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Turkey's Ties With ISIL Continue to Arouse Suspicions

Masked people in guerrilla outfits hold up a poster of of jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan as they demonstrate during the Nowruz celebrations in southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir, Turkey, March 21, 2014.
Masked people in guerrilla outfits hold up a poster of of jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan as they demonstrate during the Nowruz celebrations in southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir, Turkey, March 21, 2014.

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant militants continue to score victories across Iraq. For neighbor Turkey, there is growing concern over ISIL's growing power, particularly in its predominantly Kurdish southeast, which borders Iraq and Syria.

In Diyarbakir, as in the rest of Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast, many Kurds are religious.

That, analysts say, and decades of economic underdevelopment and conflict, with the Kurds fighting for minority rights, have helped make the region a fertile recruiting ground for organizations like ISIL.

Young Kurds

Already more than dozen young Kurds from Turkey have died fighting for ISIL in neighboring Iraqi and Syria, according to Muammer Akar, a Diyarbakir city counselor and prominent member of Turkey’s ruling AK Party.

Besides local factors, the region - like the rest of the Middle East - is paying the price for years of religious rivalry between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Iran, he said, adding that ISIL is attracting a growing number of recruits.

Saudi Arabia has spent a significant amount of money here developing a radical form of Sunni Islam called Wahhabism to counter Iran’s influence. Over the years, many Kurdish youths were attracted and have become increasingly radical and closer to committing violence.

Akar claims funerals in the region for ISIL militants draw large numbers and have become a powerful recruiting tool for the Islamic group.

But critics are accusing the ruling AK Party, which has its roots in Islam, of turning a blind eye to ISIL activities on Turkey's border with Syria because of the party's opposition to the Syrian regime, and because ISIL is fighting Syrian Kurds, who have declared a secular autonomous state on Turkey’s border.

Ankara fears its own restive Kurdish population could make similar demands for autonomy. It has accused the Syrian Kurdish leadership of links to the PKK, which has been fighting the Turkish state for minority rights for decades.

Two hours drive from Diyarbakir, in the town of Cizre, located near the Tukrish, Syrian and Iraqi borders, Deputy Mayor Kadir Konur accuses the ruling party of going beyond tacit support of ISIL.

He said ISIL's resources come from Turkey, citing what he said are numerous instances of trucks leaving Turkey with arms for groups like ISIL.

Many people on Cizre's streets appear to share such concerns, especially for the plight of Syrian Kurds just across the border.

"We are very pessimistic because of ISIL and all the massacres they’ve done in Syrian Kurdistan, he said. The killing of women and children. It is very clear that many ISIL fighters cross the border from Turkey and the AK Party allows this," said a man on the street interviewed by VOA.

Escalating charges

Suspicions of Turkish government involvement with ISIL have been heightened by an anonymously released video showing Turkish soldiers intercepting two Turkish trucks allegedly carrying Syria-bound weapons. The soldiers manhandle Turkish intelligence officers who are in cars escorting the trucks. According to prosecutors, the arms were being sent to radical Islamic groups fighting in Syria.

The government claims the trucks were only carrying aid and strongly denied allegations of gun-running, pointing out that it has designated ISIL a terrorist group. But the prosecutors and soldiers investigating the trucks have now been charged with spying.

Diyarbakir city counselor and AK Party member Muammer Akar said his own party may not be aware of the dangers Turkey is facing.

"Ankara doesn’t see the danger, as they are dealing with so many other issues, but we do," said Akar. "It’s only a matter of time before ISIL targets Turkey; since they see us as a country of heretics, they will attack our big western cities."

ISIL videos aimed at Turkish and Kurdish youths continue to appear on the Internet, calling them to join the jihad. Observers are increasingly asking if -- or when -- the war to create an Islamic state will come to Turkey.