The Turkish AK Party and the Islamic State
Militant fighters take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria’s northern Raqqa province on June 30.(Photo: AP)
The Justice and Development Party-led (AK Party) Turkey will definitely raise the greatest difficulty to the US in its efforts to muster a “global coalition” against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) — which emerged in Iraq to declare an Islamic caliphate and engage in violent attacks in the name of Islam — with a view to adding not only international legitimacy, but also increased effectiveness to its current operations against ISIL.
In the meeting held in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah in the wake of NATO summit talks in the UK, certain Islamic countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, agreed in principle to cooperate in the fight against ISIL and they issued a declaration. However, Turkey refrained from signing this declaration.
US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry paid visits to Turkey one after another to discuss Turkey’s potential position regarding ISIL.
The final declaration of the International Conference on Peace and Security in Iraq, held in Paris on Monday, produced the international commitment to provide Iraq with various kinds of help, including military assistance.
Turkey: a prisoner of ISIL
The media reports suggest that Turkey has certain drawbacks to any potential operation against ISIL and won’t actively participate in the coalition, but will lend logistical support. Turkey’s avoidance of active participation in this operation helps to reinforce Western perceptions of potential links between the AK Party and ISIL.
The Turkish government cites certain “sensitive matters” as excuses for not lending active support to the operation.
One of these matters is certainly the case of 46 Turkish citizens, including diplomats, who were taken hostage by ISIL some 100 days ago. With this move, ISIL took not only our diplomats, but also the whole of Turkey hostage.
Given the fact that ISIL sticks to a violence-centered interpretation of Islam, and is not willing to tolerate any divergent interpretation, even by Muslims, Turkey needs to act more carefully in connection with the hostages. We don’t know if the Turkish authorities have taken any concrete steps toward rescuing these hostages during the period since their being captured. When we ask if there might be any talks conducted in secret with ISIL or assess the statements the families of the hostages make, we hardly feel that we can say there have been any such moves.
What’s at stake: just the hostages?
The AK Party’s sensitivity regarding the hostages is of course understandable, and can even be tolerated to a certain extent. But both the domestic and international public tend to question if the AK Party’s sensitivity is only due to the hostages. New pieces of intelligence or reports emerge every day.
One of the factors in the AK Party’s sensitivities regarding ISIL is that ISIL was one of the organizations the AK Party cooperated with in its plan to overthrow Bashar al-Assad, the president of Syria. Indeed, it is reported that in return for joining the international coalition against ISIL, Turkey wanted it to work toward the overthrowing of Assad.
The ruling AK Party’s hostility toward Assad — which has become part of its nature — has led to claims that the AK Party lends support to radical Islamic groups other than the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which is the legitimate representative of the Syrian opposition. Despite Turkey’s denials, claims that Turkey, along with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, is providing assistance to al-Qaeda-linked radical Islamic group the al-Nusra Front were and are hotly debated in the international media.
As it cooperated with al-Nusra until late 2013, ISIL has had its share of Turkey’s assistance. ISIL refused to comply with al-Qaeda leader Abu Mosab Zarkawi’s call to join al-Nusra and later moved the majority of its forces from Syria to Iraq.
What does the world think of the link between the AK Party and ISIL?
Currently, the world’s perceptions about the link between the AK Party and ISIL are no longer restricted to claims of unofficial assistance provided by the AK Party to ISIL. The world increasingly sees an ideological affinity between the two.
Although these two organizations have different interpretations of Islam, they justify their acts saying they are doing them in the name of Islam. The ruling AK Party refrains from labeling ISIL as a terrorist organization, and it has been trying to boost the public visibility of Islam using public resources. All these factors reinforce the world’s perceptions about the link between the AK Party and ISIL.
Actually, media outlets tend to disclose new documents with evidence of this link as well. Indeed, the Turkish authorities’ tolerance of ISIL’s activities near the common borders with Syria and Iraq, the flexibility afforded to Turks who want to join the ranks of ISIL, and the tolerance afforded to people and institutions that are ideologically close to ISIL are among the main reasons for the Western perceptions.
The AK Party’s sensitivity regarding ISIL can hardly be attributed to 46 hostages. Apparently, the AK Party believes in the end it can bring its Islamic identity into play to convince ISIL.
ISIL’s threat to Turkey
In some respects, Turkey’s inclusion in the US-led coalition seems inevitable. Turkey should become part of this coalition even if it is a passive member.
This means that the AK Party and its members will have to confront their own future and what sort of country they dream of having.
Will the AK Party’s “new Turkey” be a softer version of the “Islamic State” that ISIL has established? Or will it be a pluralist, liberal, democratic and secular country?
Unfortunately, just as ISIL challenges the West with its weapons, the AK Party does the same thing with its democratic legitimacy but with a softer tone. The AK Party uses this democratic legitimacy to introduce anti-democratic regulations. But it seeks to regulate not only Turkey, but also the entire world.
Intervention not enough
Let use try to answer the following question: will the US-led coalition’s intervention with ISIL be sufficient?
Such an intervention may undermine ISIL’s activities, but it won’t be enough to completely destroy it in the medium term. To eliminate ISIL as a terrorist organization, the primary course of action should be to destroy the causes that paved the way for its emergence. For instance, the Shiism-centered sectarian policies in Iraq must be abandoned and principles of equal citizenship and pluralism should be implemented. In this way, ISIL and similar organizations may become marginal and eventually disappear.
For any operation against ISIL to succeed, the Muslim countries which secretly lent support to such organizations must become part of this international coalition.
*Murat Aksoy is an author based in İstanbul.