December 6, 2013: Strategy Page
Turkish police and military intelligence officials are concerned about the hundreds of Turkish men (most in their 20s and 30s) who have gone to Syria to join Islamic terrorist groups fighting the Assad government. It is believed there are as many as 500 of these men and at least ten percent have been killed (and 10-20 percent wounded or injured) so far. What the police are worried about are those who return to Turkey alive. There have long been small groups of Islamic terrorists in Turkey, and over a decade of pro-Islamic government has made all sorts of Islamic conservatives feel welcome in Turkey. That has made Turkey vulnerable, as it’s often difficult to tell if some Islamic conservatives are radicalized Moslem or just Turks who take their Islam seriously.
This situation might change if more Turkish Islamic terrorists show up inside Turkey. Meanwhile Turkey’s economy has been booming for the last decade, ever since an Islamic party took control in 2002 by promising to finally do something about the corruption that had long crippled the government and the economy. Economic growth usually leaders to fewer Islamic terrorists. But the moderate Islamic politicians running the country have also sought better relations with Islamic states, especially Iran and neighboring Arab countries. That meant an end to the close economic and diplomatic relations with Israel.
This is a return to the past. Until 1924, the Sultan of the Turks was the Caliph (technically, the leader of all Moslems). But in the 1920s, Turkey turned itself into a secular state. Although Turkey became a major economic power in the Middle East, with one of the best educated populations in the region, it was still hobbled by corruption and mismanagement. The Islamic politicians promised to attack the corruption (which they have) and return religion to a central place in Turkish culture (a work in progress). This has upset a lot of secular Turks. But it's fashionable to hate Israel these days, over Israeli efforts to cope with Palestinian terrorism. Now Turks are noticing that the Islamic politicians are beginning to act like the corrupt and incompetent aristocrats that brought down the empire, which had turned from “The Pride of The Turks” to a shameful and dysfunctional organization that is not missed.
The possibility that young Turkish Islamic conservatives, radicalized in Syria and returning home with murderous intent might be one of several recent trends that are sending Turks back to secularism. For over three decades most of the terrorist violence in Turkey came from Kurdish nationalists, but that is declining as the government makes peace with the nationalist movements. There was always some terrorist activity from Turkish nationalists, Armenian nationalists and Islamic or Arab terrorists. With the two years of fighting in neighboring Syria, many Turkish Arabs and Shia Moslems have become radicalized and now there is fear that ethnic Turkish Sunnis are also becoming radicalized. The number of Turkish Sunni radicals are still small, but they have been growing for two years and it’s unclear what a lot of these newly radicalized Turks will do once the war in Syria is over.