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Radikal ("Radical") is an influential daily based in Istanbul and owned by Aydin Dogan. Founded in 1997, it stands out amongst other newspapers in Turkey for its arts and culture coverage, as well as its essays and op-ed pieces.
John Kerry with Foreign Ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Riyadh last week.
Fehim Tastekin

Syria Talks in Geneva: Who's Who May Be The Hardest Question


ISTANBUL — The Geneva process for the Syrian crisis was launched with a stated commitment from Russia and the United States to find a political solution. But it will go nowhere if it can't overcome the clashing desires of the various fighting interests.

Certain international actors penned a temporary road map in Vienna back in November to establish a transition process in Syria. The United Nations expected the Syrian government and the opposition forces to sit at the negotiation table on Jan. 1, to form a transitional government within six months and hold elections within 18 months. But the sides have yet to even begin, as the start of talks has been pushed back until Friday.

What's blocking a solution is the issue of representation. Everybody wants their own representative at the table. Syria, Iran and Russia insist that organizations in Syria backed by Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey — such as Ahrar al Sham or the Army of Islam — should be on the terrorism list.

Saudi Arabia, in particular, wants the Army of Islam at the table across from Bashar al-Assad's Syrian government. The Saudis have already gathered allied opposition groups in Riyadh in December, forming a negotiation mission with Army of Islam Commander Mohammad Alush as the chief negotiator. This particular anti-Assad group has maintained that it should be only opposition force to sit at the negotiation table.

Kurdish questions

Another regional actor is Qatar, but its profile on the Syrian stage has been diluted since the throne passed from father to son. For now, it's doing little more than expressing its position. Turkey, which has formed a strong alliance with Qatar in the last five years, has been trying to force its own agenda, much like Saudi Arabia.

Turkey too wants the organizations it supports to be at the table, and it has also marked a line in the sand: No Kurds Allowed. As a nod to Turkish sensitivities, Saudi Arabia did not invite the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) or its militant People Protection Units (YPG) to the gathering in Riyadh. It's also rumored that Turkey threatened to boycott talks in Geneva if YPG and PYD were invited. The political actors in Western Kurdistan, or Rojava, have formed an alternative negotiation council by gathering the opposition groups that were not invited to Riyadh. This council, known as the Syrian Democratic Parliament, features leftist figures as well.

U.S. Secretary of the State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov are trying to find a common solution. The U.S. seems to be closer to the Russian stance on the issue of including the PYD, which has been neglected at the first and second Geneva conferences. The Americans are already coordinating with the YPG in combating ISIS. The U.S. role is convincing Turkey and Saudi Arabia to soften their stance on the Kurds. If not, the only ground that allows the Americans to set foot in Syria may drift to the Russians.

Meanwhile, the Russians are keeping the PYD and YPG close in order to prevent the U.S. from becoming the chief Kurdish ally in the region, and to keep the 50 temporary military personnel in Rojava from becoming a permanent base.

The most critical move Russia could make to affect Kurds in Syria would be to guarantee recognition of Rojava's democratic autonomy in Syria's next constitution. Russia is silent about this at the moment, partially because of its state policy for not intervening in allies' regimes and democratic affairs and partially because the resistance they expect from Assad's government. Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Istanbul and his meetings with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and President Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan also failed to find common ground. Turkey insisted on its position that the Kurdish parties are terror organizations just like ISIS.

Awkward position

Many international actors have invested in this war, and nobody wants to leave the bloody poker game with empty pockets. Saudi Arabia has been financing dirty deeds, coup preparations and undercover operations from Asia to the Middle East and from Africa to Latin America since the 1970s. It financed the training and arming of the mujahedin in Afghanistan against the Soviets after 1979. The CIA has opened a bank account with no interest (because interest is a sin), which the Saudis bankrolled to buy guns for the mujahedin. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are the ugly heritage of this collaboration.

Top Saudi Intelligence Bander Bin Sultan has long been involved in secret operations, including the arming of Syrian opposition since 2011. Bender was an ambassador in Washington and was among the exposed players in the Irangate scandal. The Saudis continued the money flow via a Cayman Islands bank after the U.S. Congress cut his budget.

Money from the Saudis and guns from the CIA has been put to work again during the Syrian crisis. President Obama granted permission to arm the Syrian opposition in 2013, but in fact the U.S. regional allies — Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia — have already been arming them for a year.

The New York Times has recently reported that Saudi Arabia and Qatar spent billions of dollars to train and equip CIA programs. The CIA bought weapons in Croatia, and Saudi Arabia paid the bill. Thousands of AK47s and millions of bullets were transported from Eastern Europe. Qatar bought shoulder rockets made in China and transported them to Syria. But Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia went too far by arming al-Qaeda affiliated groups, or those that operate like it.

Disagreement with regional partners took on new meaning when the U.S. changed course from fighting Assad to a war on ISIS. That's when the Saudi-Qatar-Turkey partnership became part of the problem for the U.S. Another problem later turned out to be the U.S. demand for Syrian ally Iran to get involved in the negotiations, as Saudi Arabia has already been upset that U.S. and Iran were working toward an accord on Tehran's nuclear program.

So now, after all of the funding it has provided to the CIA over the decades, it's Saudi Arabia's turn to raise its voice. The Saudi dynasty is at odds with the U.S. for the first time, demanding loyalty to their dirty alliance. The weakness displayed by the Obama administration comes from this alliance's terrible record. That's why they agree with Russia behind closed doors, then turn around and agree with Turkey and Saudi Arabia in public.

What can be expected from the Geneva talks in this atmosphere? With the start of the conference already postponed until Friday, the summit may not end the war. But if Moscow and Washington can at least figure out who is sitting at the table, they may earn a ticket out of Syria.

Taking a closer look in Istanbul.
Güven Sak

Turkey's Frantic, Failing Quest To Be A Technology Leader


ISTANBUL — Anyone who has ever visited a toy store with a child who doesn't really know what he wants can understand Turkey"s technological predicament. There is the mad run from shelf to shelf, listening to the child explain why he desperately needs toy after toy. And then, in the end, there is the parental lecture about a limited budget and the need to focus on something he really, truly wants.

Turkey's quest for national technology is very much like that. The country wants to produce a "national airplane." Turkey thinks it desperately needs a "national car." Turkey believes it must also develop a "national vaccine." The country wants all that and more — and right now.

There is a naive belief that these ambitions can all be achieved with a room and a desk. We have many places in our foremost universities with names such as "vaccine production center."

So what's driving all this, and why is it so wrong?

China spent almost $300 billion for research and development in 2014 compared to the $8 billion Turkey invested as it talked a lot about "producing national technology." First of all, if a country wants to build any new technology from scratch, it can't be done with spare change like that. When you look at the R&D budgets of the world's top 20 private companies — mind you, not countries — Turkey ranks equal to Google, which is ninth.

Secondly, consider the top three companies when it comes to this expenditure: Volkswagen (automotive), Samsung (consumer electronics) and Intel (information and communication technology). These three have a combined $40 billion R&D budget. Each company is a leader in its field, focusing on one specific area with more money than Turkey's entire R&D budget. And with that kind of money, nobody is trying to produce cars and medicine at the same time.

So what's the solution? First, Turkey must accept that there is no such thing as a "national technology" in our day and age. What Turkey really seeks is technology transfer. Sadly, our engineers have always looked at other designs without thinking about why things were created the way they were, and they've adopted production procedures again developed by others. It's time to change that.

Look at the Chinese experience: It was foreign investment and technology transfer that catapulted high technology exports to represent 25% of its total exports in 2012, up from just 5% in 1992. There's no need to reinvent the wheel. Any technology that is spread over the country's economy is national. Trying to create anything else is just like insisting on buying a new toy.

A country like Turkey can't do everything at once with its limited economic means, its R&D budget and number of engineers. Technology that is flexible enough to expand to other sectors must be preferred. The best example of what not to do is Turkey's past experience with state-foundation companies within the defense industry, such as ASELSAN. Unproductive technology transfer is a waste of resources.

Demonstration against Saudi Arabia's execution of Nimr in Tehran on Jan. 4
Saudi Arabia
Fehim TaÅŸtekin

The "Gray ISIS" — What Drives Saudi Obsession With Shia Expansion


ISTANBUL — Saudi Arabia silenced Ayatollah al-Nimr by executing him. He was an open critic of the Saudi royal dynasty and the cruelty against the Shia, while a longtime advocate for democratic elections. The Saudis lumped Nimr in with 46 al-Qaeda members who were charged with terrorism in order to ruin his reputation.

You are immediately labeled "pro-Iran" if you dare to speak about the tragic fate of the Shia minority in eastern Saudi Arabia. The Saudis do their best to avoid foreign criticism by calling Shia leaders like Nimr "tools of Iran." Yet oppression against the Shia did not start with the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Tehran, which regimes like Riyadh saw as an expansionary threat.

Iran's own record of executions does not excuse what the Saudis are doing to their Shia citizens. The Shia on the Arabian Peninsula have been living under a religious "apartheid regime" since the Wahhabis became allies with the Saudi dynasty in the 19th century, which ultimately led to the foundation of Saudi Arabia in 1932.

The Saudi-Wahhabi alliance showed its destructive manner in 1802 by carrying out a mass slaughter at Karbala and destroying and pillaging the tomb of Hussein ibn Ali. They called this carnage "the big jihad." The Wahhabi practice of targeting Shia clerics' tombs and destroying Shia mosques was repeated in 1903 in Al-Ahsa, in 1926 when four tombs of imams were destroyed in Medina, and when Imam al-Sadiq's tomb was targeted in 1975.

Revolutionary fears

If you consider the Wahhabi approach to law and order, takfir practices and views on women, Saudi Arabia is really just another version of ISIS but as a nation-state recognized by the United Nations — and the number one ally of the U.S. in the Gulf. Following the execution of Nimr, many people compared the two: the "white ISIS" and the "black ISIS." Maybe "gray ISIS" is the term that fits best.

Wahhabism is the official sect of Saudi Arabia and it considers the Shia as being "more dangerous perverts than the Christians and the Jews." The state policy and the shared mentality are shaped according to this. Animals slaughtered by the Shia can't be eaten because they are dirty; Shia women are not to be married because they are not Muslims; the Shia cannot testify in court because they would lie, and so on.

Since 1979, driven by the fear that the Iranian revolution would spread, the eastern Saudi city of Qatif is treated as "the traitors' zone" where the war against the dynasty will be fought. A carrot-and-stick policy has been practiced since 1990 as harsh countermeasures were balanced with increased social services. Shia leaders were released from prison in 1993, and some exiles were allowed to return. But could they become equal citizens? No.

Calls for violence against the Shia by Saudi scholars and the official religious authority have continued. The fatwas are always the same: "Either pick the correct path of belief or be killed or exiled." Official comments labeling the Shia as "the greatest enemy of the Muslims," "perverts," or "deviants," are still common.

The government promises more jobs but you do not see a single Shia as a governor, police chief, judge or pilot. There is not one Shia principal in any of the 300 or so female Shia schools. Students have to read national textbooks that demean their existence. Back in 2002, Ali Ahmed, director of the Insitute of Gulf Affairs, summed it up well at U.S. Congressional hearings,when he called Saudi Arabia "a glaring example of religious apartheid."

Shia clerics' struggle against the policies that demonize them and deprive them of their basic rights was generally reconciliatory, peaceful and reformist. The exceptions happened to be some acts of violence by the Saudi Hezbollah or resistance against the extreme police brutality at demonstrations.

Arab Spring fallout

There is no tolerance for the Sunnis who try to end the sectarian hostility either. For example, writer Mikhlif al-Shammari from the Shammar tribe was sentenced to two years jail time and 200 lashes for visiting Shia leaders under attack and attending a Shia funeral.

Nimr's execution will do nothing but feed sectarian hatred. King Salman could have used his authority to grant amnesty — but he chose not to.

During the "Arab Spring" wave of 2011, dozens of Shia youth were murdered at demonstrations that simply demanded more political and economic rights for all. Nimr was among the leaders who raised their voices bravely at the time. He kept his distance from Iran despite the accusations against him, and he came out in support of toppling the Assad regime in Syria, backed by Tehran. The only charge against him was speaking against the royal family — that is, not being diplomatic enough!

The execution of Nimr is not surprising due to the history of hostility toward Shia, but it comes at a delicate moment in terms of regional politics. The Saudis could not get what they wanted in Syria and Iraq, which has pushed them toward more aggressive policies, both foreign and domestic. They attacked Yemen with a vengeful approach when the Houthis were close to coming to power. Then they tried to start a Sunni coalition against terrorism. They play a dangerous game by expanding their sectarian domestic policy to a regional scale.

The Saudi regime fictionalized the successes of al-Qaeda and ISIS in Syria and Iraq as a "Sunni barrier" against the "Shia crescent," which is a manufactured fear. The founding ideology and oil money of Saudi Arabia have fed these organizations. Riyadh's fears of the Frankenstein terror monsters they've created is now multiplied by the consequences of their aggressive policies in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Saudi King Salman and Egyptian President al-Sisi last month in Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia
Fehim Tastekin

Twisted Saudi Humor: When A Terror Sponsor Vows To Fight Terrorists

Saudi Arabia, long a direct and indirect financier of religious fanatics, has declared war on Islamist extremism! It has 34 countries on board, some of which aren't even aware that they've joined. The punchline? It's not really abo

RIYADH Saudi Arabia has declared the creation of an Islamic front against terrorism, along with 33 other countries. Defense Minister Prince Muhammad bin Selman, who made the announcement, said the coalition will be called the Islamic Alliance Against Terror, and it fight not only ISIS but also other terror groups. The Riyadh-based coalition will provide intelligence, training and coordination support, and will first target Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan.

Praise be!

Saudi Arabia is many things. Among them: chief financier of the countless jihadist groups who tore apart Syria, piece by piece; manipulator of the pro-al Qaeda wave against the Shia in Iraq; and supporter of the jihadist Salafists in dozens of countries. But from this point on, it is leading the fight against terrorism! Don't hold back those tears of joy!

Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), reacted to the announcement by telling the Saudis that they were a few months early for an April Fool's joke.

Before we get to the absurdity of it all, let me first underline one fact: al-Qaeda, its successor ISIS and similar counterparts have been useful tools for Saudi Arabia in the dirty wars they wage against their enemies. Saudi financing played a big part in supporting the presence of both al-Qaeda and ISIS in Iraq. But just as al-Qaeda bit the hand that fed it in the 2000s with attacks on Riyadh and Jeddah — when ISIS crossed the line and said "I am a state, too" — the House of Saud panicked that their territory might be the next target.

Saudi Arabia found itself squeezed by Washington after 15 of the 19 attackers who hit the United States on 9/11 happened to be Saudi citizens, and it had to take certain precautions. The operations to feed jihadist elements became more sophisticated. Instead of offering direct support, the country channeled it through individuals and institutions in "front" countries such as Kuwait.

So let's get back to exploring Saudi Arabia's unique sense of humor with the latest announcement.

First question: Has this coalition actually been founded? How did so many countries suddenly line up behind the Saudis? At which summit did they make these decisions? It's all a mystery.

It's certain that they're employing the "make-it-up-as-we-go" method we know so well in Turkey. But this is a new standard for improvisation, as apparently some countries such as Pakistan, Malaysia and Lebanon didn't even know they were part of the coalition. For the delicate nature of politics in Lebanon, it's dicey to take part in a sectarian coalition while Hezbollah is part of the government.

Paying for our sins

It's also odd that Turkey happened to be the first country to declare support for the coalition. Prime Minister Ahmet DavutoÄŸlu embraced it as the "best answer to give to those who want to identify terrorism with Islam."

Second question: Is this really about combating terror?

Yes, there is a consensus that ISIS is a terror organization. What about the others? Everybody has their own terrorists. For example, Turkey puts the Kurds with the PKK, YPG and PYD in that basket, but like the Saudis, it finds certain Salafist groups to be reasonable. For Egypt, the terrorists are the Muslim Brotherhood, which is praised by the Turkish government, while Hezbollah tops the Saudi enemy list. Some groups that Turkey supports in Libya are considered terrorists by the Saudis. Who are the terrorists? Who will declare war on whom? Dark humor, to say the least.

Don't even get me started on Saudi definition of terrorists: Atheists, those who target the royal family and those who cooperate with foreigners against the king, are considered terrorists. But the oil money that has supported Wahhabi sectarian violence has immunity among the partners of this coalition.

So what's the point? Saudi Arabia's priority has always been founding a Sunni alliance against Iran and its allies, not combating terrorism.

You may recall that the new King Salman attacked Yemen in order to consolidate power domestically and secure the country's status as regional leader and settle a score with Iran over Syria. He tried to form a Sunni coalition in the process, with Ankara always the most enthusiastic partner. Ultimately, the Saudis waged the war in Yemen at the cost of clearing a path for al-Qaeda and ISIS on the Arab Peninsula.

In this light, Saudi Arabia posing as anti-terror is utterly unconvincing.

The Saudis persistently say that the coalition isn't sectarian. Okay, are Iran, Iraq and Syria, which are all fighting ISIS, in the coalition? No. Another crucial question: Can this coalition ever have operational capacity or become a position of power? Almost certainly not.

In short, ISIS and similar organizations are the ugly fruits of the sins of the Saudi-U.S. partnership that was duly followed by many other countries. This is the harsh truth. Syria has turned into hell on earth, but Saudi Arabia still persists in supplying bullets for jihadist guns to force President Bashar al-Assad out at all costs.

Saudi Arabia has no real interest in combatting terrorism. What it wants is a sectarian Sunni coalition. That's about it. The joke's on us.

Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers training near Erbil, Iraq
Fehim Tastekin

Turkey In Iraq, Erdogan Reveals His Sunni Agenda

After its standoff with Moscow over the downed Russian fighter jet, Ankara is making waves with its troop presence in Iraq. But Turkey does not want Shia militia to be the heroes to "rescue" Mosul from ISIS.


ISTANBUL — Turkey's government, which likes to consider itself a "regional power," has forced the country back under the protective shadow of NATO (where it was during the Cold War) thanks to an unplanned crisis with Russia. In the face of Vladimir Putin's unabating rage after the shooting down of a Russian plane, the limits of Turkish geopolitical ambitions have been exposed.

And yet despite such a troubling crisis, the government in Ankara now finds itself in a standoff with another pivotal country: Iraq, with Turkish military sent troops to a training camp in Bashiqa, north of the Iraqi city of Mosul. Baghdad's immediate response: Pull your troops back within 48 hours or we will employ every alternative — including going to the United Nations Security Council. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded Thursday that he has no intention of withdrawing troops.

Although the height of the tension is now largely passed, it is a reminder of Turkey's errors in Iraq, including then Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's visit to Kirkuk without notifying Baghdad, and bypassing the Iraqi authorities while transporting Kurdish oil. More crises are sure to follow.

Those in power in Ankara who use the term "dynamic foreign policy" act surprised again. The political climate that leads to the shooting down of a Russian plane for barely entering its airspace, also somehow forgets about another country's sovereignty as they march tanks into their territory to build a base just up the road from Mosul.

Turkey's official explanation for its new military presence around Mosul is that the former governor Esil Nuceyfi asked for help to combat ISIS. Davutoglu, now the Turkish prime minister, discussed the matter with Iraqi President Haider-al Abadi in Baghdad on Dec. 20, 2014. Then Turkey started training with the approval of the Iraqi government. But Iraq says that Turkey's actions go well beyond troop training and that the military transfer was made without notification.

Baghdad has insisted that any training of anti-ISIS forces must be done through the Iraqi defense ministry. "This condition applies to everyone but Turkey disregards it," an Iraqi source told me.

Even the United States, which has a comprehensive security and cooperation deal with Iraq, does not treat Baghdad like Turkey has. For example, the U.S. and its western allies send aid to Kurdistan's government via Baghdad.

Of course, Turkish military presence in Iraq is not a new thing. There are Turkish soldiers at many points along the border, most notably in Bamerne. There are also military liaison offices in Sulaymaniyah and Erbil.The Turkish military presence in Iraqi Kurdistan has roots going back as far as the first Gulf War.

Ankara insists that their current aim is limited to training Peshmerga fighters and other troops in the area, but it seems that their presence turned into what amounts to a small Turkish military base, judging by the tank concentration.

My Iraqi sources say there was simmering tension over payment claims for the troops in Bashiqa, but I believe there are deeper political conflicts. It could be one or more of the following factors:

Maybe Turkey wanted to say "I play a part in the Middle East game, too," and make itself more visible near Mosul after Moscow used the downing of the Russian plane to undermine Turkish military plans in Syria.

Maybe the Bashiqa military presence is an act of intimidation to the Kurdish forces present in the area.

Maybe it's an expression of Turkish ambitions as "the new Ottomans" wanting to be among the forces to rescue Mosul.

Maybe this is all about the security of the oil deals made with the Iraqi Kurdistan government.

Still, it is hard to understand what the end game is. We may easily be wrong again, just as we were in assuming Turkey would never dare shoot down a Russian plane over "rules of engagement."

Ankara's foreign policy has shifted to follow a Sunni sectarian line, and the Iraqi government and people who were driven away from their homes in Mosul blame Turkey's allies in the area for the fall of Mosul to ISIS.

Turkey does not want Shia militia and Iranian forces to enter Mosul — the U.S. is on the same page on this score. But the question has become: "Who will rescue Mosul?"

The pro-government media of Turkey claims the military of Mosul disbanded because they were all Shia and did not want to defend the city. It is also claimed that the Popular Mobilization Forces are all Shia and that they are under the command of Iran.

The Shia represent 65% of the Iraqi population. The Sunnis are very much a minority if you do not include the Kurds among them. Those who do whatever they can to alienate the Shia do not do much to encourage the Sunni clans to rise against ISIS.

The Iraqis I talk to — who includes ethnic Turkmens, natural allies of Turkey — say the Popular Mobilization Forces are fighting for Iraq, of which Mosul is a part. "All Iraqis are there to save Iraq," says one source. "That includes the Shia and the Sunni, the Christian and the Muslim. It is not anybody's place to say the Shia are not welcome."

Kurdish troops liberate the town of Sinjar, Iraq
Fehim Tastekin

Turkey's Opportunism, Using Paris Attack To Undermine Kurds


ANTALYA — Opportunism may be one of the accepted facts of life in foreign policy, but that doesn't mean it's a good thing. The Turkish government is busy right now trying to make the most of two pieces of the Syrian crisis that have come to the fore: The recent flood of refugees to Europe, and the ISIS attacks in Paris. They are both likely to backfire.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's coy question "What would happen if these 2.2 million refugees get out of Turkey and start marching towards the EU?" is a cheap bargaining trick to say the least, attempting to introduce the destiny of desperate Syrian as a new unofficial dossier in EU-Turkey relations.

But now, the number of locks on the door of Europe is likely to rise as information circulates that one of the Paris attackers may have been a Syrian refugee who passed through Turkey. Will the negotiations move towards a buffer zone plan, or will the sides leave the with-or-without-Assad debate aside, and concentrate on ending the war in Syria as quickly as possible?

But let's be clear: Ankara is playing the terrorism card at the very moment that the Paris attacks strengthen the decisiveness to combat ISIS. Erdogan condemned the Paris attacks, calling for "a consensus of the international community against terrorism." But in his mind, this consensus means adding Kurdish forces to the EU list of terrorist organizations. The U.S. and the EU already recognize the historical Kurdish organization PKK as terrorists, but Ankara also wants the West to end its recent collaboration with the Kurdish groups, PYD and YPG, in the military fight against ISIS.

Assad, stay or go?

But the Paris attacks underlined the urgency for a broader solution in Syria, and that requires the U.S. and Russia to work together. Led by France, the West is now looking to get in line with Russia and put aside plans to overthrow the Damascus regime in favor of focusing on the defeat of ISIS.

The Vienna gathering on Saturday came just after the terror attack in Paris. A transition government is to be founded in Syria within six months, and UN-observed elections are to be held within 18 months according to the new constitution to be written. The ideal date for the Syrian government and the opposition groups to start talks under UN observation is Jan. 1.

So, ever more, it appears that the transition will be with Assad, though there is no clue about the long-term fate of Assad. The Russians are selling this by saying "the people at the ballot will decide, while the Americans appear ever more helpless and biding their time.

Turkish Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu insisted Assad will not run in the elections, and his exit will occur according to a process to be decided later. Russia is no longer pushing Assad to stay, according to Sinirlioglu.

Ever more, the Syrian issue is starting to be perceived within the context of "combating terrorism," which is also to Moscow's liking, though Turkey's desire to add the PYD and YPG to the terrorism list is not.

As people wonder whether the Paris attacks are a turning point in the battle against ISIS, some began to ask if the West would launch a ground war. Obama quickly ended such speculations at the recent G20 summit.

While the rest of the world begins to coalesce in the battle against ISIS, Turkey seems to care about nothing except stopping Kurds from moving west of the Euphrates. If this ends up standing in the way of a united front against ISIS, the whole world would suffer. And the allies would remember Turkey's blatant opportunism for a long time to come.

Turkish President Erdogan (2nd left) at a memorial in front of Ankara's train station
Gonul Tol

After Ankara: Terrorism, Responsibility And Erdogan's Short Memory

Turkish President Erdogan was quick to blame U.S. and French leaders after terror attacks struck those countries, but has failed to take responsibility for allowing the deadly Ankara attacks to occur.

ANKARA — After three Muslim students were murdered last February in North Carolina, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had these words for American President Barack Obama:

"I call out to Mr. Obama; I ask: Where are you, Mr. President?" he asked, also singling out U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry. "We, the politicians, are responsible of the murders committed in our country. Because, when the public votes for you, they vote for you to provide safety for their life, safety for their property. If you stay silent in the face of such an event, the world will always be silent towards you, too."

Also, after last January's deadly attacks in at the Paris-based magazine Charlie Hebdo, Erdogan singled out the French intelligence services: "These people served 16 or 17 months in your prisons. Why didn't you follow these people? Isn't your intelligence working?"

Now, Turkey's capital has experienced the deadliest terrorist attack in the history of the republic; 95 people died, hundreds were wounded. The attack took place four kilometers away from the parliament and three kilometers away from the National Intelligence Agency.

The rally targeted by the attack had been promoted in the media and social media for weeks. Moreover, Turkey has experienced similar attacks in the last months: 32 people died in a bombing in Suruc near the Syrian border, and four died during an attack in Diyarbakir.

Erdogan's ally with the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu lectures the West on morality and democracy every chance he has. And yet now, the people running our country not only fail to take responsiblity, but blame the opposition, citing the fact that no governing coalition could be formed after last June's election.

"This government is not an AKP government, it is an election government," Davutoglu said in the statement after the attack in Ankara. "I wish we could have faced the difficulties with a national unity government. I do not want to start a political polemic but (the opposition) would have been a great support against terror if they had joined this government."

We are the government. When? Only when hiring hundreds of civil servants since the elections and going after journalists, columnists, academicians, dissident business leaders. But when put to answer for the deaths of 95 people in the center of the capital, no, then it is an "election government."

Tracking insults

We must ask whether there was a failure in security. The bloodiest attack in the history of the Turkish republic came from an organization that the government has not perceived as a threat and never dealt with the seriousness it warranted.

European Union member countries warned their embassies in Ankara that they expected an ISIS attack in Ankara before the Nov. 1 elections. Many embassies increased security measures afterward.

But our government looks for potential bombers elsewhere, even though their own investigators said the evidence points to the Islamic State.

What is a failure in security, if not this?

The judiciary, police, intelligence of this country are all busy keeping track of insults made to Erdogan and his family, columns and messages on social media, while murderers roam free in Diyarbakir, Hatay, Ankara, Mersin and Adana, killing the children of Turkey.

Let us end by redirecting President Erdogan's words back at himself: "Why didn't you follow these people? Isn't your intelligence working? ... We, the politicians, are responsible of the murders committed in our country. Because, when the public votes for you, they vote for you to provide safety for their life, safety for their property. If you stay silent in the face of such an event, the world will always be silent towards you, too."

Anti-ISIS fighter training in Aleppo, Syria
eyes on the U.S.
Nese Idil

The Fiasco Of U.S. "Train And Equip" Against ISIS In Syria

ISTANBUL — The program to train and equip the "moderate opposition" in Syria, as long planned by the United States alongside Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, ended in utter failure. What led to this global diplomatic fiasco that has left the future of Syria looking so grim?

The chain of problems began with the most basic difficulty of finding such "moderates" in Syria eager to be trained for war. Add to that the fact that the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, known as the al-Nusra Front, made a showdown with moderate forces a priority of its strategy, ultimately leading to the secular rebels turning their weapons over to the Islamists. Even those moderates who were trained and equipped by international forces criticized the strategy, stating that they did not want to fight al-Nusra, but rather the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

It was back in June 2014 when U.S. President Barack Obama asked Congress for a budget of $500 million to train and equip militia forces to combat the even more powerful Islamist forces of ISIS. Obama asked Congress in September 2014 for additional authority and resources to train and equip the fighters.

The program, however, was met with criticism due to the uncertainty of how the "moderates" would be chosen. Questions remained, such as whether the trained men would work with al-Qaeda or other jihadist groups after returning to Syria. Turkey and the Gulf states made it clear they wanted the "moderates" to focus their fight against Assad's regime, while the U.S. never commented on that issue.

Pentagon spokeswoman Elissa Smith announced in January that 400 trainers would be placed in Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia as part of the program. Turkey and the U.S. declared on Feb. 19 that they had, "in principle," come to terms on the train and equip mission.

Self defense

A 15,000 strong "moderate army" was supposed to be created over the coming three years, with plans for 5,400 graduates from the program this year, including 2,000 trained in Turkey. But only once the program has actually started in May, was it clear that the scale of the ambitions were impossible to obtain. The U.S. news website Daily Beast reported back in May that up to 1,000 volunteers would be leaving the program because of restrictions that they only fight against ISIS, and not target Assad forces. Then in June, the Associated Press, reported only 1,500 out of the 6,000 volunteers had been accepted and all but just a few dozen were later removed from the program for not matching qualifications.

Criticisms peaked when U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced on July 7 that only 60 Syrian militia were in training. Carter"s explanation for the remarkably low number was that they had very high standards on the recruits, which fed the claims that finding "moderates" in Syria was no easy task.

Real trouble started when the first group, the 30th Division, entered Syria on July 12. Soon after, al-Nusra abducted 18 members of the division, including Turkmen commander Colonel Nadim al-Hassan and his lieutenant. Al-Nusra confiscated their weapons and vehicles. Al-Nusra later assaulted the group a second time; killing five, wounding 16, and abducting eight others. The Telegraph reported that the "moderates" did not want to fight "brother" al-Nusra forces, but rather focus on not only ISIS, but also Assad and his proxies.

More trouble has since followed, with reports that the second group entering Syria had defected and handed their weapons to Syrian authorities. This claim was officially denied but photographs appeared on social media featuring rebels with American-made weapons.

The Pentagon, meanwhile, insists that the program is not over, even if the past months and weeks make the future of train-and-equip-the-moderates as bleak as Syria itself.