Turkey’s Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) government not only protects jihadist groups including Islamic State and al-Qaeda militants from the wrath of the criminal justice system by means of a revolving door policy where showcasing arrests often results in releases, but also pursues a systematic and deliberate policy of preventing the legislative branch from investigating these lethal networks in Turkey. Dozens of motions have been struck down by Erdoğan’s party in the Turkish Parliament since 2015, while opposition lawmakers who made serious allegations about government connections to jihadists were arrested and intimidated.
Article 98 of the Turkish Constitution empowers the legislative body to supervise the executive branch through several tools such as inquiries, debates, questions and investigations in parliament commissions and the plenary. The review of legislative actions by the opposition and ruling parties on ISIL, al-Qaeda and other radical groups leaves no room for doubt that the Erdoğan government has cast a wide protective web over extremist religious groups. Every time a motion asking for the establishing of an investigation commission to probe in-depth all aspects of ISIL, al-Qaeda and jihadist terror networks was tabled, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AKP helped defeat these motions from moving forward with the majority of votes it controls in the legislative body. There is no exception to this pattern. The motions that are still pending are doomed to fail just like others before them were killed by Erdoğan’s thugs.
The main reason for this obstruction by Erdoğan and his AKP is because Islamist rulers do not want to take a chance on risking exposure of their jihadist accomplices even if the AKP has control of the votes, witnesses and procedures in such investigation commissions with the majority of seats it holds. The Turkish president knows that if Parliament agrees to set up an investigation commission, minority members may get a chance to reveal how his government aided and abetted radical groups, while witnesses who are summoned may inadvertently let something embarrassing and even damaging slip that may very well put the government in a difficult and incriminating position.
The best snapshot on government behavior regarding this pattern was taken when pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) lawmaker Mahmut Toğrul and 21 of his colleagues co-signed a proposal on Dec. 28, 2015 to establish an investigation commission in Parliament to probe whether measures, if any, taken against the ISIL network in Turkey are effective. The motion was debated in the plenary on June 29, 2016 and defeated with the votes of Erdoğan’s AKP. The motion was suddenly moved to the agenda a day after three ISIL suicide attackers bombed İstanbul Atatürk Airport and left 45 people dead, on June 28, 2016. All three bombers reportedly had no record of entry to Turkey, suggesting that they traveled illegally or on forged documents. On the day the HDP’s motion on ISIL was defeated, two separate motions were filed by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) on investigating all terror groups including ISIL. They were voted down by Erdoğan’s loyalists in Parliament as well.
Erdoğan’s policy of sidelining Parliament in probing ISIL and other radical jihadist organizations has been consistently rendering all other motions filed by opposition parties impossible. Some have already been rejected and others are waiting their turn to be killed by Erdoğan’s henchmen in Parliament. Let’s look at some of the other motions that were filed in Parliament by the opposition parties. The legislative actions often came against the backdrop of deadly terror attacks in Turkey that were blamed on ISIL, or some revelations that exposed the AKP’s links to jihadists. On Aug. 12, 2015, a motion endorsed by 24 lawmakers from the opposition CHP asked Parliament to establish an investigation commission to probe Russian allegations that ISIL’s oil smuggling network through Turkey implicated Erdoğan’s family members. The AKP prevented the motion even from debate in the plenary, where it would have had zero chance of surviving given the fact Erdoğan’s lawmakers have the majority in the General Assembly.
On Nov. 27, 2015, opposition lawmaker İdris Balüken of the HDP presented a similar motion to look into allegations of oil smuggling by ISIL through the Turkish-Syrian border. The motion recalled statements by Russian and Iraqi officials that pointed out ISIL oil smuggling routes through Turkey and stated that Turkey would be in a difficult position internationally if these allegations turned out to be true. The motion did not succeed in paving the way to establishing an investigation commission. Balüken is now in jail on trumped-up charges. On Dec. 12, 2015, CHP deputy Veli Ağbaba led 22 lawmakers in signing a proposal that asked for the formation of an investigation commission to look into ISIL. Ağbaba and the co-signers of the motion accused the government of preventing Parliament from investigating ISIL, adding that the lack of an effective probe into ISIL and arms transfers from Turkey to Syria had led to further attacks in Turkey. It was again thwarted by Erdoğan’s people in Parliament.
On Dec. 14, 2015, a fresh motion by the HDP demanding an inquiry into three deadly ISIL attacks that took place in Turkey was presented in Parliament. The motion said a shadowy network nested in the government orchestrated these ISIL attacks and allowed suicide bombers to cross the Syrian border. In one case, the motion stated, an ISIL suspect was detained only to be released a day before he staged an attack at an HDP pre-election rally on June 5, 2015 in Diyarbakır that left four people dead. The attack took place two days before Turkey’s June 7 parliamentary elections, which resulted in the AKP’s loss of its majority in Parliament. Erdoğan engineered snap polls to regain the majority in the Nov. 1, 2015 elections.
Just as in 2015, the year 2016 saw similar motions on ISIL that were moved forward by opposition lawmakers brushed aside, thanks but no thanks to Erdoğan’s obstructionist policies in Parliament. For example, on Jan. 12, 2016, the HDP submitted a motion asking for the establishment of an investigation commission to look into a twin bombing that took place in Ankara on Oct. 10, 2015 — the deadliest terror attack ever to take place in Turkey, which killed 107 people including the two suicide bombers. The attack targeted NGOs and supporters of left-wing and pro-Kurdish parties holding a peace rally outside the capital’s main train station, weeks ahead of the Nov. 1, 2015 snap elections. The motion said the AKP government knew the key suspects in this attack, which took place with the knowledge and approval of the government. It has not yet been taken up for debate. Two more motions were submitted to Parliament on the same issue, on April 12, 2016 and Oct. 11, 2016.
On Jan. 13, 2016, the HDP asked Parliament to form a commission to inquire about ISIL suicide attacks. The motion came a day after a suicide attack blamed on ISIL that killed 12 German nationals in Istanbul’s historic Sultanahmet district. It alleged that the government is allowing transfers of ISIL militants through the Turkish-Syrian border and protecting ISIL cells in Turkey from a police crackdown. The motion is still pending. Frustrated by the AKP’s policy of voting against motions on ISIL, the CHP lambasted the government in a proposal presented to Parliament on Feb. 24, 2016 in which it stated that the government’s attempt to silence the opposition and media about ISIL raises more questions on the complicity of the government in the expansion of the ISIL network in Turkey.
On Feb. 29, 2016, another motion by the HDP was presented in Parliament asking for a probe into allegations of links between ISIL and the AKP government. The motion referred to new documents that revealed contacts between ISIL operatives and Turkish military officers at the border according to wiretap records that were uncovered during an ISIL trial at the Ankara 3rd High Criminal Court. The motion accused the government of supporting the ISIL, Nusra Front and Ahrar u-Sham jihadist groups in Syria. The information that came to a light during the trial showed a secret deal was made between ISIL and Turkish security forces in the border area that allowed the transfer of supplies and helped rescue hostages held by ISIL. The motion is still pending although there is zero chance of it succeeding on the Parliament floor.
On July 19, 2016, the CHP submitted a motion on ISIL alleging that the AKP government has not only aided jihadist groups in Syria including ISIL but also shied away from calling ISIL a terror group for a long time. It said hundreds of ISIL militants were released from the criminal justice system and that this was admitted by the justice minister himself. It asked for the establishment of parliamentary investigation commission to examine all aspects of the ISIL network in Turkey. The motion is still pending. On Aug. 25, 2016, the HDP submitted a new motion to investigate ISIL’s suicide attack on a wedding in Turkey’s southeastern Gaziantep province that killed a total of 56 people, including 40 children, on Aug. 20, 2016. The motion sought a complete investigation into the ISIL network in Turkey in the wake of this deadly attack. The motion has yet to be debated in the plenary in Parliament.
Again, on Oct. 18, 2016, the CHP asked in a motion how ISIL has been able to stage terror acts when the militants were under close surveillance by the government. The main opposition party questioned why most ISIL suspects were quickly released after arrest, allowing them to continue plotting further attacks in Turkey. Two days later, on Oct. 20, 2016, CHP lawmaker Mustafa Sezgin Tanrıkulu and 21 co-signers submitted another motion accusing the government intelligence and law enforcement agencies of failing to prevent a series of terror attacks. It said no restructuring had taken place in these agencies despite their failures and that Parliament should look into these issues to find out what went wrong, suggesting the establishment of an inquiry commission. On Nov. 2, 2016, CHP lawmaker Eren Erdem and 21 co-signers submitted a fresh motion on ISIL asking Parliament to investigate the Salafist ideological base that allows mushrooming ISIL networks in Turkey and find out how radicalization is taking place. All these motions were pushed to the backburner as the AKP controls the agenda in the plenary.
Turkey’s opposition parties appear to have lost their vigor in putting the squeeze on Erdoğan and his government in 2017 regarding ISIL and other jihadist networks. The government’s campaign of intimidation against opposition parties in the aftermath of a failed coup bid that was orchestrated by Erdoğan according to a study by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has clearly worked in scaring lawmakers in Parliament. Under emergency rule, the HDP has faced a serious crackdown with close to a dozen deputies behind bars, including Co-chairs Selahaddin Demirtaş and Figen Yüsekdağ. Main opposition CHP lawmaker Enis Berberoğlu was convicted on false charges of revealing state secrets by allegedly passing documents that showed Erdoğan’s government sending heavy weaponry to jihadists in Syria. The MHP, the fourth largest opposition party by number of seats, made an alliance with Erdoğan and is now fully supporting the government.
Nevertheless, three motions were filed in Parliament with regard to ISIL in 2017. On Jan. 11, 2017 CHP lawmaker Tur Yıldız Biçer and 18 co-signers submitted a motion to set up commission to investigate Turkish suppliers that provided components such as chemical precursors and fertilizers to an ISIL arms factory in Mosul, Iraq. It cited a report by Conflict Armament Research (CAR), an organization devoted to identifying and tracking conventional weapons and ammunition in conflicts, which stated “ISIS [another acronym for ISIL] forces source most of the products used to manufacture explosive weapons from Turkey.” The motion is still pending. CHP deputy Veli Ağbaba and 24 co-signers also submitted a similar motion on the CAR report on Jan. 11, 2017. On June 14, 2017, HDP lawmaker Mahmut Toğrul and 20 co-signers asked Parliament to investigate why the government failed to address the grievances of surviving victims of the ISIL attack that targeted a wedding party in Gaziantep.
As a result, it is crystal clear that Erdoğan has no interest whatsoever in tolerating any parliamentary inquiry into ISIL and other jihadist groups in Turkey. That is why he instructed his party to kill any and all motions made in Parliament by opposition parties. This is the main reason why dozens of motions have failed to set up an ad hoc commission to investigate jihadists who were apparently protected by the Erdoğan regime just like they are helped out in the criminal justice system by the government when militants run into trouble with the law.
Since all the levers of power including the judicial, legislative and executive branches are now tightly controlled by Erdoğan and his Islamist regime, there is no possibility of getting to the bottom of the jihadist networks in Turkey nor eradicating the ideological swamp that continues to breed these fanatics. That makes setting up an international commission of inquiry to investigate the Erdoğan government’s links to jihadists all the more necessary and urgent because this is a problem that is not just confined to the borders of Turkey. It has been spilling out all over the world, including in Europe, Asia and Africa.