Turkey's Border Towns, Once Islamic State Allies, Struggle to Keep Out Jihadists

Turkey's Border Towns, Once Islamic State Allies, Struggle to Keep Out Jihadists

An extensive report by The Washington Post details how the Turkish government is attempting to fight off Islamic State jihadists on their border–and struggling to undo medical, military, and moral support that jihadists counted on for months in border towns near Syria.

The report, by Anthony Faiola and Souad Mekhennet, details what had been reported several times before, but mostly through rumor and Islamic State propaganda: towns in Turkey bordering Syria had functioned as safe havens for Islamic State fighters battling the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Residents of the town of Reyhanli explain to the Post that their hospitals used to provide triage care for wounded jihadists coming in from Syria. But their stores served for buying uniforms and necessary technology, like smart phones, to use in creating recruitment videos and capturing their most compelling mass murders.

Tamer Apis, a politician in the town, explains, “Turkey welcomed anyone against Assad, and now they are killing, spreading their disease, and we are all paying the price.” In addition to the Islamic State, mujahideen affiliated with the al-Nusra Front, a terror group operating mostly within Syrian borders, took advantage of Turkey’s hospitality.

Conversations previously published with jihadists affiliated with the Islamic State confirm that the villages near Syria in Turkey had functioned as sanctuaries for them. Speaking toThe Jerusalem Post last week, one jihadist thanked the people of Turkey for their hospitality: “Turkey paved the way for us. Had Turkey not shown such understanding for us, the Islamic State would not be in its current place.” The man, who was not named in the report, noted that Turkey had shown the Islamic State “affection,” and he confirmed the widespread use of Turkish medical facilities for recovery of terrorists returning from the front lines in Syria.

In addition to providing outside aid, the government of Turkey has confirmed that more than one thousands Turkish nationals have left the country to join the Islamic State in its quest to exterminate all but the most fundamentalist Sunni Muslims in Iraq and Syria.

The revelation of just how much help Turkey provided to the Islamic State brings into question the overtures by the Turkish government towards the Kurdish people and the commitment the government claims to eradicating Islamist terrorism. Turkey is a NATO country, and reports from the Kurdish news outlet Rudaw claim that Turkish authorities have vowed to help however they can to eradicate the Islamic State threat. The Rudaw report followed statements by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to Reuters, which confirmed that the government had already “sent thousands of tents as well as more than 200 trucks” to northern Iraq and promised further humanitarian aid to those suffering from the abuses of the Islamic State.

The aid would not only help Christians and Yazidis in Iraq, currently the targets of genocide, but it would help Kurdish residents who are aiming to fight off the jihadist threat. The Yazidis, who adhere to a religion based largely on Christianity and Islam, are mostly ethnic Kurds, despite their religion creating a separate community within the Kurdish minority. But Kurdish Peshmerga forces would also benefit from Turkey’s helping hand.

The Turkish government’s relationship with Kurds, who also claim a large area of Turkey, has always been wrought with strife. Current Prime Minister and President Elect Tayyip Erdogan attempted to win over Kurdish votes during his tenure by opening the government up to Kurdish inclusionary policy, particularly the integration of the Kurdish language into the Turkish education system. As The Wall Street Journal explains, the productive relationship between Turkey and Kurds, both in Turkey and abroad, is a recent phenomenon: “Turkey’s relations with Kurds were once one of the region’s most toxic relationships, as Ankara fought a three-decade war against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party that left more than 40,000 people dead.”

The government has publicly claimed that their goals are united now, however, in the wake of the Islamic State’s increasingly dangerous advances through Iraq. However, if reports of the safety awarded Islamic State fighters in Turkey are any indication, the government’s war on terror might have to begin on its own turf.

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