How Turkey Became Prime Recruiting Ground For All Sides In Syria's War

A file photo of Kilis, Turkey, near the border with Syria
A file photo of Kilis, Turkey, near the border with Syria
Idris Emen

ISTANBUL — A series of reports shows a growing number of recruitment campaigns to sign up young Turkish people to fight in the Syrian war — on all sides.

The youth, generally ranging in age from 18 to 30, are mostly from the Adiyaman province in southeastern Turkey, though others come from a number of different areas along or near the country's 820-kilometer border with Syria.

Several groups with ties to al-Qaeda and their Syrian outfit al-Nusra, as well as others linked to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, have all set up shop in central Adiyaman to recruit young people with the promise of financial gain or the glory of jihad. The recruits are transferred to Syria in groups of 15 by way of the towns of Kilis, Hatay and Sanliurfa. It is estimated that at least 200 Turkish citizens were taken to Syria from Adiyaman alone in recent months.

Relatives of the young recruits have traveled from camp to camp in search of their sons, with some managing to get them back by paying ransom. The Governor’s office of Adiyaman and the local police refused to answer our questions on the matter. The main political opposition, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) is preparing to bring the matter to the attention of the Turkish Parliament.

CHP Deputy Sezgin Tanrıkulu said they have been informed by NGOs of the area and two families whose sons were taken to Syria have come to them personally. “We have prepared a parliamentary inquiry to find out who is taking these youth to Syria and how,” he said, demanding the government take action.

M.D. is the father of twins who left home on Sept. 2 for Aleppo after telling their parents that they were going to university. M.D. said his sons’ behavior started to change last year: “First they grew beards, then they told their sisters to cover their heads," the father recalled. "They were getting mad at me while discussing the civil war in Syria, saying ‘There are things you do not understand. You do not understand Islam. This is a jihad and everybody should fight for it.’"

M.D. learned that his sons were not in college but in Syria when they called home one day. “They said they went there to take up the jihad and I should not come after them,” he said.

Jihad's children

The father went to the police but they said there is nothing they can do since his sons are adults. Later, he decided to go to Syria and visited six military camps in four days, meeting Turkish people from Adiyaman, Bitlis and Bingol before he found his twins. “I found both of them at a camp in Aleppo. When I told the gang leader that I had come to take my children, he said to me: ‘These children here are fighting for the jihad. Are you an infidel to keep them away from the jihad? We will shoot you and bury you here if you come here again.’”

M.D. returned to Turkey empty-handed.

F.B. was luckier. Two months ago, he tracked down his 25-year-old son in a Syrian camp called Ebu Dicle.

"They had me meet a commander. I told him ‘I came to take my son.’ His men turned their guns on me. Then I fainted," the Turkish father recalls. "When I woke up, my son was coming towards me with an armed group of 50 men in Arabic robes. I fainted again when I saw my son like this."

Eventually, another commander asked him to make a "donation," and F.B. was able to leave with his son, though he saw several other Turkish youth at the camp. “They told my son that he was going to fight against Assad when he was leaving Turkey — but the camp was for training the forces of Assad.”

Ozturk Turkdogan, head of the Human Rights Association of Turkey, said Turkish intelligence officers know about such youth being recruited to fight in Syria. “We had some information about illegal radical Islamist organizations gathering young people in the name of religion and taking them to Syria," Turkdogan said. "It surprises us that the police and the secret services turn a blind eye to the actions of these groups when it is obvious that they are recruiting soldiers for the civil war.”

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Chinese Students Now Required To Learn To Think Like Xi Jinping

'Xi Jinping Thought' ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university.

Children from Congtai Elementary School, Handan City, Hebei Province

Maximilian Kalkhof

BEIJING — It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education.

The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader.

Xi Jinping has been the head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for almost 10 years. In 2017, at a party convention, he presented a doctrine in the most riveting of party prose: "Xi Jinping's ideas of socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new age."

Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself. In other words, to make China great again!

Communist curriculum replaces global subjects

This doctrine has sent shockwaves through China since 2017. It's been echoed in newspapers, on TV, and screamed from posters and banners hung in many cities. But now, the People's Republic is going one step further: It's bringing "Xi Jinping Thought" into the schools.

Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation?

The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

photo of books on a book shelf

Books about Xi-Jinping at the 2021 Hong Kong Book Fair

Alex Chan Tsz Yuk/SOPA Images/ZUMA

— Photo:

Targeting pop culture

The regime is also taking massive action against the entertainment industry. Popstar Kris Wu was arrested on charges of rape. Movies and TV series starring actor Zhao Wei have started to disappear from Chinese streaming platforms. The reason is unclear.

What the developments do show is that China is attempting to decouple from the West with increasing insistence. Beijing wants to protect its youth from Western excesses, from celebrity worship, super wealth and moral decline.

A nationalist blogger recently called for a "profound change in the economy, finance, culture and politics," a "revolution" and a "return from the capitalists to the masses." Party media shared the text on their websites. It appears the analysis caused more than a few nods in the party headquarters.

Dictatorships are always afraid of pluralism.

Caspar Welbergen, managing director of the Education Network China, an initiative that aims to intensify school exchanges between Germany and China, says that against this background, the curriculum reform is not surprising.

"The emphasis on 'Xi Jinping Thought' is being used in all areas of society," he says. "It is almost logical that China is now also using it in the education system."

Needless to say, the doctrine doesn't make student exchanges with China any easier.

Dictatorships are always afraid of color, pluralism and independent thinking citizens. And yet, Kristin Kupfer, a Sinology professor at the University of Trier, suggests that ideologically charged school lessons should not be interpreted necessarily as a sign of weakness of the CCP.

From the point of view of a totalitarian regime, she explains, this can also be interpreted as a signal of strength. "It remains to be seen whether the Chinese leadership can implement this so thoroughly," Kupfer adds. "Initial reactions from teachers and parents on social media show that such a widespread attempt to control opinion has raised fears and discontent in the population."

Die Welt
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