IN THE CITY OF NEW YORK
INSTITUTE FOR THE STUDY OF HUMAN RIGHTS
Research Paper: ISIS-Turkey Links
By David L. Phillips
Is Turkey collaborating with the Islamic State (ISIS)? Allegations range from military cooperation and weapons transfers to logistical support, financial assistance, and the provision of medical services. It is also alleged that Turkey turned a blind eye to ISIS attacks against Kobani.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu strongly deny complicity with ISIS. Erdogan visited the Council on Foreign Relations on September 22, 2014. He criticized "smear campaigns [and] attempts to distort perception about us." Erdogan decried, "A systematic attack on Turkey's international reputation, "complaining that "Turkey has been subject to very unjust and ill-intentioned news items from media organizations." Erdogan posited: "My request from our friends in the United States is to make your assessment about Turkey by basing your information on objective sources."
Columbia University's Program on Peace-building and Rights assigned a team of researchers in the United States, Europe, and Turkey to examine Turkish and international media, assessing the credibility of allegations. This report draws on a variety of international sources -- The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Daily Mail, BBC, Sky News, as well as Turkish sources, CNN Turk, Hurriyet Daily News, Taraf, Cumhuriyet, and Radikal among others.
Turkey Provides Military Equipment to ISIS
• An ISIS commander told The Washington Post on August 12, 2014: "Most of the fighters who joined us in the beginning of the war came via Turkey, and so did our equipment and supplies."
• Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, head of the Republican People's Party (CHP), produced a statement from the Adana Office of the Prosecutor on October 14, 2014 maintaining that Turkey supplied weapons to terror groups. He also produced interview transcripts from truck drivers who delivered weapons to the groups. According to Kiliçdaroglu, the Turkish government claims the trucks were for humanitarian aid to the Turkmen, but the Turkmen said no humanitarian aid was delivered.
• According to CHP Vice President Bulent Tezcan, three trucks were stopped in Adana for inspection on January 19, 2014. The trucks were loaded with weapons in Esenboga Airport in Ankara. The drivers drove the trucks to the border, where a MIT agent was supposed to take over and drive the trucks to Syria to deliver materials to ISIS and groups in Syria. This happened many times. When the trucks were stopped, MIT agents tried to keep the inspectors from looking inside the crates. The inspectors found rockets, arms, and ammunitions.
• Cumhuriyet reports that Fuat Avni, a preeminent Twitter user who reported on the December 17th corruption probe, that audio tapes confirm that Turkey provided financial and military aid to terrorist groups associated with Al Qaeda on October 12, 2014. On the tapes, Erdogan pressured the Turkish Armed Forces to go to war with Syria. Erdogan demanded that Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey's National Intelligence Agency (MIT), come up with a justification for attacking Syria.
• Hakan Fidan told Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Yasar Guler, a senior defense official, and Feridun Sinirlioglu, a senior foreign affairs official: "If need be, I'll send 4 men into Syria. I'll formulate a reason to go to war by shooting 8 rockets into Turkey; I'll have them attack the Tomb of Suleiman Shah."
• Documents surfaced on September 19th, 2014 showing that the Saudi Emir Bender Bin Sultan financed the transportation of arms to ISIS through Turkey. A flight leaving Germany dropped off arms in the Etimesgut airport in Turkey, which was then split into three containers, two of which were given to ISIS and one to Gaza.
Turkey Provided Transport and Logistical Assistance to ISIS Fighters
• According to Radikal on June 13, 2014, Interior Minister Muammar Guler signed a directive: "According to our regional gains, we will help al-Nusra militants against the branch of PKK terrorist organization, the PYD, within our borders...Hatay is a strategic location for the mujahideen crossing from within our borders to Syria. Logistical support for Islamist groups will be increased, and their training, hospital care, and safe passage will mostly take place in Hatay...MIT and the Religious Affairs Directorate will coordinate the placement of fighters in public accommodations."
• The Daily Mail reported on August 25, 2014 that many foreign militants joined ISIS in Syria and Iraq after traveling through Turkey, but Turkey did not try to stop them. This article describes how foreign militants, especially from the UK, go to Syria and Iraq through the Turkish border. They call the border the "Gateway to Jihad." Turkish army soldiers either turn a blind eye and let them pass, or the jihadists pay the border guards as little as $10 to facilitate their crossing.
• Britain's Sky News obtained documents showing that the Turkish government has stamped passports of foreign militants seeking to cross the Turkey border into Syria to join ISIS.
• The BBC interviewed villagers, who claim that buses travel at night, carrying jihadists to fight Kurdish forces in Syria and Iraq, not the Syrian Armed Forces.
• A senior Egyptian official indicated on October 9, 2014 that Turkish intelligence is passing satellite imagery and other data to ISIS.
Turkey Provided Training to ISIS Fighters
• CNN Turk reported on July 29, 2014 that in the heart of Istanbul, places like Duzce and Adapazari, have become gathering spots for terrorists. There are religious orders where ISIS militants are trained. Some of these training videos are posted on the Turkish ISIS propaganda website takvahaber.net. According to CNN Turk, Turkish security forces could have stopped these developments if they had wanted to.
• Turks who joined an affiliate of ISIS were recorded at a public gathering in Istanbul, which took place on July 28, 2014.
• A video shows an ISIS affiliate holding a prayer/gathering in Omerli, a district of Istanbul. In response to the video, CHP Vice President, MP Tanrikulu submitted parliamentary questions to the Minister of the Interior, Efkan Ala, asking questions such as, "Is it true that a camp or camps have been allocated to an affiliate of ISIS in Istanbul? What is this affiliate? Who is it made up of? Is the rumor true that the same area allocated for the camp is also used for military exercises?"
• Kemal Kiliçdaroglu warned the AKP government not to provide money and training to terror groups on October 14, 2014. He said, "It isn't right for armed groups to be trained on Turkish soil. You bring foreign fighters to Turkey, put money in their pockets, guns in their hands, and you ask them to kill Muslims in Syria. We told them to stop helping ISIS. Ahmet Davutoglu asked us to show proof. Everyone knows that they're helping ISIS." (See HERE and HERE.)
• According to Jordanian intelligence, Turkey trained ISIS militants for special operations.
Turkey Offers Medical Care to ISIS Fighters
• An ISIS commander told the Washington Post on August 12, 2014, "We used to have some fighters -- even high-level members of the Islamic State -- getting treated in Turkish hospitals."
• Taraf reported on October 12, 2014 that Dengir Mir Mehmet Fırat, a founder of the AKP, said that Turkey supported terrorist groups and still supports them and treats them in hospitals. "In order to weaken the developments in Rojova (Syrian Kurdistan), the government gave concessions and arms to extreme religious groups...the government was helping the wounded. The Minister of Health said something such as, it's a human obligation to care for the ISIS wounded."
• According to Taraf, Ahmet El H, one of the top commanders at ISIS and Al Baghdadi's right hand man, was treated at a hospital in Sanliurfa, Turkey, along with other ISIS militants. The Turkish state paid for their treatment. According to Taraf's sources, ISIS militants are being treated in hospitals all across southeastern Turkey. More and more militants have been coming in to be treated since the start of airstrikes in August. To be more specific, eight ISIS militants were transported through the Sanliurfa border crossing; these are their names: "Mustafa A., Yusuf El R., Mustafa H., Halil El M., Muhammet El H., Ahmet El S., Hasan H., [and] Salim El D."
Turkey Supports ISIS Financially Through Purchase of Oil
• On September 13, 2014, The New York Timesreported on the Obama administration's efforts to pressure Turkey to crack down on ISIS extensive sales network for oil. James Phillips, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, argues that Turkey has not fully cracked down on ISIS's sales network because it benefits from a lower price for oil, and that there might even be Turks and government officials who benefit from the trade.
• Fehim Taştekin wrote in Radikal on September 13, 2014 about illegal pipelines transporting oil from Syria to nearby border towns in Turkey. The oil is sold for as little as 1.25 liras per liter. Taştekin indicated that many of these illegal pipelines were dismantled after operating for 3 years, once his article was published.
• According to Diken and OdaTV, David Cohen, a Justice Department official, says that there are Turkish individuals acting as middlemen to help sell ISIS's oil through Turkey.
• On October 14, 2014, a German Parliamentarian from the Green Party accused Turkey of allowing the transportation of arms to ISIS over its territory, as well as the sale of oil.
Turkey Assists ISIS Recruitment
• Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu claimed on October 14, 2014 that ISIS offices in Istanbul and Gaziantep are used to recruit fighters. On October 10, 2014, the mufti of Konya said that 100 people from Konya joined ISIS 4 days ago. (See HERE and HERE.)
• OdaTV reports that Takva Haber serves as a propaganda outlet for ISIS to recruit Turkish-speaking individuals in Turkey and Germany. The address where this propaganda website is registered corresponds to the address of a school called Irfan Koleji, which was established by Ilim Yayma Vakfi, a foundation that was created by Erdogan and Davutoglu, among others. It is thus claimed that the propaganda site is operated from the school of the foundation started by AKP members.
• Minister of Sports, Suat Kilic, an AKP member, visited Salafi jihadists who are ISIS supporters in Germany. The group is known for reaching out to supporters via free Quran distributions and raising funds to sponsor suicide attacks in Syria and Iraq by raising money.
• OdaTV released a video allegedly showing ISIS militants riding a bus in Istanbul.
Turkish Forces Are Fighting Alongside ISIS
• On October 7, 2014, IBDA-C, a militant Islamic organization in Turkey, pledged support to ISIS. A Turkish friend who is a commander in ISIS suggests that Turkey is "involved in all of this" and that "10,000 ISIS members will come to Turkey." A Huda-Par member at the meeting claims that officials criticize ISIS but in fact sympathize with the group (Huda-Par, the "Free Cause Party", is a Kurdish Sunni fundamentalist political party). BBP member claims that National Action Party (MHP) officials are close to embracing ISIS. In the meeting, it is asserted that ISIS militants come to Turkey frequently to rest, as though they are taking a break from military service. They claim that Turkey will experience an Islamic revolution, and Turks should be ready for jihad. (See HERE and HERE.)
• Seymour Hersh maintains in the London Review of Books that ISIS conducted sarin attacks in Syria, and that Turkey was informed. "For months there had been acute concern among senior military leaders and the intelligence community about the role in the war of Syria's neighbors, especially Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Erdogan was known to be supporting the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist faction among the rebel opposition, as well as other Islamist rebel groups. 'We knew there were some in the Turkish government,' a former senior US intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence, told me, 'who believed they could get Assad's nuts in a vice by dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria - and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat."
• On September 20, 2014, Demir Celik, a Member of Parliament with the people's democratic party (HDP) claimed that Turkish Special Forces fight with ISIS.
Turkey Helped ISIS in Battle for Kobani
• Anwar Moslem, Mayor of Kobani, said on September 19, 2014: "Based on the intelligence we got two days before the breakout of the current war, trains full of forces and ammunition, which were passing by north of Kobane, had an-hour-and-ten-to-twenty-minute-long stops in these villages: Salib Qaran, Gire Sor, Moshrefat Ezzo. There are evidences, witnesses, and videos about this. Why is ISIS strong only in Kobane's east? Why is it not strong either in its south or west? Since these trains stopped in villages located in the east of Kobane, we guess they had brought ammunition and additional force for the ISIS." In the second article on September 30, 2014, a CHP delegation visited Kobani, where locals claimed that everything from the clothes ISIS militants wear to their guns comes from Turkey. (See HERE and HERE.)
• Released by Nuhaber, a video shows Turkish military convoys carrying tanks and ammunition moving freely under ISIS flags in the Cerablus region and Karkamis border crossing (September 25, 2014). There are writings in Turkish on the trucks.
• Salih Muslim, PYD head, claims that 120 militants crossed into Syria from Turkey between October 20th and 24th, 2014.
• According to an op-ed written by a YPG commander in The New York Times on October 29, 2014, Turkey allows ISIS militants and their equipment to pass freely over the border.
• Diken reported, "ISIS fighters crossed the border from Turkey into Syria, over the Turkish train tracks that delineate the border, in full view of Turkish soldiers. They were met there by PYD fighters and stopped."
• A Kurdish commander in Kobani claims that ISIS militants have Turkish entry stamps on their passports.
• Kurds trying to join the battle in Kobani are turned away by Turkish police at the Turkey-Syrian border.
• OdaTV released a photograph of a Turkish soldier befriending ISIS militants.
Turkey and ISIS Share a Worldview
• RT reports on Vice President Joe Biden's remarks detailing Turkish support to ISIS.
• According to the Hurriyet Daily News on September 26, 2014, "The feelings of the AKP's heavyweights are not limited to Ankara. I was shocked to hear words of admiration for ISIL from some high-level civil servants even in Şanliurfa. 'They are like us, fighting against seven great powers in the War of Independence,' one said." "Rather than the [Kurdistan Workers' Party] PKK on the other side, I would rather have ISIL as a neighbor," said another."
• Cengiz Candar, a well-respected Turkish journalist, maintained that MIT helped "midwife" the Islamic state in Iraq and Syria, as well as other Jihadi groups.
• An AKP council member posted on his Facebook page: "Thankfully ISIS exists... May you never run out of ammunition..."
• A Turkish Social Security Institution supervisor uses the ISIS logo in internal correspondences.
• Bilal Erdogan and Turkish officials meet alleged ISIS fighters.
Mr. Phillips is Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University's Institute for the Study of Human Rights. He served as a Senior Adviser and Foreign Affairs Expert for the U.S. Department of State.
Author's Note: Information presented in this paper is offered without bias or endorsement.
Thousands of academics in Turkish universities stand accused of either having supported terrorism or the attempted coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in July 2016. Theoretical physicist Ali Kaya is one of them. He was arrested three months after the failed coup and held for more than a year before his trial took place. On 20 December, a court declared him guilty of being a member of a terrorist organization and sentenced him to six years of imprisonment — but released him early owing to the time he had already served in prison while awaiting trial. Kaya says that he is innocent and is appealing against the verdict. In the meantime, he has been suspended from his academic post, and he has yet to learn whether his university, Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, plans to fire him or to await the outcome of the appeal.
Kaya says that while in prison, he kept his sanity by continuing his work on fundamental topics in cosmology. He wrote three research papers during his incarceration, on topics including inflation theory and cosmological perturbation theory. After his release, he posted the papers on the preprint server arXiv. Each contains a footnote that he dedicates to his friends in jail “who made my stay bearable at hell for 440 days between 7.10.2016 and 20.12.2017. I am also indebted to the colleagues who show support in these difficult times.”
Nature interviewed Kaya by Skype about his experiences.
What access did you have to research materials while in the prison?
Of course there was no Internet. Nothing digital — not even a pocket calculator — was allowed. No books could be brought in. Nothing in a foreign language was allowed in the jail. One of my students Google-translated some research papers for me into Turkish, but they were held back on suspicion that they included secret codes — presumably because they contained so many equations.
I worked up the research ideas I had already in my head before my arrest. Of course, it took much longer than it would have done if I had been at my computer. I had to start from basic formulae and derive things myself.
But time is something you have plenty of in prison. OK, I could not do ground-breaking work, but I think the papers I produced are solid, and I expect to get them published in good journals.
What were the general conditions like for you there?
Probably the conditions were better than in some other prisons in Turkey. Prisoners came and went. At times there were as many as 30 people, but on average, there were around 20 of us in 140 square metres. The space was divided into several small rooms for sleeping and a larger area that had a television. We were allowed into an adjacent small yard during the day.
Presumably, these conditions were not as cosy for doing research as they might sound?
No. Sure, it sounds cool to say you did research in prison — but prison is a bad place and I wouldn’t recommend it! The worst thing was the lack of contact. We were only allowed family visits for one hour a week, usually speaking through a glass partition on the telephone. We were also allowed a ten-minute phone call every two weeks. And I could speak to my lawyer once a week.
The first night in jail was the worst time of my life. I never gave up hope, but in prison you do often get a feeling that you might never get out, and nights are the worst.
But I told myself “They can take my freedom, but they can’t keep me from doing physics.”
How did you find quiet time to work in such a crowded space?
I was fortunate in my cellmates, many of whom were facing similar charges to me. Many were teachers. There was another assistant professor, and a doctor. We all got on well and the atmosphere was peaceful and respectful. I could sit at a little table with pen and paper and do my work.
You were in prison for almost 438 days: how did you spend all of that time?
I tried to learn Arabic, I played volleyball with others in the yard and I watched soccer on television. And I worked for several hours most days: that’s what kept me sane.
How did your university respond to your arrest?
I was lucky that my university only suspended me. Many other universities sacked those arrested on suspicion of supporting the coup.
What were the grounds for your arrest?
Because of my appeal, I prefer not to speak too much about it. Basically I was accused of being a terrorist — officially, being a member of a terror organization. But I can say that the evidence was abstract and absurd. For example, one of the arguments in my official indictment was that I had visited the United States and Canada, countries favoured by supporters of the movement that the government believes was behind the coup. The reasons for my travel had been academic: I had been on sabbatical at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and I held a seminar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and Tufts University in nearby Boston.
Kaya’s responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.
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