News / Middle East

Ankara Reconsiders Backing for Islamist Syrian Rebels

FILE - Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan addresses the media in Ankara, Aug. 15, 2013.
FILE - Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan addresses the media in Ankara, Aug. 15, 2013.
Dorian Jones
Earlier this month, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan openly criticized al-Qaida-linked terrorist groups operating in Syria.  Previously, Turkey's government had been reluctant to criticize such groups, and has been frequently accused of supporting them tacitly, if not openly. But Ankara now appears to be distancing itself from them.

Answering reporters' questions on August 8 about his telephone conversation with U.S. President Barack Obama the previous day, Erdogan condemned al-Qaida groups in Syria for being responsible for civilian deaths. The Turkish prime minister's comments followed similar ones made by his foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, who attacked the presence of al-Qaida groups among those fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels, says the comments could indicate a change in Turkish policy towards Syria.
 
"This is the first time that the Turkish foreign minister himself made such a strong statement against the radical Islamic groups in Syria. There were concerns on the U.S. side that Turkey had not categorically taken a stand against these radical Islamic groups and that Turkey’s logistical support ended up in the hands of these groups," Ulgen said. "So this is the concern Turkey is trying to overcome by making this very clear statement against these groups."

The Turkish government has denied it has provided any armed support to radical Islamic groups in Syria.  But Ankara has until now been critical of the stance taken by its Western allies towards these groups.  Observers claim the Turkish government sees such groups among the most effective in fighting the Syrian regime.

Ankara criticized the decision by Washington and the United Nations to designate Jahbat al-Nusra, a prominent Islamist rebel group in Syria that is affiliated with al-Qaida, as a terrorist organization.  The Turkish government claimed the move was counterproductive and said the international community should focus on the Syrian regime’s crimes.

But analyst Ulgen says the key factor behind the shift in Ankara’s stance is the realization that its policy was increasingly undermining its cooperation with Washington over Syria.

"Unless Turkey was able satisfy the U.S. in regard to the end customer of the supplies of weapons to the Syrian opposition, Turkey would not be the partner of choice," he said. "And what is happening on the ground is that, increasingly, the U.S. aid especially has been moving south, and using Jordan as a logistical base rather than Turkey."

Ankara’s stance towards radical Islamic groups, in particular al-Nusra, was reportedly a key issue for discussion during Erdogan’s visit to Washington in May. Amberin Zaman, a columnist for the Turkish newspaper Taraf, claims since that visit, Ankara has taken steps against groups like al-Nusra, but that it remains unclear whether there has been a real change of policy.
 
"There was raid on an alleged al-Nusra cell in Adana, so clearly the Turks were taking some action. But we also need to see what real action Turkey is taking against these groups," she said. "There are some suggestions that Turkey is leaning on its allies in the Free Syrian Army to do more curb al-Nusra, but whether in fact this is really having an impact ... is obviously very questionable when we see how they are very present just south of Turkey’s borders."

Allegations that Ankara is supporting al-Nusra have also come from the Democratic Union Party, or PYD - the Syrian Kurdish group that has been fighting with al-Nusra for weeks. Al-Nusra accuses the PYD of supporting President Assad, a charge it denies. The Turkish government is also deeply suspicious of the PYD, which it fears could fuel secessionists demands among Turkey's own Kurdish population.

But analyst Ulgen argues that Ankara realizes the risks of supporting al-Nusra outweigh any possible policy benefits.

"Al-Nusra could be a part of policy to react against the PYD, but nonetheless there is now an increasing awareness about what those risks would entail in terms of the shifting relationship with the U.S., the perception among Kurds that Turkey is against them categorically," he said. "So that’s the type of assessment that’s being carried out in Ankara."

Observers also point out the Turkish government will be aware that persistent allegations in the Turkish media that it supports groups like al-Nusra are likely only to add to growing unease among Turks over the policy of supporting the Syrian rebels - which, according to opinion polls, remains deeply unpopular.

You May Like

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs