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SEDAT ERGİN > Erdoğan’s rhetoric towards al-Qaeda

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On his return from his trip to Spain on Nov. 28, 2012, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was uncomfortable about the questions journalists asked him about the Syrian opposition’s radicalization.

The prime minister had answered “nonsense” to a journalist who said that “radical movements” were being talked about. The journalist said, “The existence of al-Qaeda is being mentioned,” which Erdoğan brushed off, saying, “al-Qaeda is not known in Syria. There will be no such thing as al-Qaeda once the opposition meets a decision.”

Erdoğan was tempted to perceive the debates on al-Qaeda’s existence in Syria as Bashar al-Assad’s propaganda. For example, referring to al-Assad, Erdoğan had said, “he is trying to mislead by naming the people opposing him as al-Qaeda or terrorists,” during the Africa tour he took this past January. (Gabon, Jan. 7, 2013)

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The picture that is before us in the same region around 10 months after these speeches is that radical Islamist groups like al-Qaeda and the al-Nusra Front, which is at the same level as al-Qaeda, have gained a substantial area of hegemony in Syria. They are even bordering Turkey at some points. Of these, the organization called the “Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria” (ISIS) did not hesitate in threatening Turkey, after Turkey shut down its Öncüpınar border gate as a result of ISIS’s conquest of the Azaz village of Syria just six kilometers away from Kilis two weeks ago.

The strengthening of al-Qaeda and its extensions has recently resulted in some moderate religious groups within the Free Syrian Army (FSA) breaking from the main opposition and choosing to share a common fate with the radical organizations under the Islamic umbrella. In this respect, the opposition is divided into two: Those favoring the West, on the one hand, and radical Islamists on the other.

Besides, al-Qaeda videos, which show inhumane practices and are available to view on YouTube, are significantly eroding the international support toward the Syrian opposition. In short, while the efforts for a solution are moving toward a political rather than a military one, it is being perceived that especially the north of the country is about to turn into a second Afghanistan.

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The irony is that Turkey provided important support to these groups’ transition to Syria and other activities, with the perception that “the end of toppling al-Assad justifies the means.” A significant breaking point that led to the questioning of this support was during the visit Erdoğan paid to the White House this past May. President Barack Obama made it clear to Erdoğan that he expected the prevention of the passing of radical groups into Syria. As a result, in the press conference at the White House garden, Erdoğan said, “It is the utmost concern to avoid Syria from becoming a playing field for terrorist organizations.”

Another breaking point was the attack on the Turkish Embassy in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu on July 27, by the al-Qaeda linked al-Shabaab organization. With these latest developments, we perceive that the government’s rhetoric toward al-Qaeda has started to stiffen. This change coincides with a time when the West has started to think that Turkey is backing al-Qaeda in Syria.

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In fact, Erdoğan signaled this kind of rhetoric for the first time at his speech on Aug. 30, in which he emphasized that he was “against all kinds of extreme ends” by mentioning the names of al-Qaeda and the al-Nusra Front. Erdoğan made a strong statement in Denizli this weekend after al-Shabaab’s attack in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi on Sept. 21, in which 68 people died.

But Erdoğan’s statement on al-Qaeda, which he made at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) meeting in Istanbul the other day, may be his strongest rhetoric as of yet: “I would like to call upon the whole world. I strongly condemn all terrorist actions no matter what the source, the reason and the methods are. Attacks on innocent people, children, women, killing or injuring them do not have a place in any belief, ideology or perception, there cannot be. If al-Assad in our neighboring country Syria is the one who kills the innocent and the children, he is the greatest villain. The organization, whether it’s named this or that, is no different from al-Assad if it kills innocent and children. Its name is Muslim … But no, there are no terrorists in Islam, whether they are al-Qaeda or this or that … We condemn and damn all of them.”

Now the situation is as follows: On what scale will this strong verbal position actually be implemented, for example on the Turkey-Syria border.

October/05/2013

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READER COMMENTS

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Blue Dotterel

10/7/2013 8:39:07 PM

"We must get rid of the terrorists. Then, we need to get rid of their ideology that has infiltrated certain areas of Syria, because it is more dangerous than terrorism itself. This ideology, which encourages an eight-year old boy to slaughter a man while adults and children watch and cheer as if they were watching a football match. This ... happened in northern Syria. Getting rid of this mentality ... is going to be more difficult than getting rid of the chemical weapons" al Assad.

Blue Dotterel

10/7/2013 7:28:20 PM

@Oz_Man, Is Al Qaeda a terrorist organization? Is Al Nusra a terrorst group? "On the 29th of September, up to 50 rebel groups operating primarily in the area of Damascus merged to form Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam). Militant groups the west ostensibly touted as “secular moderates” yearning for “freedom and democracy” from a tyrannical regime; have now openly declared their Salafi/Jihadi fundamentalist ideology." By Phil Greaves. Read and educate yourself. These have been supported by the AKP.

Blue Dotterel

10/7/2013 6:59:45 PM

@İlker, Most of the opposition have claimed they are linked to Al Qaeda (at least 70%). Al Nusra has even been belatedly declared a terrorist organization by the US for the atrocities it committed in Aleppo. Most states have had CW. The US has them, Russia has them, Israel has them, so what is your point. Assad is willingly giving them up. Israel is not. Assad has them because Israel does. You really need to read a bit more. I have already provide you with facts. Follow them up. Don't be lazy.

Soap box

10/6/2013 9:51:01 PM

Oz_man: an english check for you! Please not that using "it is" in the way that you have, makes your following words a statement of fact, and not a question! Ironic really, despite being a blinkered believer, you have now defamed your glorious AKP in such a strong way that you will probably be arrested and put in jail for around 12 years. Maybe if that happens, you will finally grasp what the rest of us have been trying to point out to you. Sleep well!!

ilker avni

10/6/2013 8:54:53 PM

@blue dotterel according to your logic the oppostion are terroists,you ignore facts make up theories with no facts to back your accusations,if i was assad and had you for a lawyer i would start praying,you ignore Irans,Hezbollah,you ignore irans army fighting in syria all you go on is turkey is supporting al qaeda Wheres your proof? WHat about the ton thousand tons of c/ws in assads hands these are all facts which you ignore.Turkeys role all along was to support the innocence.

Tekion Particle

10/6/2013 6:05:34 PM

Why did it take this long for TRE to make a comment about the Nairobi terror attack? @Murun, RTE managed to manipulate the less educated of the population, since there is more of them the future looks bleak for those who want him out through democratic means. But the blame of surrendering power to AKP partially lies with the previous governments inability or unwillingness to deliver anything tangible. In times of crises the extreme elements in society often rise to power and seen as saviour.

Oz_man .

10/6/2013 4:59:36 PM

Murun what is your point? Blue labelling the AKP a terrorist organisation just goes to show how desperate you are. It is the AKP that has run Syria for 40 years and oppressed their people. It is the AKP that has put down a peaceful protest violently that has led to an insurgency. It is the AKP that slaughters civilians with chemical weapons. It is the AKP that uses their airforce to bomb civilians. Blue you are really struggling.

Blue Dotterel

10/6/2013 2:45:09 PM

@ilker, I was not defending Assad, I was pointing out the truth about the AKP and its support of terrorism in Syria. Can you deny that the AKP has supported Al Nusra and Al Qaeda in Syria? Can you deny that these "rebels" have massacred Syrian women and children? Can you deny the facts presented by the opposition supporter (Syrian Observatory of Human Rights) that these "rebels" have killed more people in Syria than the Syrian security forces? I am condemning the AKP, not defending Assad.

ilker avni

10/5/2013 4:41:05 PM

@blue dotterel congratulations,on your appointment as Assads lawyer,your defence of a tyrant who kills women and children,starves two million children,displaces over six million syrians, is innocent in your eyes,according to your racists logic Turkeys prime minster is guilty,no doubt you will receive a medal from the tyrant.hope you can sleep at night.

Murat

10/5/2013 4:24:55 PM

Have you ever heard of a ruling party leader ever say "we miscalculated on a colossal scale"? Which is what they did. All plans were based on quicker disposal of Bashar. They gambled. States do not gamble. To be fair, the current radicalization is exactly what the government was afraid of and hoped to prevent by ushering a quick change of leadership.
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