“Danger of jihadism is underestimated”

Assistant Prof. Erhan Keleşoğlu was a faculty member at Istanbul University International Relations Department and was dismissed on October 2016. He answered the questions of Agos about Reina attack.

In Turkey, the new year started with an attack. 39 people were killed in the armed attack in Reina, one of the most famous nightclubs in Istanbul. ISIS claimed the responsibility for the attack; targeting a nightclub on New Year's Eve made people think that a new period has begun in terms of the methods and targets of the attacks. According to Erhan Keleşoğlu, who was dismissed from Istanbul University by an emergency decree, this recent development indicates that a new period has begun. 

In the last 19 months, around 500 people had been killed in the attacks in Turkey. ISIS claimed only two of those attacks. The first one is the attack to the police headquarters in Diyarbakir on November 6, 2016. The organization called TAK also claimed for this attack.

ISIS hasn't claimed Ankara massacre and attacks in Suruç, HDP rallies, Istiklal Street and Sultanahmet Square.

Reina attack is the second one that ISIS claimed.

Assistant Prof. Erhan Keleşoğlu answered the questions of Agos about Reina attack.

Given the previous ISIS attacks in Turkey, this attack is a first. ISIS claimed an attack in Diyarbakir before. One attacker chose a nightclub on New Year's Eve and carried out an attack with long barreled weapons. Does this mark a new period?

This attack is similar to the ones carried out in Europe; one or more attackers go to a crowded place and try to kill as many people as possible. With this kind of an intimidation policy based on violence, they try to give the impression that no public space is safe. The purpose of the attacks in Europe was to stop the intervention of the West in the Muslim countries and prevent Muslims from integrating in Western societies. In my opinion, there is a similar theme here. There are two messages that marks the beginning of a new period. Firstly, they attacked the ones who adopted a Western lifestyle in Turkey in order to make propaganda of the Salafi-jihadist model for the wide masses who have been agitated by cultural differences for long time. You know, previous attacks targeted leftist/Kurdish opposition and touristic/strategic places. From now on, they can also attack the ones belonging to political Islamist circles who don't think like them, in addition to secular circles. The second message is intended for the state that fights against ISIS in Syria; they say, “I have the capacity to organize attacks in your country whenever I want.'

Turkey is fighting against ISIS in Syria. There was an attack against soldiers; footage of two soldiers who were burned alive by ISIS was released and the government said that they couldn't confirm it. Is Turkey's struggle failing or should we seek for the answer elsewhere?

From the beginning, Turkey underestimated the danger of Salafi-jihadism. They thought that this movement is under control in the country and in the region and they can eliminate it whenever they want. These elements were considered as useful tools in the interventions for overthrowing Esad regime. ISIS was seen as the lesser evil in the face PYD-led Kurdish movement's efforts for establishing autonomous regions. For the state, the real existential threat was Kurdish movement close to PKK. The Syrian-wing of an enemy organization that you carried out negotiations with on the one hand and a formation that all international powers agree on destroying on the other hand. Turkey was forced to get involved in Syria with military operations because of the mistakes it did at the beginning of the Syria crisis; Turkey tries to succeed in an asymmetrical war. And it makes some changes in the foreign policy because of this. Negotiations with Russia and Iran is a sign. There is also a similar rapprochement effort with the central Iraqi government. New strategy is a simplification by restoring the relationships with regional and international powers. A peaceful attitude in terms of Kurdish question is strategically necessary for this simplification move, but it seems impossible in a time when the state is being consolidated with nationalism. The purpose is to fight against ISIS directly and continue to oppress Kurdish movement in the region. Time will tell whether this strategy can be successful. However, major mistakes have been made in entrenchment; the real question is how to make up for them during the operations.

Rapprochement with Russia on Syrian question is significant. Are ISIS attacks a reaction against this? How can we assess the attack in consideration with these processes? Are balances in Middle East changing compared to the beginning of the Syrian Civil War?

The course of the process that will probably start in Astana is still a mystery. There are serious signs indicating that the ceasefire is not working and Free Syrian Army forces decided to suspend all negotiations until regime forces stop the attacks. Furthermore, Syrian Democratic Forces led by PYD that controls a large part of Syria are not included in the negotiations. There is no doubt that Turkey's changing position will upset the balances. However, though majority underestimates the capacity of influence of the US, the real factor will be the attitude that president-elect Trump will adopt after January 20.

State's tolerant attitude played a major part”

In Turkey, there is hate speech and targeting of New Year's and Christmas celebrations. In social media, we saw that some people are pleased by the attack. Does ISIS have an audience in Turkey? What kind of a struggle is needed within Turkey?

It is obvious that Salafi movement is weaker in Turkey compared to other Muslim countries. There are various reasons for this. However, thousands of Turkish Islamist went to Syria to fight and Salafi-jihadist movement became more appealing than ever within Islamist circles. State's tolerant attitude played a major part in this. As long as the cultural conflict atmosphere based on believer-nonbeliever division is sustained and policies based on democratic secularism are not adopted, our country will continue to be a fertile environment for ISIS and etc. State has just realized the seriousness of the threat posed by Salafi-jihadism. Directorate of Religious Affair's statement after the attack is very important. The most important factor in fight against ISIS is to diminish social-political tension to make the peace atmosphere dominant. I hope every one will do their share.


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Uygar Gültekin