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Who is Joining ISID From Turkey, Why, and How? 23 septembre 2014

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie.
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BBC Monitoring European (UK)  September 23, 2012                                      Türkçe

by Rusen Cakir

We know that some of the foreigners who fight in (IS)ID [Islamic State (of Syria and the Levant), ISIL] in Syria and Iraq have joined the organization from Turkey. In addition, there are those who are of Turkish origin but who live in Western countries, and who generally cross over into Syria from Turkey. Especially the foreign media reported heavily on the issue. Furthermore, Internet sites and social media accounts directly or indirectly linked to (IS)ID contain a fair amount of information on that.

Different figures are being cited. First, let me stress that it is impossible to determine the exact figure, and secondly that, after certain point, the exact figure is not really that important. The fact is, however, that a considerable number of persons go to Syria and Iraq from Turkey to fight. Another important issue is this: (IS)ID and the YPG [Popular Protection Units, Kurdish group in Syria, affiliated with KGK] and HPG [People’s Defence Forces] which toe the PKK [Kurdistan People’s Congress] line are fighting intensively in Syria and Iraq, and as in the case of (IS)ID, there are many YPG and HPG fighters who are of Turkish origin. In other words, people from Turkey are fighting each other in Syria and Iraq.

Who is joining (IS)ID, why, and how? Based on what I have learned from open sources, I would like to highlight a few points:

From Afghanistan to the Present

Almost all of those who went to fight in Afghanistan in the early 1980s deserved to be called « Islamists » because jumping into such a long and difficult adventure called for a certain religious and political awareness. Later, the « ethnic » aspect came into play with the jihads in Chechnya and Bosnia-Hercegovina; youths from the Caucasus and the Balkans went to these places to fight.

Not All are Islamists

In time, once the jihad areas came closer and participation in the organizations became easier, both the number of participants grew and a certain deterioration took place in the political qualification of the volunteers. For example, we learn from Yahya Konuk’s book « The Story of the Secret Jihad From Bosnia to Afghanistan » that youths with criminal pasts also joined as volunteers. Reports about recruits to (IS)ID talk about former drug addicts. What is certain is that a significant number of the volunteer fighters are not persons that deserve the definition « Islamist. » Nevertheless, while fighting, they are able to quickly adopt and internalize the new Salafi interpretations of Islam.

Not the Ones That Go But the Ones Who Send them

On the other hand, most of those who persuade these youths to join (IS)ID are very well equipped and well-versed on Islam and its political interpretation. In the past, it was true for Al-Qa’idah and now it is true for (IS)ID: It is those people who make up the heart of such organizations. Of course there are also those who make sure that the persons recruited by them reach the jihad area safe and sound. Al-Qa’idah already had a network in Turkey to recruit volunteers, send them to the jihad areas, and procure logistic necessities. It is being said that ever since Mosul fell, this network has been used by (IS)ID.

Large Number of Kurds

We know that a large number of Kurds from Iraq and Turkey have joined (IS)ID. One reason is that the percentage of religious Kurds is above average, and another is that especially in Turkey, Kurdish youths are poor, deprived, and hopeless. (IS)ID can be attractive for Kurdish youths in the metropolitan suburbs. This also has a political aspect: for those Kurds who do not like the PKK or are opposed to it, joining (IS)ID is an opportunity to defy or challenge it.

Attraction of ‘Islamic State’

There are still many people in Turkey who try to ridicule (IS)ID’s declaration of an Islamic State or even a caliphate, but it is certain that these declarations attract certain persons. Al-Qa’idah’s greatest handicap was that it was unable to present a concrete aim to its followers; joining Al-Qa’idah meant fighting forever. (IS)ID, on the other hand, presents opportunities to its recruits. In other words, people go to Syria and Iraq not only to fight but to live in the state built by (IS)ID. That is the main reason why entire families especially from Western countries are joining the organization.

Easy Jihad

It is easy to go from Turkey to Syria or Iraq and fight in (IS)ID ranks. First of all, they are very close. Secondly, (IS)ID and similar groups can easily organize, recruit volunteers, and send them to the jihad regions. Furthermore, there is a convenient political atmosphere because Ankara is extremely determined to topple the al-Asad regime. In terms of ease, we must also draw attention to the following aspect of the issue: if these people try to do in Turkey one tenth of what they do in Syria and Iraq, they will face significant reaction, starting from the pious. In other words, jihad is difficult in Turkey (at least for now) but quite easy in other lands.

Source: Turkish newspaper Vatan, Istanbul, 22 Sep 14

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