Part-time terrorists and the dwindling Turkish-Iraqi trade

Part-time terrorists and the dwindling Turkish-Iraqi trade

I was lately struck by a rather recent story from Gaziantep, Turkey. It is so ordinary and so horrible at the same time. It is about part-time terrorists and the dwindling Turkish-Iraqi trade. Let me first tell you the story. I find it unreal every time I talk about it.

A friend of mine was recently in Gaziantep for an academic conference. Mind you, life still goes on in Gaziantep, located less than 100-kilometers North of Aleppo. The two were twin cities back in the Ottoman times, Aleppo being the center and Gaziantep the periphery. Then the cities exchanged their roles with Turkey’s economic transformation starting in the 1980s. But that is another story, one of more ordinary times.

At academic conferences, the fun usually starts when there are no sessions left to participate in. When that happened, my friend asked for a trip to the Zeugma Mosaic Museum and the excavations there. Located on the Euphrates, Zeugma was first a Greek, then Roman settlement dating back to 300 B.C. It’s a good place to see intact Roman mosaics, especially together with the Mosaic Museum in the nearby Antakya, Hatay. There were many Roman garrisons there in the old times.

Either way, he arranged a taxi to pick them up from the hotel. Everything was as it should be until a taxi arrived, with a driver sporting a long, ISIL-beard, referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. He was Turkish, and they started talking. The conversation, as they inevitably do in Gaziantep, turned to the tragedy on the other side of the border. The driver started talking about his vocation rather openly, as is the norm these days. “The time of Armageddon is upon us,” he said, “the end is near.” You can find this attitude in many places around the world, so that in itself is not too worrisome. What should worry any reasonable person is that he then started talking about how he spent a few days of every week on the Syrian side of the border, fighting together with ISIL fighters. “Before the end of times, it is good to kill infidels,” said the chatty killer. So there are part time terrorists in Turkey nowadays, driving taxis by day and fighting medieval sectarian wars in Syria by night. Or vice versa, I don’t know.

The result? I just received the figures for Iraqi-Turkish trade. From July 2013 to July 2014, the decline in Turkish exports is around 45%. From June to July 2014, the decline in Turkish exports is around 25%. While exports are declining, the number of refugees has gone up, from 1 million to 1.3 million. Export orders are declining more rapidly, which is a bad sign for the future. Now Dohuk is under threat from ISIL, too, which is bad because that is where the representative offices of Turkish firms exporting to Iraq are mostly located. All because of the “end is nigh” crap? Not really, nutjobs are mere opportunists and rarely ever manage to dismantle countries on their own. No, I lay the blame with the American invasion of Iraq, which dismantled the only real institution of the country, the Iraqi army. About 1,800 Iraqis were killed in this holy month of Ramadan in Iraq alone, a figure equal to the number of Palestinian deaths in Gaza.