Why is Turkey reluctant to intervene against IS?

Why won’t Turkey intervene against Islamic State (IS). The answer is always more complex than apparent.

  1. Religion. Turkey is reluctant to participate in any operation that will result in the death of Muslims, itself being a Muslim majority country. Although this may not be said outright but deference made to treaties, a policy of non-intervention, neutrality, it also explains why the Turkish parliament sided with public opinion before the US led military invasion in Iraq in 2003 and did not participate. This is nothing new, and looking back to Turkey’s Ottoman history, any military operation involving attack against Muslims required justification (in other words the issuance of a religious edict (fatwa) which is what happened during Ottoman times to justify against (Shiite) Muslims, the Safavids.
  2. Infrastructure Turkey is already hosting over 800,000 Syrians who have fled across the border. To host refugees, countries need to be at a certain level of development. Turkey is still considered a developing country, which means that although it is providing for this guest population, it does require resource and commitment from elsewhere. Problems have already commenced in Turkey with local resentment of the population is some areas, and the presence of more Syrian beggars in population centres.
  3. The Kurdish issue. The majority of the population freeing Kobane, the border down which ISIS is pressing on, is Kurdish. One fifth of Turkey’s 75 million population is Kurdish. Turkey experienced a prolonged internal conflict with the internationally recognized terror organization, the PKK (Kurdistan workers party). The seeming recent reluctance to accept the fleeing Kobane population has been perceived as double standards and reluctance to open the doors to Kurds. This is what led to protests on the evening of 7th of October including a curfew in 5 Kurdish majority cities in south eastern Turkey: Diyarbakır, Batman, Muş, Siirt, Mardin and Van and resulting in 12 deaths.
  4. Internal security threat. ISIS recruitment is happening in Turkey’s capital according to this New York Times article. Could attacking ISIS therefore awaken internal sympathy towards them within Turkey?
  5. NATO Article 5. There are already coalition airstrikes taking place on Kobane, which as of Thursday 8 October, seems to have stymied the IS advance. However, should IS advance and attack Turkey, this would invoke NATO’s article 5; that an attack on one member state, is considered an attack on all, invoking article 5.
  6. Anti government sentiment. While the ruling AKP government led by now President Erdogan has increased its proportion of the vote in 4 subsequent elections, there is a sizeable population who are anti-government and anti-Erdogan. This was born out during the Gezi protests in May-June 2013, and a number of other instances which have given rise to anti government protest and expression. While this is not the most important issue of the lot, it does subject government behaviour to criticism, and lack of a unified public support to potential internal and external security threats.
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