EXCLUSIVE Coping with Transnational Terror: A Turkish View

By Bulent Aras and Mehmet Celebi

Editor’s Note: TIM is focused on analyzing the complexity of the ethnicity issue in the political context. For that reason, we intend to publish different perspectives from people in the region. The points of view expressed in this piece below do not reflect the point of view of our editorial team.

The two Boston Marathon bombing suspects hail from Chechnya, one of Russia’s ethnic caucuses. That we know.

They were identified as Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, 19, and his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26. The older brother, Tamerlan, died of his wounds at the hospital after a shoot out in the Boston suburb of Watertown.

As the manhunt for the second suspect continues, there is much to be said about the new global terrorism threat that these two individuals represent.

The circumstances that would lead Chechens to resort to terrorist attacks in an American city compels us to start thinking about the past and the new global threats that will follow.

In such high profile terror attacks, countries where terrorists have been educated or residing often come under microscopic focus on an international level. However, it is imperative to realize that the very countries where terrorists originate from have also fallen victim to terrorist threats by these networks.

Turkish sources site Chechen terrorist recruitments, trainings and activities. Since the early 1990’s, these terrorist recruitments mainly targeted Russia, and at times Turkey-but for different reasons. The most likely motive for a this terrorist attack on U.S. soil is to make their voice heard and publicize their plight of full independence in the international community. This is obviously not the first time a terrorist structure targeted the U.S. for alleged international neglect of their cause.

Meanwhile, Turkey has also been a target of Chechen-originated terrorism in the past. Chechen-originated terror, among others, included a hostage crisis on a ship in the Black Sea and another in a major hotel chain in Istanbul, both were taken over by Chechen terrorists and resulted in casualties.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older suspect in the Boston Marathon Bombings was in Turkey in 2003, and stayed for 10 days with family members. There is no evidence that the other suspect, the younger brother Dzhokhar has ever been to Turkey.

Turkey has been a constructive actor in the Chechen issue since tensions began between Chechen groups and Russia after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. There is a Chechen diaspora in Turkey. Some segments of Turkey’s nationalist and religious communities have sympathy towards the Chechen cause. But this sympathy and limited support has remained marginal and Turkish NGOs and official dealings have been in accordance with international laws, norms and regulations. Turkey’s careful policy line is evidenced by the fact that there has been no rift between Ankara and Moscow over the Chechen issue.

Turkish policy makers have had a balanced attitude in supporting the legitimate rights of the Chechen people while maintaining contacts with the Russian administration about the necessary steps for a resolution to this problem. Ankara’s interest in the Chechen issue is not as high as it was in the 1990s. The recent stability and calm in the Chechen region of the Russian Federation has eased Turkey’s concern to a certain extent.
Meanwhile, Turkish businessmen play an active role in investing in the reconstruction of the Chechen region. Turkey’s positive relations with Russia are also considered a major leverage point in playing a constructive role for the recovery and stability of the Chechen region since,
ultimately, this is an internal Russia matter.

The terrorist attack on U.S. soil presents itself as a serious blow to Turkey. Turkey claims a Western identity with an oriental background. Ankara turned its face towards Europe and the West, in general, with multiple regional identities, including the Black Sea, Balkans, Middle East, Mediterranean and Caucasia.

What happens in the U.S. will have a substantial impact on the international community in which Turkey aims to evolve as a central player. Ankara’s attempt to accumulate power and capabilities for such a high profile international position can only happen under the context of global stability. In addition, Turkey’s main axis of foreign policy is its transatlantic relations, with the U.S. at its center and long-time ally.

Certainly, the international community will continue to be threatened by acts of terrorism from anywhere. What happened in Boston is serious concern that affects us all. We are facing a new challenge of terror that comes in the form of virtual and physical terror networks often without any connection with one another. They aim to create a borderless fear and to spread a sense of panic that nobody is immune to.

The response to terrorist attacks is key in dealing with this challenge. These terrorist networks should be fought with global unity and resolve. International, regional, local governments, and individuals must raise awareness and the bar of responsibility in defending against such threats. Meanwhile, the ethnicity, creed or national origin of terrorists must not constitute an indiscriminate labeling and attack on people of the same origin.

Bulent Aras is the Director of the Strategic Research Center at the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a former Public Policy Fellow at the Wilson Center.

Mehmet Celebi is a Fellow at the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding, incoming President of the Assembly of Turkish-American Associations, and a Member of the Dean’s International Council (DIC) at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy.

Opinions expressed here are of personal nature and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the organizations the authors are associated with.

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