UN Security Council issues subtle warning to Turkey

A new UN resolution aiming to thwart the movement of Islamic State fighters across borders may pose a few problems for Turkey.

al-monitor Fighters of al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State carry their weapons during a parade in the Syrian town of Tel Abyad, near the border with Turkey, Jan. 2, 2014. Photo by REUTERS/Yaser Al-Khodor.

Topics covered

united nations, turkey, syria, security council, islamic state, border

Sep 26, 2014

On Sept. 24, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution whose implementation will be much debated in the future. It concerns Turkey on two aspects. The resolution calls for all member states to curtail the travel of those going abroad to train for or participate in terror operations, as well as ending recruitment efforts. Moreover, member states are responsible for preventing foreign fighters from entering or transiting through their territory. Since the resolution is under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, sanctions can be applied to countries that do not comply.

The council’s decision directly concerns Turkey from two angles. First, given the high number of fighters who continue to go to Iraq and Syria through Turkey, the Turkish government may well come under UN pressure in the next phase. Second, Turkey is the main route traveled by individuals going to fight with the Islamic State (IS) and in the ranks of many other Islamic jihad organizations. This could be another reason for pressure.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, fending off such criticism, made an announcement the day before the decision was adopted that Turkey had deported more than a thousand fighters from 75 countries since 2011. He added that Turkey has added about 6,000 potential fighters to a list of individuals banned from entering the country. But some of the fighters Turkey deported include those who were disillusioned in Syria and turned themselves in to Turkish or their own national authorities. Excluding the instances of those who gave themselves up, Turkey’s measures against foreign fighters transiting through the country are extremely meager.

We know such measures are not easy to take, and that someone arriving in the country with a valid passport doesn’t declare that he is en route to fight in the ranks of an Islamic organization in Syria. But it also a reality that until recently, the Turkish government had been very complacent on this issue. Until last year, the government actually perceived transit through its territory as a sign of support for the “just war” in Syria.

Another critical issue for Turkey — in addition to ending its status as a transit route for Islamic fighters going to Iraq and Syria — is to terminate recruitment operations for these organizations. Recruitment takes place with the knowledge of some bodies that are close to the government, such as nongovernmental organizations that operate under the guise of humanitarian assistance. About a year ago, international human rights organizations based along the border reported that Islamist Turkish nongovernmental organizations were transferring humanitarian assistance that was actually combat materiel. The Turkish state itself was caught secretly transporting to Syria three truckloads of ammunition — swept under the carpet as humanitarian assistance — so there is no reason for state supported nongovernmental organizations not to do the same.

If the Turkish government does not undertake a serious policy change and adopt appropriate measures, our NATO and UN memberships won’t protect us. This Security Council decision gives any country the right to issue a complaint regarding Turkey’s negligence, intentional or not.

Of course, we must be aware that the Security Council decision will enable governments to ban any kind of protest and solidarity action. Given the looseness of the concept of terror, can’t a state, for instance, ban the entry of individuals coming to protest, let’s say, a G-7 or World Trade Organization meeting? Some countries already impose such restrictions. Now they can legitimize them by referring to the Security Council decision. There is the danger of restricting basic rights and freedoms under the pretext of preventing terrorism. In Turkey, those who classified the Gezi Park protests as terror action refuse to classify the recruitment for Jabhat al-Nusra or assistance to IS militants as aiding terror.

In the current period, the government is trying hard to avoid saying, “Muslims are taking part in terror operations,” but it is coming under pressure from several directions.

Turkey’s foreign policy, which has been accused of discreetly supporting IS in Syria and Iraq to prevent the strengthening of the Kurds, is also charged with not reacting to recruitment activities of local radical organizations. Of course, behind these loud accusations are some Western countries trying to cover their own shortcomings and make Turkey the only guilty party.

There are some concrete steps that the Ahmet Davutoglu government must take now, but instead, it furtively passes legislation allowing headscarves in elementary schools after fifth grade. The question arises whether such palliative measures are designed to soften the possible reaction of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) constituency against the government, which may have to go after radical Islamists in Iraq and Syria and possibly their extensions in Turkey. The AKP government is moving along a path that can’t only be explained by conservatism.

The new and absolutely critical phase of the AKP government is starting.

Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
  • Al-Monitor Archives
  • The Week in Review
  • Exclusive Events
  • Invitation-only Briefings

More from  Ahmet Insel