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Turkey Turns To Russia In Fight Against IS

A Recce Tornado of the German armed forces takes off for its first operational flight at the air base in Incirlik in January 2015.

Is it just a show of resolve, or a new conviction -- or desperation? The Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said on July 4 in Istanbul that Turkey might "open the Incirlik air base" to Russia "as we did to all others who actively fight" the Islamic State extremist group. "We cooperate with anyone who fights against [IS], so why not work together with Russia?”

He was widely quoted by virtually all media outlets as saying Turkey would even go so far as to open the Incirlik air base to Russia for this purpose. That apparently went too far. The Russians reacted happily and opponents in Ankara (and maybe the West) took to the barricades.

Did he go too far? The reports were soon taken off the Internet.

Pro-Erdogan Aksam daily quotes Cavusoglu: "Why not open Incirlik to Russia?"
Pro-Erdogan Aksam daily quotes Cavusoglu: "Why not open Incirlik to Russia?"

Cavusoglu moved fast to deny that Turkey was opening the base for Russian use. "I did not talk about Incirlik," he said. "I reiterated what our president has said and that is that we are ready to cooperate with Russia in the fight against terror."

Since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the surprising agreements of normalization and improved relations with both Israel and Russia in the last 10 or so days, critics from right and left have started to attack him.

"What has changed that you are making a U-turn?"

"Yesterday’s jihadist brothers are becoming today's terrorists."

"You sold Gaza for dealing with Israel."

That does not seem to bother Erdogan too much. "We have never left our path," he assured his supporters. "We are just correcting what went wrong in our Russia and Israel relations because of artificial tensions," he said.

Even tolerating Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, at least for a period of transition, is not being ruled out, according to Turkish press reports.

But every Turkish citizen I asked who is not committed to any partisanship or ideology said, "Forget for a moment all those animosities inside and outside of Turkey, why not?"

For all too long, more than 32 years, Turkey has paid a terribly bloody and expensive price to the PKK terror without, to be fair, much addressing the source of the evil. IS, on the other hand, is a rather new plight that became a quickly expanding cholera following the easy fall or miscalculated overthrow of Middle Eastern dictatorial regimes to be replaced by fundamentalist and extremist groups.

In the beginning of this decade, the Islamic-leaning Erdogan was overenthusiastic about the Arab Spring and started to support those groups in his neighboring Syria, Iraq, and even Egypt, expecting that soon a number of those regimes might be replaced by more like-minded ones. It did not materialize and soon, his Islamic "brethren," many of them extremist and violent in mind and deeds, started to bite Turkey, too.

Ahmet Usta, a professional carpenter from Aksehir now living in Ankara and a lifelong conservative voter, gave me his take with a Turkish proverb: "From wherever you stop the loss, it is a gain." And Nurgul Hanim, a retired secular lawyer and fierce opponent of Erdogan, told me what I've been hearing for the last year or so from all corners of Turkish society: "We are worried about the very existence and the territorial integrity of this beautiful country and now very seriously worried about the lives of our loved ones and citizens of Turkey."

"Erdogan and AKP [the Justice and Development Party] may be guilty of many wrongdoings," said Arper, a high-tech specialist in his 30s. "These are tough times for Turkey. U-turns are necessary and they are best done by those who messed up most -- and also did the best, frankly, of the last 10 or more years in the economy and social services."

About This Blog

Turkey Notebook is a blog written by Abbas Djavadi, regional director of programming at RFE/RL and a longtime Turkey specialist. The blog presents Djavadi’s personal take on events and is designed for Turkey-watchers and all who want to get the most relevant news, views, issues, and insights on the country that you might not find in the daily news stream. Also check out Turkey Notebook on Facebook or Twitter.