Turkey’s autocratic Islamist president, Tayyip Erdogan, has allowed Turkey’s border to become a passageway for jihadist fighters streaming into Syria to join ISIS and the al Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra.
Oil from fields in Iraq and Syria under ISIS control has been regularly transported into Turkey, and sold to black market traders at below international oil market prices. Turkey itself is reportedly a major buyer of the cheap black market oil. The income from ISIS’s oil sales through the black market, as much as $30 million a month, helps finance ISIS’s expansion, making Turkey one of ISIS’s key bankrollers and enablers.
Turkey has also allowed ISIS recruiting networks operating online and through religious study groups to flourish within its borders. Turkey’s Milliyet newspaper reported that as many as 3,000 Turks have joined ISIS. For a government that has cracked down harshly on Kurdish dissidents and on journalists reporting inside Turkey who dare to question Erdogan’s policies, Erdogan’s regime has not appeared to have discouraged ISIS recruitment within its borders or the flow of recruits from Turkey, and the flow of recruits from other countries traveling through Turkey, who are joining ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria.
Despite pressure from the United States, Erdogan has held back from making any significant contributions to the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition, fearing that Syria’s Assad regime and Kurds would benefit to Turkey’s detriment. Even after Turkey secured the release of its citizens held by ISIS – reportedly through a prisoner exchange with ISIS – Turkey is not acting like an active NATO partner.
Turkey may now decide to provide a show of token support to the coalition to humor Obama and win U.S. support for Turkey’s bid to become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council next year. However, the fact is that Erdogan is on the side of the jihadists and will use a seat on the Security Council to push an agenda that is both pro-Islamist and anti-Israel.
Erdogan’s active support of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood speaks for itself. And if there were any doubt where Erdogan’s sympathies lie, one only need to take a look at his speech to the United Nations General Assembly last week.
Instead of expressing moral outrage at the jihadists’ slaughters in Iraq and Syria, for example, Erdogan engaged in a gratuitous attack on Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who had responded to mass demonstrations in Egypt demanding an end to the theocracy that the jihadists were seeking to impose forcibly on Egyptian citizens. Erdogan was upset that his Muslim Brotherhood jihadist buddy Mohamed Morsi was no longer Egypt’s leader:
"The United Nations as well as the democratic countries have done nothing but watch the events such as overthrowing the elected president in Egypt and the killings of thousands of innocent people who want to defend their choice. And the person who carried out this coup is being legitimized. If we are going to defend people who come to power through coups, then I ask the question why we exist as the United Nations."
Erdogan’s pettiness was evidenced by reports that he refused to attend a luncheon hosted by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week when he learned he would be sitting at the same table as President Sisi.
Instead of playing a constructive role, like Egypt did, in trying to bring an end to the conflict in Gaza on terms that were not a complete give-away to Hamas’s demands, Erdogan did what he could to undermine Egypt’s efforts. He has previously referred to President Sisi as a “tyrant” who could not be trusted to broker a cease-fire.
Egypt's foreign ministry put out a statement after Erdogan’s General Assembly speech exposing Erdogan’s hidden agenda to restore the Ottoman Empire’s glory days of the past:
"There is no doubt that the fabrication of such lies and fabrications are not something strange that comes from the Turkish President, who is keen to provoke chaos to sow divisions in the Middle East region through its support for groups and terrorist organizations. Whether political support or funding or accommodation in order to harm the interests of the peoples of the region to achieve personal ambitions for the Turkish president and revive illusions of the past."
Erdogan told the Council on Foreign Relations, in a speech he delivered a day before his General Assembly address, that everything would have been hunky-dory if only the Ottoman Empire had remained intact. He said that “we see significant crises taking place in the Middle East and Eastern Europe today, and up until 100 years ago, these areas were governed from the Ottoman capital, Istanbul. The Palestinian issue, the problems in Iraq and Syria, Crimea, the Balkans are all issues that emerged following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire.”
Erdogan has in the past evoked the imagery of the Battle of Manzikert as a symbol for Turkish youth to look up to and emulate. The Battle of Manzikert occurred in 1071, when the Seljuk Turks decisively defeated the leading Christian power of that era, the Byzantine Empire.
In sum, Erdogan shares the same goal as ISIS – the restoral of an Islamic caliphate – even if they ultimately spar over who will control the caliphate.
Erdogan said in his General Assembly speech that Turkey stands against terrorism. But Erdogan’s concept of whom qualifies as a terrorist is focused on the Jewish state. “Israel is a terror state; they are creating a wave of terror with what they’re doing now,” he told CNN in an interview last July, referring to Israel’s military actions to defend its civilian population against Hamas’s rocket attacks and terror tunnels. “Right now, we are a member state of NATO and we are a country which acts within the framework together with our partners in NATO. We have an international identity, a character. We never got involved with terror – we have always fought against terror.”
Erdogan is engaging in taqiyya, the Islamic doctrine of deceit. Turkey, for example, actively supports Hamas, a jihadist group that engages in terror against civilians and is the offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood which Turkey supports as well. While denying in his remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations that he harbored any anti-Semitic feelings, Erdogan condemned Israel for what he called its ”massacres” in Gaza. He said the Palestinian issue “is an important issue that has an impact not just on the Palestinians, but on all the Muslims and everyone who has a conscience in the world.”
But Turkey’s “conscience” is very selective. Turkey has a double standard when it comes to the issue of “occupation” and “settlers.” While consistently condemning Israel for alleged occupation of Palestinian lands and allegedly illegal settlements, Turkey continues its own illegal occupation of northern Cyprus following its invasion of the island in 1974. Tens of thousands of mainland Turks have settled on Cypriote land that does not belong to them, under the protection of thousands of Turkish soldiers who do not belong in Cyprus.
At a UN press briefing by Republic of Cyprus President Nicos Anastasidades on September 26th, I asked him to comment on Turkey’s evident hypocrisy regarding the occupation and settlements issue, which it raises in every available forum with regards to Israel but evades when it comes to itself. President Anastasidades agreed that Turkey was displaying a double-standard. This exchange was later removed from an official UN video record of the press conference. Did Turkish officials, who several years ago made UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon apologize for an alleged incident involving an altercation between UN security personnel and Turkish personnel, demand a censoring of the video to remove the criticism of Turkey’s hypocrisy on the occupation and settlements issue? Given the Turkish government’s regular anti-press campaign of intimidation in its own country, it would not be surprising if they did, but we will probably never know for sure.
However, one thing is for sure. Turkey is not a reliable member of NATO or U.S. ally. Its president’s sympathies lie with the jihadists and the enemies of Western style democracy. If Turkey does not unequivocally change its ways, steps should be considered to end its membership in NATO and to re-align the U.S. strategic relationship in the region further away from Turkey.
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