Turks, Kurds, and ISIS: A Crazy Love-Hate Dynamic

Sharing a southeastern border with Syria, Turkey has become a key player in the fight against ISIS. Many foreign fighters have attempted to cross through the secular state with the goals of reaching Syria and joining ISIS. Because of its proximity to the fight, Turkey has received a lot of international attention focused on their response to the terrorist group. There is pressure for Turkey to stand with the United States and support the Kurds in the fight. The Kurdish people are the largest ethnic minority and Turkey and an issue of high contention within the nation. Some Kurds want autonomy and other wants more representation but Turkey doesn’t want to give either. There was an ongoing armed conflict between the PKK (a Kurdish terrorist group) and the Turkish government from 1984-2013. Regardless, the Kurds have been an essential part in the fight against ISIS and the international community wants Turkey to support them while they do so.

Turkey has always prided itself in being the bridge between the East and the West but doing so has put the country in a difficult situation. It is constantly attempting to balance Westernization with it’s role as a majority Muslim nation in the Middle East. NATO members and other European countries feel that Turkey is enjoying the privileges of NATO membership without doing enough to contribute to the fight on terror. Following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France, European countries are fearing more militant risings and attacks. They want their ally in the region to do more but many don’t believe there is foreseeable change. United States’ Director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., for example, does not believe Turkey will do more to help in the ISIS fighting citing Turkish public opinion polls. In these polls, it was found that the Turkish people are more concerned with the Kurdish people finding autonomy in Syria then with the Islamic State itself. Because of this focus on other things, Turkey has allowed a porous border with smugglers continuing to move people out of Turkey and into Syria. Another issue with Turkey’s response to ISIS is the fact that they share a common enemy. The Turkish government still believes that President Bashar al­ Assad is their number one threat and wish to see his government fall, even if ISIS is the group helping them achieve that. Such heavy opposition to Assad’s reign makes the Turks more reluctant to work against ISIS as they see them aiding their cause. Furthermore, officials fear that, if the country were to stand stronger against the terrorist organization, they may face repercussions from terrorist cells inside their borders. ISIS has a few known terror cells within the borders of Turkey. Thus, many do not see Turkey stepping up in the ISIS fight anytime soon. Therefore, Turkey will continue to face criticism in their reaction until they are seen making more proactive foreign policy to combat terror. As seen in the recent terror attacks in Tunisia, claimed by ISIS, the terrorist organization has no problem attacking fellow Muslim majority countries and will continue to do so until their reign of terror is stopped. Turkey needs to step up in this fight to protect it’s people and the region. First, they need to increase border security and ensure no foreign jihadists are slipping through the cracks. Second, they need to crack down on suspected terrorists already inside their borders. They have already began to do this as 21 suspected terrorists were arrested just earlier this week. However, this is just a small step forward in what the Turkish government needs to be doing in the fight against ISIS.

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