For The Los Angeles Times: Afrin, Syria — This pocket of northwestern Syria is starting to look a lot like neighboring Turkey. Many buildings bear signs in Turkish in addition to Arabic. Portraits of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan adorn public schools, where students learn Turkish as a second language instead of English or French. Three new hospitals built by Turkey are run by Turkish administrators and fly the Turkish flag. Over the last two years, Turkey and an alliance of Syrian rebels it supports…Continue Reading “Turkey puts down roots in a corner of war-torn Syria”

For The Los Angeles Times: Bursa, Turkey — Two years ago, Muhammad Sheikhuni got a chance to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a man he had admired ever since he moved to the country from Hama, Syria, in 2008. The encounter at a crowded public gathering for the president’s supporters in Bursa left Sheikhuni so moved that he changed his last name to Erdogan. “I just spoke to him for a few moments, but I was impressed,” Muhammad Erdogan, a businessman who became a…Continue Reading “Turkish President Erdogan faces pushback for pro-Syrian refugee stance ahead of June election”

For The Los Angeles Times: Gaziantep, Turkey — In the seven years he has fought to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad, opposition forces Col. Haitham Afisi’s beard has turned white and his voice has become a deep rumble. The tall, muscular colonel, however, remains familiar to many Syrians, and someone to admire for those who oppose the Assad government. Days after fighters under his command had joined with Turkish forces in March to wrest a corner of northwestern Syria away from rival Kurdish forces, Afisi,…Continue Reading “Syrian forces battling Assad seek unity through the National Army”

A Kurdish Problem

For The Boston Review: On the morning of June 7 this year, a car bomb exploded in front of Istanbul’s Vezneciler metro station. Used by tourists and thousands of university students daily, it was a ten-minute walk from my home. Perplexed Turks gathered at the tape strung around the site, watching as the husk of a police bus was towed away, the presumable target of a powerful blast that killed twelve. The closest I could get was the sixteenth-century Shehzade mosque, more than a hundred…Continue Reading “A Kurdish Problem”

Why Turkey is still refugees unwelcome

For IRIN News: The joint EU-Turkish action plan to end the migration crisis not only aims to make Europe a much less appealing destination – with threats of detention and deportation for all new boat arrivals to Greece – but also depends on making conditions more tolerable for the 2.7 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey. One of the main factors driving Syrians to abandon life in Turkey and move on to Europe has been Ankara’s reluctance to lift barriers to the formal labour market….Continue Reading “Why Turkey is still refugees unwelcome”

Turks head to Syria to defend Turkmen ‘brothers’

For The Middle East Eye: Nationalist and pro-rebel groups say they are inundated with calls from Turks keen to fight with Turkmen against Russian and Syrian forces ISTANBUL, Turkey – Tens of thousands of Turks have expressed a desire to cross the border into Syria and join Turkmen rebels fighting government and Russian forces in Syria, with hundreds already believed to have joined the battle. According to aid groups who have been funnelling aid to rebel areas, scores of potential recruits now want to go…Continue Reading “Turks head to Syria to defend Turkmen ‘brothers’”

For The Middle East Eye: ISTANBUL – Turkmens’ role in Syria war dates back to start of uprising but has come to prominence since Russia began bombing campaign. At the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, thousands of Turkmen – long repressed under the governments of both Hafez and Bashar al-Assad – joined the Free Syrian Army, forming more than 10 brigades in northern Syria. Almost five years later they have withstood assaults by the Syrian army, have fled the horrors the Islamic State group,…Continue Reading “Turkmen caught between IS, Assad and Russian intervention”

Kyrgyzstan and the Islamists

For The Diplomat: While detained in a Kyrgyzstan prison cell, our reporter speaks with some former ISIS members. On October 7, a judge in southern Kyrgyzstan sentenced one of the country’s most prominent imams, Rashat Kamalov, to five years in prison for “inciting religious hatred” and “possessing extremist materials” – part of what prosecutors say was a scheme for sending recruits to Syria to join the Islamic State. Officials with the State Committee on National Security (GKNB), the successor to the KGB in Kyrgyzstan, say…Continue Reading “Kyrgyzstan and the Islamists”

Leaving ISIS

For The Boston Review: -Sanliurfa, Turkey: This time, Hammad did not expect to escape alive. He knelt on the side of a desert highway leading from Raqqa to Aleppo, fingers intertwined behind his head, where an ISIS fighter pointed a machine gun. “They told me I had committed a crime against Islam, against God,” he recalled of the five men who abducted him. We talked in Sanliurfa, Turkey, about fifty kilometers north of the Syrian border. A thin, wiry twenty-two-year-old with a penchant for chain…Continue Reading “Leaving ISIS”

For The Huffington Post With Michael Kaplan: This February, we conducted a series of interviews in southern Turkey with those who have fled ISIS rule in Syria. In the city of Sanliurfa, we met rebel fighters, Islamic judges, and scholars, among them, Ahmed Saleh, a prominent imam from the Syrian city of Deir Ezzour. Saleh fled the city in June, 2014, a month before ISIS eliminated all rival groups and took control. Rebels spoke to us about how ISIS fought them instead of the regime….Continue Reading “Why Syria’s Devout Oppose ISIS, as Told by a Cleric That Fled Their Rule”