Amid already controversial allegations that Turkey is aiding armed groups in the Syrian civil war, it has emerged that young men between 18 and 30 are being recruited to fight in Syria, mainly from the province of Adiyaman, but also from Bingol, Batman, Urfa, Diyarbakir and Bitlis. Al-Qaeda, Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, as well as pro-Assad groups, have established a presence in Adiyaman city, recruiting young men for jihad or in return for money and taking them to Syria via Kilis, Hatay and Sanliurfa in 15-strong groups.
About 200 people are said to have gone to Syria from Adiyaman alone. Relatives are touring camps in various regions in Syria to find their sons. Gang leaders ask for ransom or threaten to kill the recruits when families want to take their sons back. Yet, some have been able to bring their sons home. At the end of a lengthy investigation, we managed to find four families whose sons went to Syria.
Our first interview was with M.D., the father of twin brothers O.D. and M.G.D., who left home on Sept. 2, saying they were going to enroll in university.
Here is what M.D. said: “Last year, when my sons were preparing for the university exam, they used to go out at night on the pretext of studying. Their behavior began to change in time. They first grew beards and then began telling their sisters to cover their heads. When we discussed the Syrian civil war, they would get angry with me and say: ‘There are things you do not understand. You do not understand Islam. This is jihad and everybody must fight in jihad.’ One day I followed them and saw them going to the home of a fellow in the neighborhood who goes by the nickname ‘the Haji Butcher.’ When they came back, I asked them why they went there. They said they were meeting with a group of five to six people, called Redd-i Cuma [Friday rejection], to talk about religion and watch videos concerning Muslims. I cautioned them to not go there again. The boys kept performing prayer, but they never went to the mosque. They did not perform the Friday prayer, for instance. They rejected it. Those men tricked my sons by making them watch videos with violent content.”
M.D. recounted how he traveled to Aleppo in Syria and went from camp to camp until he tracked his sons down in a villa. “One day my sons telephoned to say they were in Syria, fighting. They said they were there for jihad and told me not to go after them. I went to the police to explain the situation, but they told me my sons were legally adults and did nothing. I went to Aleppo with a guide and toured six camps in four days. There were young men from Adiyaman, Bitlis and Bingol in the camps. I found both my sons in a camp in Aleppo. When I told the gang leader that I had come to take them back, he replied: ‘The boys are fighting for jihad here. Are you an infidel, since you are trying to stop them from jihad? If you show up again here, we’ll shoot and bury you on the spot.’ When I said I wanted to see the boys, he told me they would receive a 45-day training and once it was over, they could go to Adiyaman to see their family if they wished. I couldn’t bring my sons back,” M.D. said.
My son has a new name
M.T.A. is another father whose son went to Syria. He said his son, 23-year-old Y.A., left home two months ago for Istanbul to work, taking 500 Turkish lira [$250] with him. “I was told that after he went to Istanbul, my son returned to Adiyaman and stayed here two days and then went to Syria, joining the Ahrar al-Sham organization. Once I learned that, I went to Kilis with a guide. I paid the guide to go to Syria and bring my son back. When the guide returned, he told me that my son had joined Ahrar al-Sham and had gone to fight after completing training. The organization changed my son’s name to Abu Musa. I don’t know whether he is dead or alive. My only wish is that they bring my son home as soon as possible,” M.T.A. said, appealing for help from the authorities.
‘At the risk of my life’
F.B., for his part, was able to bring his son back. The 25-year-old A.B., married with two children, went to Syria via Hatay two months ago and joined a pro-Assad group. F.B. had to bargain for his son’s life and pay a ransom. Here is his account of what happened: “A month before Eid el-Fitr, my son suddenly vanished. I learned he went to Aleppo via Hatay. I decided to go to Syria to bring him back. I crossed to Syria from Kilis and paid 150 Turkish lira [$75] to someone to take me to the camps. In Aleppo, I learned that my son was in a camp called Abu Dijla. They let me see a commander there. I told him I had come to take my son home. The commander said my son had gone to fight and he knew nothing about him. I reacted defiantly and his men pointed their guns at me. At that moment, I fainted. When I came round, I saw my son walking toward me in a group of 50 men. They carried weapons and were clad in Arab robes. I passed out again at the sight. When I came back to my senses, they let me see another commander, who asked for a donation. I had only 200 Turkish lira [$100] left. They took the money and let my son go. As we were leaving the camp, I noticed that two boys, aged about 18, were looking at us. My son said they were also from Adiyaman. My son had been told he would be fighting against Assad, but that camp belonged to pro-Assad forces. I brought my son back at the risk of my life.”
The people of Adiyaman are uneasy about young men going to Syria. “We hear that some types are paying money to the youth as they organize them to go to Syria. This is scaring us all,” a shopkeeper said. Rumors in Adiyaman suggest even the existence of a gang taking young men to Syria. Yet, the governor’s office and police headquarters in Adiyaman refused to comment on our questions about the issue.