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

French Refugee Drama Wins Cannes Top Prize

Dheepan is about a group of Sri Lankan refugees who pretend to be a family in order to flee their war-torn country for a housing project in France More

Photogallery Crisis in Macedonia Requires Meaningful and Swift Measures

The international community has called on Macedonian leadership to take concrete measures in support of democracy in order to exit the crisis More

Activists: IS Executes 217 Civilians, Soldiers Near Palmyra

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Sunday said the victims include nurses, women, children and Syrian government fighters More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs