By Dr. Vasileios Meichanetsidis
On February 28, the Turkish government-funded Anadolu Agency (AA) reported on the alleged takeover of a Syrian town by the Islamist “Free Syrian Army” (FSA). In the news report, the agency posted some images of the FSA fighters. A striking detail immediately attracted attention: on the arms and chests of some FSA fighters were logos of the Islamic State (ISIS) flag.
After the photos in the video were shared on social media, the agency immediately removed them from its website.
“Moderate rebels retook the strategically important Saraqib town in Idlib,” the AA claimed in its report.
On the same day, the leading authority of Turkey’s Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), Ali Erbaş, led the Friday prayers in the city of Hatay on the Syrian border. In his sermon, Erbaş said that Turkish soldiers are engaging in jihad in Syria by following the teachings of Islam’s prophet Mohammed. He said, in part:
“By obeying the call of our Prophet, who said ‘engage in jihad with your hands, tongues and properties’, our soldiers are saying ‘stop’ to the shameless assault of the enemy.”
Erbaş went on to glorify martyrdom in the name of Islam:
"Our Almighty Lord says, ‘There are such men of the believers that they have remained loyal to their promise to Allah. Some have fulfilled their promises and have been martyred. Others have been waiting to be martyrs. They have never changed their promises.
As in the Battle of Gallipoli and the War of Independence, today we are fighting a relentless struggle against the powers whose conscience have been blinded, that have lost their mercy and humanity, and against those that want to erase us from the stage of history… We – women and men, the young and the old, in brief, every individual of our nation – will not let them [those powers] lower our flag, silence our adhan [Islamic call to prayer], or violate our homeland. It is our unwavering faith in Allah that will make us successful. It is our love for homeland, adhan, flag and independence and the desire in our hearts to be martyrs and veterans [that will make us successful]."
Referring to the Koran, Erbaş continued: “Never think of those who have been killed in the cause of Allah as dead. Rather, they are alive with their God, receiving provision, and rejoicing in what Allah has bestowed upon them of his bounty.”
Once again referring to the Koran, Erbaş asserted that the “enemy” will get defeated in Syria:
"We have no doubt that with the help of Almighty God, the games of traitors will get destroyed, the persecutors will fall into their own traps, and their tricks will be their own trouble. Just like yesterday, victory will belong to our glorious nation that is on the side of justice and truth. As the Koran says, ‘soon that group too shall be ruined; they shall turn their backs and run away."
Erbaş then recited a nationalistic poem by a Turkish author with Islamic themes, in which the Turkish military is referred to as “the last army of Islam.”
Erbaş continues using Koranic references to address the war in Syria. On March 2, he led the prayers at a mosque in Ankara, reading the Koranic verse, al-Fath (verse of conquest/victory). The Diyanet organized similar services in mosques around Turkey and in the Turkish-occupied northern districts of the Republic of Cyprus, reported the Anadolu Agency.
This is not the first time the Turkish government has declared jihad on Syria.
When Turkey launched a military campaign in the Syrian city of Afrin in 2018, the Diyanet declared that worshippers in mosques across Turkey — in at least 90,000 mosques — and across the Turkish-occupied northern districts of the Republic of Cyprus will pray for “the victory of Turkey’s military operation on Afrin,” reciting the Koranic verse Surah al Fath every day until the military campaign ends.
Surah al-Fath is the 48th chapter of the Koran, which says: “Allah has promised you much booty that you will take and has hastened for you this and withheld the hands of people from you—that it may be a sign for the believers and He may guide you to a straight path” (48:20).
It also contains this command: “Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah; and those with him are ruthless against the unbelievers, merciful among themselves” (48:29).
Since the start of the war in Syria in 2011, the Turkish government has funneled support to jihadists fighting to topple the secular-leaning government of Syria.
After years of fighting that has destroyed much of Syria, the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan still wants to support the last remnants of the same jihadi groups. To this end, Turkey has once again sent its troops to Idlib, the only city in Syria still held by al-Qaeda affiliated groups.
But Turks’ destructive jihadi attempts in the region did not start with Erdogan government. The Ottoman Empire (1299–1922), which also represented the Islamic caliphate since the 14th century, for centuries engaged in violent jihad to expand its territories in Europe, Asia and Africa.
And the founding phase of Turkey, which Turkey proudly but misleadingly calls “the War of Liberation/Salvation” (“Kurtuluş Savaşı” in Turkish), aimed for and brought about the extermination of the country’s indigenous Christian communities. Before and during that period, from 1913 to 1923, the leaders of the country organized and carried out a jihad genocide against Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians.
In a declaration issued on 2 July 1920, Mustafa Kemal, who would then be named “Ataturk” (The Father of Turks) and become Turkey’s first president, referred to the military campaign against the Greeks in terms of a holy war, stating: “The jihad, once it is properly preached, will, with God’s help, result quickly in the rout of the Greeks.”
And today, the Turkish military campaigns against Syria appear to be motivated by Islamic jihadism and neo-Ottomanist expansionism once again. At a public speech in 2016, for instance, Erdoğan made a distinction between Turkey’s “physical borders” and the “borders of our [Turkish] heart”. Referring to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the withdrawal of Turkish forces from other nations, Erdoğan said: "We cannot be trapped inside 780,000 kilometers [Turkey’s total area]. For our physical borders are different from the borders of our heart. Our brothers in Mosul, Kirkuk [in Iraq], in Al-Hasakah, Aleppo, Homs [in Syria], Misrata [in Libya], Skopje [in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia], Crimea [in the Russian Federation] and the Caucasus might be outside our physical borders, but they are all inside the borders of our heart. They are right inside our heart."
In another speech in 2018, Erdogan repeated his neo-Ottomanist aspirations. Referring to the days of the Ottoman Empire, Erdogan said:
"Those who think that we have erased from our hearts the lands from which we withdrew in tears a hundred years ago are wrong.
We say at every opportunity we have that Syria, Iraq and other places in the geography [map] in our hearts are no different from our own homeland. We are struggling so that a foreign flag will not be waved anywhere where adhan [Islamic call to prayer in mosques] is recited.
The things we have done so far [pale in comparison to the] even greater attempts and attacks [we are planning for] the coming days, inshallah [Allah willing]."
Given Erdogan’s many statements in praise of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey’s actions in Syria appear to be perfectly in line with his vision of the future and the Turkish government has been using and empowering the jihadists in Syria to implement that vision.
The New York Times reported in 2013 that “nowhere in rebel-controlled Syria is there a secular fighting force to speak of.”
Israeli Major General Aviv Kochavi also said that Syria now “attracts thousands of global jihad activists and Muslim extremists from the region and around the world, who base themselves in the country, not only to bring down Assad, but to promote the vision of a state based on Islamic law.”
Kochavi added that “before our very eyes, at our doorstep, a large-scale center of the global jihad is developing, which may affect not only Syria and not just the borders of Israel, but Lebanon, Jordan, Sinai, and can radiate onto the entire region.”
So many politicians and journalists in the West have misled the public concerning the real nature and goals of the ruinous war in Syria. Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad is no angel, but all the propaganda to make a monster out of him was to have him overthrown in order to radically Islamise Syria. And that has only helped empower the global jihad movement and create a mass wave of refugees and migrants that Erdogan is now using to threaten Europe.
Is it not the time for the West to once and for all end the charade called the “Free Syrian Army” or the “moderate opposition” in Syria?
Dr. Vasileios Meichanetsidis is an Athens-based historian, genocide scholar and editor of the 2011 book “The Genocide of the Ottoman Greeks.”
*This article has been published with permission from the author and first appeared on Jihad Watch.