/ September 12, 2014
In June, Turkey’s Milliyet newspaper reported that as many as 3,000 Turks have joined the group. “No other Nato country is as exposed to the threat of Isis jihadism as Turkey is,” says Sinan Ulgen, a former diplomat and head of Edam, an Istanbul-based foreign policy think tank. In the past, Western diplomats have accused Turkey of indirectly facilitating the flow of arms and foreign fighters to Isis by operating an open-
border policy with Syria in its eagerness to help the rebels seeking to topple President Bashar al-Assad. After the group overran Turkey’s consulate in Mosul in June and took dozens of staff hostage, however, most now agree that authorities in Ankara has woken up to the seriousness of the threat, but may now have its hands tied in responding to it.
Forty nine Turkish citizens, including the consul general, remain Isis’ prisoners. In the past month it has beheaded two American journalists it was holding hostage in retaliation for US airstrikes.
“Turkey is not ‘soft’ on Isis,” a Turkish government official says. “It just avoids unnecessary rhetoric, in particular on the issue of hostages in Mosul.” He adds that “all necessary actions and precautions are being taken” to combat the domestic threat posed by the group.
ISIS IN ISTANBUL
That claim is disputed by the family of Ahmet Beyaztas, a 25-year-old Kurdish car mechanic, who joined the group last month. Speaking at home in the bleak factory town of Dilovasi, a polluted and poverty-stricken community on the fringe of Istanbul, his brother Kenan tells of how local Isis supporters openly displayed its flag in the windows of their cars and homes.
A month ago, Ahmet was among 19 young men from the neighbourhood who boarded two minibuses and headed to Syria to join the fighters. A member of parliament for an opposition party recently told a local newspaper that he believed 90 young men from another nearby town have made a similar journey in recent weeks.
“There are many, many more who are joining. And the police are doing nothing,” says Kenan, 30, a schoolteacher. “I’m Kurdish and a leftist. If four Kurds get together the state will break them apart. Of course they can stop them if they choose to.”