It is time for Turkey and Daesh to part ways

The southeastern Turkish city of Gaziantep turned into a mourning place in the late hours of last Saturday, August 20 2016, after a terrorist operation targeting a marriage ceremony left over 50 people killed and 100 injured. Unlike Iran, Turkey is a country whose domestic security is heavily affected by its surrounding and regional environment as well as its own foreign policy approaches. In other words, there is a high degree of intermingling between domestic issues of this country and its foreign policy issues. Turkey can be compared to Egypt from this viewpoint. Geopolitical position, political culture, fabric of population as well as the characteristics of this country’s social and economic structure have turned Turkey into an internationalist country and, naturally, this situation can face Turkey with opportunities and threats. Under these conditions, opportunities ahead of Turkey include the fact that despite paucity of natural resources in the country, it has been able to turn into a relatively developed country. The threat that Turkey faces as a result of this position is that unrest and insecurity in its peripheral environment can affect security situation in Turkey and make its internal environment tumultuous.

The noteworthy point in this regard is that during past decades, Turkish elites and officials have been constantly aware of the correlation between Turkey’s internal security and security conditions in its surrounding environment and, for this reason, they have been trying throughout all these years to make the country immune against regional crises and unrest and were relatively successful in this regard as well. Their sole weakness with regard to creating a security balance in Turkey during past decades was issues related to the country’s Kurds as a result of which developments related to Turkish Kurds were gradually tied to developments related to Kurds in Syria and Iraq and negatively affected internal security in this country. At present, this situation continues in the Turkish society and we see that Turks are still concerned about developments related to Kurds. There is also some sort of correlation between what is going on in Syria and Kurdish regions of Iraq, on the one hand, and ongoing developments in Turkey, on the other hand. In other words, due to the presence of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its offshoots in Syria, the operational reach of the PKK has also increased in Turkey and to the extent that Turks have interfered in Syria against the country’s Kurds, they have felt its negative consequences on this side of the border and in their own country’s Kurdish regions.

An example in this regard is problems that the Turkish government has with other ethnic groups, including Alawites living in Turkey, which have links to Alawites living in the neighboring Syria. However, since five years ago, Turkey has given up its usual foreign policy approach of staying away from crises in the Middle East for the first time and has opted for a policy of interventionism and taking advantage of proxy wars as leverage. As a result, Ankara has been ambitiously involved in supporting extremist groups operating against the Syrian government in this Arab country. Of course, when Turkish officials adopted this policy they did not assume that the crisis in Syria would turn into a war of attrition and, by turning into a jockey ground for radical groups, would get out of everybody’s control. At that juncture, Ankara’s plan was to allow members of extremist groups fighting against the Syrian government to use Turkey as a corridor to go to Syria while they were also trained and supported by Turkey. Jordan was not suitable for this purpose as its borders are tied to security of Israel and, for this reason, Turkey found itself a special position in Syria crisis and was practically turned into a corridor through which radical Salafist groups from various countries could go to Syria.

This situation, naturally, helped radical Salafist groups to find a secure foothold in Turkey. Of course, radical policies adopted by then Turkish prime minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan further exacerbated this situation and helped a special form of Turkish Salafism to run its roots deep in this country and gain operational capabilities as well. Under these circumstances, Daesh terrorist group has been, and will be, trying to take entire Turkey hostage as a result of which as Turkey increases its anti-Daesh activities in Syria, the group’s terrorist operations rise in parallel inside the country. In response to those operations, Turkey has adopted different approaches and, for example, it has tried to switch from supporting Daesh to lending its support to other Syrian opposition groups such as Ahrar al-Sham and Turkmen groups. In doing so, Turkey has been trying to distance itself from such radical groups as Daesh, which bring it notoriety and expose the government in Ankara to various accusations.

At present, however, it seems that the time for distancing from this group is already lost and the situation in Turkey is such that Daesh has found itself high operational capability in the country. Daesh has good knowledge of Turkey and is well aware of weaknesses and strengths of Turks. Therefore, while on the one hand, continuation of the status quo in Turkey would cause the country to suffer more costs, on the other hand, cutting ties with such groups as Daesh needs great effort and fresher approaches. For this reason, the best way to drive Daesh out of Turkey is to opt for regional cooperation and follow regional initiatives just like the initiative that Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif offered in 2014 in the form of a four-article plan to settle the crisis in Syria. At that time, Turkey gave the cold shoulder to Iran’s plan. However, under the present circumstances, and in view of Turkey’s decision to modify its policy toward such regional powers as Syria and Iran, it seems the time is ripe to implement Iran’s plan. On the other hand, escalation of threats in Turkey will further push the country’s government more than any time before in the direction of seeking new cooperation with other regional countries in order to fight terrorism. Turkish officials are well aware that Iran enjoys many capacities in this regard. Therefore, the recent visit to Turkey by Iran’s foreign minister and the reciprocal visit to Tehran by his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, in addition to Turkish President Erdogan’s possible trip to Tehran can be considered as preliminary steps to facilitate cooperation between the two neighboring countries.


This article was written by Ja’far Haghpanah for Iran Review on Aug 25, 2016. Ja’far Haghpanah is Assistant Professor of Regional Studies at the University of Tehran, Iran.