Turkey’s legitimate military operations

Turkey has been forced to consider a broader range of implications, including substantial domestic security concerns.

Turkish tanks take security measures on border with Syria
Syria and Iraq, with their diverse ethnic groups, will continue to be our neighbours in the future, writes Aktay [Getty]

On July 20, a suicide bomber detonated explosives in a gathering of youth outside a cultural centre in the town of Suruc, killing 32 and injuring more than 100 innocent students.

As the sun rose in the neighbouring town of Ceylanpinar two days later, the young police officers Feyyaz Yumusak and Okan Acar lay murdered in their beds.

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The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) was responsible for the bombing in Suruc and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) for the executions of the two police officers – asserting that it was retaliation against the Turkish government’s collaboration with ISIL in Suruc.

On July 24, Turkey launched air strikes on ISIL in Syria and PKK positions in northern Iraq.

Contradictory narratives

There are two contradictory narratives regarding these events in the media.

The first narrative is relatively simple: Before the terror attacks, the Turkish government was negotiating a settlement with the PKK. It had fulfilled all agreed obligations while the PKK betrayed the process by conducting numerous attacks and not disarming their operatives inside the country.

Turkey was also one of the first countries to recognise ISIL as a terror organisation. Turkey assisted the Syrian Kurds by transiting hundreds of Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers with equipment from northern Iraq to Kobane during the battle, and by protecting 200,000 refugees fleeing from ISIL.

The terror attacks of the PKK and ISIL were challenges to the government’s duty to protect the public. They necessitated a change to a more militarily-assertive policy against both organisations.

The other narrative is a convoluted conspiracy theory.

Anger and frustration among Kurds as Turkey hits PKK

In statements by the PKK’s executive committee, the Justice and Development (AK Party) government was accused of supporting ISIL in the battle of Kobane and carrying out the terror actions in Suruc while using ISIL as cover.

In effect, a terror organisation is alleging that a democratic government has murdered its own citizens, while at the same time claiming that their assassination of two police officers is a legitimate judicial execution.

Sadly, some Western media lean towards this narrative.

For example, the New York Times reports a version of reality closer to the conspiracy theory than reality.

While affording the necessary quotes by Turkish officials to uphold the semblance of impartiality, the headline, thesis and tone of the article is that, first, the Turkish policy shift is due to domestic political considerations of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and not a rational response by the government to the terror atrocities; and second, that the Turkish government is going easy on ISIL.

The NYT does not substantiate the claims that the policy change is due to domestic considerations.

The article rests almost entirely on speculation and hypostasising by the leaders of the opposition, and on the fact that the AK Party is conducting polling.

In another setting it is hard to imagine that the NYT would consider polling by a major party three months before a potential election as evidence of anything.

It is even harder to imagine an article with similar allegations would be published about any other NATO member’s government two weeks after their country had been struck by terrorism.

Failed Western strategy

The Western strategy in Syria has been misguided and unsuccessful.

The international community shifted focus midstream, from dislodging Bashar al-Assad to degrading ISIL. In doing so, it ignored the fact that the regime killed and displaced many more than ISIL did – if not with the same brutal and publicity-seeking methods.

A no-fly zone in northern Syria and an ISIL-free zone adjacent to the Turkish border to curb the devastating Syrian government's air strikes and allow some refugees to go home are a good start.


Washington’s earlier inability to outline a clear, long-term strategy for the future of Syria and European unwillingness to set any goal beyond the defeat of ISIL has been detrimental.

Turkey, unlike more distant countries, has been forced to consider a broader range of implications including substantial domestic security concerns.

Syria and Iraq, with their diverse ethnic groups, will continue to be our neighbours in the future.

Turkey’s reluctance to get involved militarily has fuelled doubts about our commitment to the defeat of ISIL. Allegations that the Turkish government is soft on ISIL – like those in the NYT article – have continually been floated in the media and anecdotes circulate by nongovernmental groups.

It is, however, noteworthy that no such allegations have come from other governments.

Overcoming the stigma

The Turkish government has repeatedly refuted the allegations of cooperating with ISIL.

It is also unreasonable and illogical given that Turkey has trained and hosted elements of the Free Syrian Army, transited Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers from the Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq, and that ISIL held 49 Turkish diplomats hostage for 101 days.

Despite these actions, we have been unable to overcome the stigma that has attached itself to our country in Western media.

It is not inconceivable that the media perception of Turkey being soft on ISIL has been created as a political tool to put pressure on our government to take further action against ISIL and preserve our international standing.

With the agreement between the US and Turkey, we get closer to strategy that may work.

Turkey’s long-standing demand to participate has hinged on a workable strategy, and with the recent attacks, we are forced to take action.


A no-fly zone in northern Syria and an ISIL-free zone adjacent to the Turkish border to curb the devastating Syrian government’s air strikes and allow some refugees to go home are a good start.

This will require substantial involvement of Turkish military forces and is likely to be very messy and involve direct conflict with both ISIL and the Syrian regime.

However, the long-term aim of peace and stability necessitates the toppling of the Assad regime and the defeat of ISIL.

In the last year, much of the Western media have come to use “the Kurds” as synonymous with the PKK.

The headline and text of the NYT article contained wording, such as “the military operations against the Kurds” and “the war with the Kurds”.

This elevates the terrorist organisation to a level it does not deserve as representatives of an ethnic group; it insults the overwhelming majority of peaceful citizens of Kurdish ethnicity (of which there are many in my party and in my electorate); and it fundamentally misrepresents the actions of the Turkish government.

I doubt that the NYT would describe the US intervention in Syria as “the war on the Muslims”.

Yasin Aktay is the deputy chairman of the Justice and Development Party and its chairman of foreign affairs department.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.