several members of the terrorist organization serving prison sentences in Turkey may be a quid pro quo. Turkish authorities did not refer to such a deal, denied that any ransom was paid and confined their statement to saying that the release was achieved through painstaking efforts and negotiations.

Turkey may have thought at the beginning that, since ISIL is a radical Sunni organization, it would not dare engage in a direct confrontation with Turkey because it has no interest in antagonizing Turkey. This assessment turned out to be unrealistic in light of what happened in the Turkish Consulate in Mosul.

Turkey could not join the coalition of states to fight ISIL set up on Sept. 11 of last year in Jeddah because of the taking of Turkish hostages by ISIL, but instead promised cooperation with the US.

This was a legitimate excuse, and the US did not insist on Turkeyand#39s involvement.Turkey has other reasons that hold it back from taking an active part in the fight against ISIL.

One of them was the ISIL threat to the Turkish military contingent that was protecting a Turkish exclave within Syrian territory. The military detachment has since evacuated and relocated to a different place in Syria This removes another constraint to Turkeyand#39s cooperation with the US and the international coalition against ISIL.

In my next article I will try to analyze the implications of this relocation.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman