“Erdoğan’s End Game: Turkey’s Long Arm in Syria and America”

WASHINGTON, DC – Ahead of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to the White House this Wednesday, November 13, The Investigative Journal (TIJ) and its editor Mohamed Fahmy hosted the regime’s top critics at the National Press Club at a conference titled, “Erdoğan’s End Game: Turkey’s Long Arm in Syria and America.” The conference featured a presentation of TIJ exclusive report, “Erdoğan’s Long Arm in the U.S.: Turkish Influence Operations Among American Muslims,” written by Ahmet S. Yayla, Assistant Professor of Homeland Security, former chief of Turkish National Police Counterterrorism and Operations Division and Fellow at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.

TIJ’s groundbreaking report focuses on understanding the mindset of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and gives a behind-the-scenes look into the funding of not only Turkish, but also American Muslim nonprofits in the United States. This essential analysis breaks down the strategic changes in Turkish foreign policy since 2011. It helps to explain Turkey’s deliberate drift away from the West and NATO and rapprochement with Muslim Brotherhood affiliates and other political Islamist movements.

Dr. Yayla took the podium to explain President Erdoğan’s fundamental focus: to stay in control. “[Erdoğan] basically uses his politics to make sure that he is to be in power for a long time,” Dr. Yayla said. “That’s the reason he amended the Constitution. That’s the reason he’s investing in different groups – to ensure his future.”

He continued, “So, if you look at the surveys, around 8% of the Turkish population supports ISIS. Around 10% believes that there should be a caliphate. And now, according to Erdoğan’s media, around 97% believes that the United States is the enemy of the Turks. And, independent surveys indicate around 90% of the Turks consider the United States as their enemy and this is because Erdoğan’s has been pumping hate against the U.S.”

In a one-on-one interview Yayla explained to Heinrich how Erdoğan’s intelligence agencies facilitated the entry of tens of thousands of foreign fighters through the Turkish border into Syria and how they smuggled thousands of trucks loaded with weapons that went to ISIS and Al Qaeda militants – information verified in a leaked audio recording of the head of the Turkish intelligence approving the transfer of 2000 trucks to the terrorists.

Panelists included David L. Phillips, Director, Program on Peace-building and Rights Institute for the Study of Human Rights Columbia University; Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI); Courthouse News reporter Adam Klasfeld, distinctive coverage of Turkish money laundering cases in New York; and award-winning American journalist and author Theo Padnos.

Moderator of TIJ Talks, a web TV show filmed in New York, Tal Heinrich opened the conference, saying, “For years, Erdoğan has nurtured, financed, and supported extremist groups like ISIS [and] Al Qaeda inside Syria and others all over the region. Turkey has invaded Syria while ethnically cleansing Kurds and the U.S. has retreated to Iraq. Turkey is a NATO ally and a radical regime that’s oppressing free speech. Turkey is exercising its influence over migrants in Europe and is gaining a closer relationship to Iran.”

David Philips argued against Erdoğan’s upcoming visit: “Erdoğan shouldn’t be in the White House on Wednesday. He should be in jail. Trump’s camaraderie with Erdoğan is disgraceful, to quote our president. It’s time for regime change in both Turkey and the United States. War criminals are not welcome in democratic and freedom loving societies,” he added.

“In addition to the data in Ahmet’s report, I think I’ll move ahead to the incident in Afrin in 2018. Turkey launched an unprovoked attack. The Kurdish defenders of Afrin were no match for Turkey’s war planes. As a result, 300 Kurds, Christians, and Yazidis were killed and there were 300,000 internally displaced persons. The FSA committed war crimes and mutilated the bodies of female fighters. They cut off their breasts and posed for selfies, which they then posted. Really, we all know about the Trump- Erdoğan’s phone call on October 6th. No matter how much they try to walk back the truth, Trump gave a green light to Turkey to invade and occupy Syria. Since then, hundreds of people have been killed, including many civilians and at least 250,000 internally displaced people. Now, Turkey is planning through the creation of its buffer zone to remove Kurds from their historic villages and homeland. The FSA has committed summary executions…In addition to that, the FSA and Turkey have committed other war crimes. It prevents civilians from being evacuated from conflict areas, its public schools and hospitals. Turkey has used white phosphorous and napalm.”

Journalist Theo Padnos, who was held hostage by Al Qaeda’s affiliate al-Nusra Front for two years, explained how his captors entered Turkey, saying, “Some of my most brutal, horrible torturers were Turks…I would often ask my captures, ‘How’s it going?’ [They’d say] ‘Oh, well we gotta go to Turkey and get some knives. They knew that they could get supplies [there].”

Padnos was freed after Qatar paid a multi-million dollar ransom–money that went directly to his captors–al Nusra Front the former affiliate of Al Qaeda in Syria.

Adam Klasfeld, the Court House reporter who has covered the Halkbank case in New York commented: “There’s a part of the sanctions bill that mentions a Turkish state-run bank, Halkbank. That was a bank that was now charged, indicted in a multibillion-dollar money laundering scheme. Recently, you were asking me about lobbying and influence, since the time of the origin of that corruption scheme – it came to a head in December 2013 – about a year later, Erdoğan was implicated in it with the leak of tapes.”

AEI’s resident scholar Michael Rubin spoke on the balance of power in the region, concluding, “You have a common interest both from Iran and from Turkey to de-legitimize the site, the idea of Saudi Arabia having control over the Hajj, over Mecca and Medina. Why not send it to the organization of Islamic cooperation? Which by the way, Turkey is trying to dominate in order to promote Turkey and at the same time pursue that mutual interest from Iran, Qatar and Turkey of de-legitimizing Saudi Arabia and the religious legitimacy which they derive from being host to Mecca and Media.”

These and many other issues complicate the United States’ relationship with Turkey. What should United States policy be toward Turkey these days? Should we push away and punish Turkey, likely driving them towards Russia, China and Iran? With all this in mind, we ask: What is a smart policy toward Turkey these days?

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