So why are Turkey’s Sunnis angry?
The latest attack by the barbaric jihadists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on July 20 in Suruç is the latest proof of the imminent danger Turkey is facing, especially from its own citizens trying to be a part of the “global jihad.”
More than 30 people were killed and over 100 were injured when a suicide bomber targeted an event organized to help Kobane, a Syrian town on the Turkish border controlled by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD). According to the initial findings, the attacker was a Turkish citizen.
The attack once again reignited the debate on the government’s alleged support of the jihadist group, and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and government officials were quick to condemn the attack and the “terrorists” behind it, calling on all parties to do the same. But it is not the words but the deeds that define your position.
Days before he took over the prime minister’s job, then-Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said in an interview on Aug. 7, 2014, that ISIL was a group of “angry and oppressed Sunnis,” refusing to term the group terrorists.
“The main thing is the fact that the state mind in Iraq and Syria is based on a particular sect, ethnicity,” Davutoğlu said, putting the blame on then-Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Alawite.
“The structure called ISIL, in its core, can be viewed as a terrorized, radical group, but people joined it … the main force driving masses to ISIL in which the Turkmens constitute a significant majority, and include Kurds and Sunni Arabs – is the previous anger, exclusion, insults, which created reactions on a wide front,” Davutoğlu added.
To be fair, ISIL was holding 49 Turkish citizens captive for almost two months when Davutoğlu made that speech, and Ankara has toughened its rhetoric against the jihadist group since their release in late September. Turkey even allowed Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) peshmerga forces to travel over its soil to help Kurdish fighters free Kobane from a siege by ISIL in January, but so little has been done regarding the Turkish citizens and groups that have links to ISIL.
There were around 3,000 people linked to ISIL in Turkey, a police intelligence report said in January, raising a red alert over the possible future actions of “sleeping cells” of the jihadist group.
The police intelligence report called for sensitivity to detect the links of the fighters in Turkey, while also urging the surveillance of 3,000 people to observe their positions in ISIL and determine whether or not they are active, describing them as “sleeping cells.”
Days before Davutoğlu’s interview last year, websites in Turkey praising ISIL’s actions published a video, showing hundreds of people who gathered in Istanbul’s Ömerli area for a picnic. Those who spoke at the event prayed for the success of jihadists in Iraq and Syria, as well as Turkey.
No serious police operations were conducted against ISIL and its supporters in Turkey until last week when around 100 people were detained in raids. But it was too little too late.
Thousands of people on the social media cheered after the latest brutal attack, which included nationalists because the victims were in Suruç to help Kurds in Kobane, while many also said “the holy war on infidels” had finally arrived in Turkey.
In Davutoğlu’s theory, the reason for the support ISIL is enjoying in Turkey should be the AKP governments’ almost 13 years of discrimination against and oppression of the Sunnis in Turkey. They must be feeling alienated that the policies of the AKP were not sufficiently pro-Sunni, or maybe they are angry that being a non-Sunni is still not banned in the country.
After car bomb attacks in Reyhanlı on the Syrian border on May 11, 2013, in which 52 people were killed, then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the attack had “martyred 53 Sunni citizens of ours.” So, the ISIL supporters in Turkey may be feeling angry and alienated because they were told the terrorists targeted Reyhanlı because the majority of the people living in the town were Sunnis. (Incidentally, although a group of suspects allegedly linked to the Syrian regime are on trial for the Reyhanlı attack, gendarmerie intelligence reports before the attack had suggested that the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra had prepared car bombs to be used in Turkey.)
Davutoğlu’s call for unity after the Suruç attack is important, and a united front should be created against terrorism, whichever ideology is stems from. But words of condemnation are not enough; the government should instruct the intelligence agency, police and the judiciary (yes, unfortunately it can instruct the judiciary) to spend at least half the energy they have expended on the “parallel state” of the Fethullah Gülen Movement on the fight against ISIL.