Turkey’s Caution on ISIL War: “It’s far away for them but very close to us”

By Ali Murat Yel, Editor-in-Chief TurkeyAgenda

In the United States the public has difficulty in understanding the reluctance of Turkey to join the international coalition that is going to war in the heart of the Middle East. But the answer is simple: it is a matter of geography.

I still remember Turkish people’s reaction against the Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 started with an ultimatum of President George W. Bush (who claimed he received orders from God directly) to Saddam Hussein with a very profound aphorism: “Onlara ırak bize yakın”. The name of the state “Iraq” in Turkish means “far away” and the aphorism reads something like this: “Iraq is a far away [land] for them but very close to us”.

Nowadays we are hearing the “w” word again from the spokespersons of both the Pentagon and the White House that “they are at war with ISIS in the same way they are at war with al-Qaida and its affiliates. Yet again, we are alarmed by these statements far more than the previous cases as we have seen the consequences of earlier “operations” that had caused instability and insecurity in our region. This time the plan is striking the militant group ISIS in Syria and Iraqi borders which happen to be our neighbors as well.

Previous Western operations have left the Middle East in an irreversible mess. Everyone is fighting everybody else, whenever a group finds even a small opportunity attacking their centuries-old neighbors no matter whether they share the same ethnic or religious backgrounds, and every little group is trying to form their own nation-states or at least to hold greater power than they had previously. The American public should imagine themselves in a situation in which their vindictive and feuding next door neighbors are fighting other family members all the time inside the house. Rushing over to get in the middle of it might not be the best strategy.

In fact, Turkey is a NATO member and has been allied with the United States and is aspiring to be a member of the European Union. In other words, it has long since turned its face towards the West. Naturally Turkey is expected to contribute and support the forces fighting against all militant groups that have been brutally disturbing its neighbors. Yet, there are additional facts that we must take into consideration like 49 Turkish hostages held by these groups from among the diplomatic personnel at the Turkish consulate in Mosul. The problem here is not whether Turkey denounces the harsh ideology of these groups as has been questioned by the Western allies and partners– it certainly does.

Public opinion in Turkey holds that a Muslim cannot be a terrorist and any terrorist cannot be a Muslim. In other words, terrorism and Islam cannot be reconciled. This public conviction is certainly the real attitude of the President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has formed the Alliance of Civilizations with Spain against the expectation in some quarters of a “clash of civilizations” and has been trying to restore peace with different ethnic groups in Turkey. The President himself and the majority of Turkish people believe that terrorism could be defeated intellectually not through waging war on them.

Turkish foreign policy has been formed on the principle of “zero problems with neighbors” because we believe that stability in the region would only bring more peace and wealth. Violence begets more violence as we have been witnessing in recent decades in the region. Problems could be solved through negotiations and it is Turkey that has grasped this reality harshly after a 30-year struggle with local Kurdish rebels after a heavy cost of lives on both sides. In a similar vein, any operations coming from the outside would only worsen the situation in the Middle East as they have created a power vacuum in previous attempts.

Instead of an external military operation the local politicians and people should come together and find their own solution according to their own realities and circumstances. Outsiders cannot understand all the local realities like the ethnic origins, sectarian divisions, or the political or ideological power structures of these peoples. Turkey, finally, does not want to be in the position of going to war in another, neighboring Muslim country.

Ali Murat Yel is Editor-in-Chief TurkeyAgenda


Related video added by Juan Cole

Turkey’s Syria Border, Cooperation with US against ISIS

7 Responses

  1. Nadir Firat

    is Mr.Yel writing on the same Turkey which covertly transferred over 2000 truck loads of ammo and weapons to Syria?

  2. Ramin Safizadeh

    If it was just a matter of geography why have they been so directly involved against Assad–Syria is a neighboring country. This is bs.

    • Exactly. Only now that weak argument comes to play after the Syrian involvement. Article would’ve been more convincing if it argued about Turkey’s concern of the Turkish hostages rather than this claim.

      Seem to have forgotten when they allowed religious radical militants through and built up all the visible physical smuggling and terror networks. The Kurdish lip service is no good when they showed hesitation in helping out the besieged Syrian Kurds from the Islamist extremists, seeing them as more of a national interest threat. “Zero problems with neighbours”?

      AKP’s Islamist or sectarian tendencies kicked in seeing the optics of the conflict in Syria, a govt they had great ties with earlier but easily turned against (truthfully were right to be outraged with Assad after attempting diplomacy early on) and looking more and more as happily part of a militant coalition backed by religious or regional Sunni states.

      Only after attacks/bombings at the border, which included the very same militants they let through (who were upset with the Turkish govt for not satisfying their wishes on whatever) was there a shift in priority in controlling the border and restriction of foreign militants. Even that was too slow and needed Western pandering on sincerely cracking down on Sunni jihadists. I guess the kidnappings changed the rationale but doesn’t have the same zeal in confronting the powerful extremists they let through as they did against the Syrian regime.


      “Public opinion in Turkey holds that a Muslim cannot be a terrorist and any terrorist cannot be a Muslim. In other words, terrorism and Islam cannot be reconciled”

      I agree with the last point, but the earlier sentence generally highlights a narrative and thinking problem of not owning the fundamentalist crisis. It usually gets followed up with a denial or delusional conspiracy of ‘foreign hands’, but is a sincere (as difficult or frustrating it is to believe) sentiment against the terrorists….

  3. Byzantine complexity was one thing, when the weapons were a little less deadly and us humans had not so badly abused the planet we were given, destroying much of its resilience and extracting far more than our needs.

    Now, added to the mix are the kinds of careless idiots that populate the US Imperial Capital. Busily trying to play in a game where shifting alliances and false loyalties and all the ancient long-practiced tricks of “statecraft” and “politics’ in the old Middle-Far-Near East are beyond their comprehension and beyond the tools they unlimber to try to control outcomes (though a few oligarchs like Cheney successfully move the levers and dials to line their own pockets, and we are pretty good at destroying actual democracy and creating disorder.) Looking, as “we” do to the more competent players, like useful, clumsy, well-armed, but naive mercenaries (appropriated for and led by self-serving bureaucratic careerists and “supported” by a huge growing armaments industry) that are so easy to manipulate and deceive (Bibi and Sisi and Hamid and all that crowd, you know who you are).

    Do I have it right that the Turkish press is even more under the Ruler’s thumb than our own media lap dogs? As I read through the posted piece, and go back to the source (“TurkeyAgenda”) and look at what’s published there, e.g., link to turkeyagenda.com, is it not the case that this is just the kind of propaganda that comes out of the slippery mouths of people like Josh “You can believe every thing I say” Earnest, link to politico.com and certain columnists for the WaPo and New York Times (the latter at least maybe repenting for cheer-leading us into striking the Iraq Tarbaby — the NYT editors are maybe having doubts about “this time, second verse”: link to nytimes.com, and link to nytimes.com — and other Chicken Hawks and War Wimps too: link to huffingtonpost.com And of course this is no hit on Dr. Cole’s work, that also appears there.

    So what game is Erdogan actually playing? Or more properly, how many different games? What face is he showing? Where the hell do ordinary people, who have but a tiny bit of influence on direction and are so easily misled and misdirected by tugs on their fears and connections and loyalties and identities, turn to figure out what’s really in play and whether they can do a damn thing about keeping their ruling-idiot “betters,” who are “better” than them only by skills at kleptocracy and killing and power-gaining, from draining and killing them and their planet, all free from any consequences?

    All of this is possible only because ordinary people get up every morning to work to make the wealth that “our betters” are taking ever more of, in a race to the very bottom — link to globalchange.umich.edu And it presupposes that there will continue to be a game board to play on. Neither assumption may prove accurate.

  4. Complete BS. Turkey supported Al-Nusra just to take out Alawite Assad. Countries foreign policy became an extension of Erdogan’s Sunni bias.

    Turkey became Arabized and tribalized in the AKP years. Everybody knows this.

    Don’t forget that the idiot government allowed for 10s of diplomats be captured by IS in Iraq. We don’t know what happened to them and the government BANNED MEDIA from reporting on it.

    Worse is to come for my dear idiotic country.

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