Hostage crisis limits Turkey’s ISIL action

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Turkey’s contribution to the international coalition aimed at destroying the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) would be more substantial if the group was not holding 49 Turkish hostages, according to Deputy Prime Minister Yalçın Akdoğan.

“The issue of hostages is our main sensitivity and priority. That’s why we are so cautious while making statements. Those who know this and understand well are trying to press us further on whether Turkey can do more on this. This is irresponsibility. Turkey could surely say more than it says and could do much more than it is. But even one of our citizen’s lives is very important to us. That’s why we are moving in a very cool-headed way in this process,” Akdoğan told a group of Ankara newspaper bureau chiefs at a meeting yesterday.

He underlined that Turkey’s parameters to decide on its participation in the international coalition against ISIL consisted of its “national interests, societal sensitivities and values, and not on what other foreign countries are doing.”

“We first put our parameters on the table. Of course, after this we [are focusing on] international solidarity and cooperation. We must surely fulfill the necessities of this cooperation, but the limit of it should be drawn according to our own national interests,” he said.

Turkey said it would only provide humanitarian assistance to those who flee from ISIL violence and provide some non-lethal logistical support to the anti-ISIL coalition being built under U.S. leadership.

Washington, however, was expecting Turkey, the second largest army in NATO, to play a central role because of its crucial geostrategic location. Turkey has more than a 1,200-kilometer-long border with Iraq and Syria and has strategically located military bases and facilities from where the coalition can carry out airstrikes against militants.

Akdoğan reiterated that Turkey’s sole objective was the health of its citizens and that it would not take any step that would put the citizens’ lives in danger. Turkey’s general-consul and 48 other citizens have been in ISIL captivity since June 11.

No tolerance on terror

Turkey has become the subject of Washington-centered criticisms after it said it would not engage in military action against ISIL. Top American newspapers, like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, have published stories blaming Turkey for giving support to jihadist terrorists while questioning the alliance relationship between Washington and Ankara.

For Akdoğan, the stories are the continuation of a smear campaign against the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government that started during last year’s Gezi protests.

“An operation to influence perception toward the AK Party and Turkey is being carried out. This is a part of psychological operation with the objective of exerting pressure on the AK Party and on Turkey,” he said, claiming the campaign was first based on the authoritarian inclinations of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and now on Turkey’s unwillingness to fight ISIL.

“The philosophy of the AK Party is very clear. There is no any other political movement denouncing all sorts of terrorism and armed struggle so clearly while openly expressing its commitment to democracy and fundamental political struggle. We categorically denounce terrorism and all manners of undemocratic moves,” Akdoğan said, adding that trying to link the AKP with terrorists was unfair and wrong.

As the deputy prime minister responsible for communications, Akdoğan said they were working on a communication strategy to defeat such psychological operations against Turkey.

Historic opportunity for Turkey

Another dimension of the ongoing international campaign against ISIL is its potential consequences on Turkey’s Kurdish resolution process that aims at disarming the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) whose headquarters are in northern Iraq.

“There is great turbulence in our region. In this process, we observe new actors appearing and new alliances as well. All these indicate the importance of Turkey’s resolution process. This is a historic opportunity for Turkey. On the one hand, there is a sectarian-based conflict in our region and reverse from democracy in the Middle East and North Africa. Against all of these, Turkey stands as an example of democracy and a positive image in this region,” he said.

New Constitution still on table

Akdoğan also said the making of a new Constitution was still one of the government’s priorities despite there apparently being little time before next year’s parliamentary elections.

“There is a great expectation for a new Constitution in society. Therefore, we should make a new try. We should not delay this on the excuse that there is not much time. At least, we can try to pass constitutional amendments all parties have agreed on. This would give an important message to society,” he said.

In the event of the unwillingness of opposition parties, the government will try to deal with the problem in the aftermath of parliamentary elections.

Long-term struggle against the ‘parallel state’

Akdoğan said the government’s determination in eliminating the “parallel state” within state institutions remained strong as ever.

“The most important thing is to create awareness in society that this organization located in the state is acting against the state and therefore it’s not credible. I think we have been successful in this. They are losing credibility in society. But of course this is going to be a long-term struggle. Our president and all of us believe that the involvement of all state institutions in this struggle has significance,” he said.

In this framework, Akdoğan said roughly 12,000 judges and prosecutors would go to elections to elect new members of the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), a key judicial body for appointments and disciplinary actions.

“This election is going to be important. It’s sad to see the judiciary in such conflict. This situation of the judiciary upsets me,” he said.

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