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19 February 2018
10 June 2015

Turkey is to have a defensive position

Turkey is to have a defensive position

For the last six months international news agencies have not ceased to release messages or otherwise associated with the organisation referred to as the "Islamic state". The rapid promotion of self-proclaimed followers of the Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was able to make a real chaos in the entire region, which has already been largely destabilised due to the "Arab spring" events. Although Turkey had considerable geopolitical ambitions regarding the entire Middle East region, its’ authorities placed the country in quite a difficult situation.

Last month the Turkish Parliament gave the go-ahead for conducting ground-based military operations against militants in Syria and Iraq. Since then, however, any further deployment of the troops never came on the Turkish side of the border with Syria. Some political experts tend to declare the position of Turkey in the foreign policy arena as extremely unconvincing. They seem to believe that the political leadership of the country itself has made it a hostage of a difficult situation.

To clarify the situation, the correspondent of the Internet portal IslamReview ( ) talked to the expert in the field of Turkish politics, PhD of political Sciences and Director of the Russian-Turkish scientific center of Russian state library of foreign literature named after M. I. Rudomino, Ilshat Saitov.

Turkey is to have a defensive position

According Ilshat Saitov, there exists a whole range of various reasons for a generally passive attitude of the Turkish government towards "Islamic state". Therefore, it is almost impossible to identify the main reason for that. Initially, Turkey headed the sponsorship of all the opposition to Bashar al-Assad forces. Among the opposition there were groups that later formed the organisation of "Islamic state of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) as well. The expert does not exclude the fact that among the current political elite in Turkey there are people who might not share the ISIL ideology, but at least sympathise with it and consider ISIL as a potential partner for Turkey. "No wonder that from time to time Iraqi Turkmen, for example, declare that they have caught the members of the Turkish intelligence going along with ISIL... And let us not forget about 49 Turkish hostages, which ISIL has held in captivity for a long time and then released under unknown conditions".

However, it is impossible to examine the relationship between the Turkish Republic and the "Islamic state" outside the context of the world politics and the political process in Turkey itself, said Ilshat Saitov.

"The real situation is much more complicated than the idea that some group is indiscriminately at war with everyone. In this respect, the Kurdish problem acts as one of the most crucial for Turkey. The Turkish government quite possibly keeps a low profile to let the two forces - the Kurds in Syria and militants of the "Islamic state"- just kill each other. One can understand such kind of approach as far as the national interests are concerned. After all, the Kurdistan workers' party which is a close partner of the Syrian Kurdish democratic Union Party was the main terrorist threat to Turkey for the last 30 years. Thousands of Turkish citizens became the victims of its’ activities during this period".

In Ilshat Saitov’s opinion, the Turkish authorities might want the Syrian Kurds suffer a final defeat. This might make the long-lasting negotiation process with the Kurdistan workers' party easier. Yet, this is quite ambiguous as well. Terrorist attacks, organised by the Kurds in response to the Turkish authorities inertness with regard to the "Islamic state" militants’ attacks at Chobani showed that the Kurdish liberation movement had new leaders. These leaders are not managed by the imprisoned Abdullah Ocalan, who the Turkish authorities are negotiating with.

Furthermore, we need to consider the geopolitical aspect of the problem associated with the relations between Turkey and the "Islamic state". According to the Internet portal IslamReview expert, Turkey seems to coordinate its actions with Washington. "Turkish authorities might want to integrate into the American project of the greater Middle East again, if not as the center of the Neoosman Empire, but at least as a coordinator between Kurdistan, ISIListan and other unnamed formations on behalf of the USA. However, due to the current power inability to deal with the foreign policy issues, the US does not seem to rely on Turkey only”.

The Americans are at a standstill themselves. The blows to the "Islamic state" positions are not severe at all. Obviously, no one genuinely intends to fight. Yet, mass media campaign against the radicals is huge. Ilshat Saitov says that this is bizarre, especially considering the fact that most of the people fighting in the "Islamic state" are former fighters of Saddam Baath, who had been trained by the Americans as well. Currently, among the extremists there are a lot of people who went through the Western training. So the following question arises: to which extent the West was honest when it claimed its negative attitude to the "Islamic State"?

Overall, the expert finds it quite difficult to define the prospective Turkish foreign policy. "The events in Syria and the political crisis within the country associated with the concentration of power in the hands of Erdogan and backsliding of the 2002-2010 reforms weakened Turkey’s position in the region", - said Ilshat Saitov. At the moment the Turkish authorities are busy with solving their own problems, such as Iraq-Syrian and Kurdish conflicts. Therefore, they are not following a somewhat coherent foreign policy.

On the top of all that, something needs to be done with regard to the Syrian and Kurdish refugees. According to some estimates, at the moment there are more than a million and half refugees in the country. In addition, political tensions associated with tightening the screws in the country and reducing the competition have negative economic consequences. All these circumstances make it very challenging to trace any coherent political strategy. Turkey will be not likely to establish an active foreign policy, but rather will have a defensive position.