The relations between Turkey and Russia have of late passed through one crisis after another.
On November 24, 2015, along the Turkish- Syrian border, a Turkish Air Force F-16 fighter jet shot down a Russian Air Force Su-24 bomber, killing the pilot, Lieutenant-Colonel Oleg Peshkov.
Recently, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin expressing “sympathy and deep condolences” for the family of the killed pilot.
However, Erdogan’s initial reaction to the downing of the plane was loud and clear. On November 27, he asked Russia: “What are you doing there [in Syria]?” He also announced: “If the same violation takes places again today, Turkey will have to respond in the same way.”
In an interview with CNN International, he played the “victim card,” saying “I think the one who needs to apologize is not us. Those who violated our airspace are the ones who need to apologize.”
Right after the Russian plane was shot down, a deputy commander of a Syrian Turkmen brigade in Syria, Alparslan Celik, in front of the cameras, boasted of killing the pilot. He said that the Russian “died in the air after the Turkmen fighters opened fire into the air.”
Celik made it clear that he deliberately killed the Russian pilot by shooting at him as he descended – an act that is a war crime.
In another video, Celik can be heard cheerfully saying: “Putin, I have told you to know your place. Look, this is your piece,” laughingly showing a broken piece of the parachute of the Russian pilot whose jet was downed.
Other Turkmen jihadists say, “Dishonorable Russians! What have you got to do in the land of the Muslim Turk? ... You will all die.”
Celik reportedly joined the Turkmen jihadists in Iraq in June, 2014. His father, Ramazan Celik, who was mayor of the Keban municipality for two terms representing the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), told the Turkish newspaper Vatan: “For 40 years, we as the Turkish nation have been shaped by the flag and the ideals of the Turan [a pan-Turkic political movement that aims to establish a Turkish state uniting all Turkic peoples]. My son told me ‘I am going.’ And I told him to go. I said: ‘You will fight until you become a martyr. I too am ready to go if necessary.’” Celik’s public statements have openly revealed that the primary motivation of Turkmen jihadists in Syria is Islamic, including their hatred for non-Muslims – particularly the Russians – and the Kurds.
When the newspaper asked Celik in an interview: “Until when will you fight? When will this war end?” he replied: “Until disorder is removed from the earth. Until the religion becomes the religion of Allah, until mischief makers, racketeers, Zionists and Crusaders eternally take their hands off the oppressed, we will continue fighting. Wherever the Turk and the Turkish state have enemies, we will be on a [military] expedition as long as Allah keeps us alive... The victory and judgment shall come from Allah.”
Celik expressed his views on Russia: “Russia is after my ideals. I have been its enemy for centuries. I am after the revenge of those centuries. And I will be so for centuries. When they come to us by air, we do not much contact them. I am waiting for their arrival by land. We do not have wings.”
Celik has made it clear in many of his public statements that one of the main reasons Turkmen jihadists are fighting in Syria is to prevent the birth of a Kurdish state: “The day the Turkmen mountain falls,” said Celik in an interview with the Turkish Dogan News Agency, “there will be a PKK state on the 950 km. borderline of Turkey. I do not call it a Kurdish state either. It will be a PKK state that Israel, America and Russia will jointly establish.
“We are the final destination of the PYD [the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party],” Celik said. “We are protecting the final fortress that both Russia, which wants to establish a base in the Mediterranean, and Kurdistan that would not let Israel be alone in the Middle East, are trying to capture.”
Celik openly said that the Turkmen fighters in Syria “have always received weapons and ammunition from Turkey.”
He added that the Turkmen fighters in Syria have links with Turkish institutions such as the Turkish Red Crescent, the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD), The Grey Wolves, affiliated with the MHP, the Hero-Saint Hearths, a far-right nationalistic youth group linked to the Great Unity Party (BBP), the Turkish Hearths, a pan-Turkish association established in 1912, the youth branches of the AKP, as well as municipalities.
On May 10, a public prosecutor in Izmir dropped all charges against Celik who had been held in custody for 37 days, and set him free, security sources said on condition of anonymity due to the restrictions on speaking with the media.
Celik has recently been investigated again.
He will be jailed for 2.5 years – until June of next year – not for killing the Russian pilot, but for his former convictions – including “facilitating escape of a convict or detainee,” “fraud” and “counterfeiting money,” according to the pro-government newspaper Haberturk.
Turkey – openly and publicly – supports the Syrian Turkmen fighters who shout their jihadist goals from the rooftops. They say that they are Mujahideen (jihadists) who fight against non-Muslims or “infidels.” They declare that they will never allow Kurds to control northern Syria. And they attack the Kurds, who effectively fight against the Islamic State.
And today, all of a sudden, Erdogan says he is “sorry” for the Turkish downing of the Russian jet. After the recent terrorist attack at Istanbul airport which killed at least 41 people, Erdogan also urged Western countries “to show a firmer stance against terrorism.”
Promoting hatred of Russians, or other non-Muslims, however, goes against the principles of fighting against terrorism.
All of that anti-Russian and anti-non-Muslim propaganda freely spread in Turkey by Turkmen jihadists or others should not go unchallenged with just one “sorry” from Erdogan.
Being a leader of a NATO member state should require more responsibility and commitment to the fight against jihadi terrorism.
What kind of a message does the Turkish judiciary and the Turkish government convey to both the Turkish public and to the world by acquitting a jihadi terrorist who has proudly praised his shooting of a Russian pilot?The author, an expert on Turkey, is currently based in the UK.