Turkey’s Overflowing Influence: Religious Freedom Impact | Part 3

By Claire Evans

In case you missed them, you can read Part 1 and Part 2 here.

08/25/2021 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern)The 2016 coup attempt in Turkey ushered the nation into a new chapter, one which includes a significant emphasis on foreign policy and military expansionism. Countries previously part of Turkey’s former Ottoman Empire, and countries with a significant Muslim population, are specifically targeted. The unique religious freedom concerns that were once contained within the boundaries of Turkey’s borders are now found wherever Turkey has gained influence. Equally concerning is how Turkey has leveraged those religious freedom issues of neighboring countries for Turkey’s own benefit, at the expense of the local population.

In short, Turkey’s military expansionism has had the impact of exploiting people, exporting persecution, and enabling the perpetrators to commit even more egregious actions. If this is how Turkey treats vulnerable communities outside of its own borders, then how much more so within.

It is also worth noting that much of the media produced by Turkey’s humanitarian and military partners often includes Grey Wolf symbolism, particularly the salute. An extremist movement connected with the MHP party and youth cultural centers, the Grey Wolves are well-known for violently targeting ethnic-religious minorities and have been involved through many of most egregious violations of religious freedom.

Enabling Perpetrators

Although SADAT is increasingly a visible face of Turkish military expansionism, much of Turkey’s influence is exerted through third parties who cloak the country’s true intentions. Turkey’s different institutions, including both SADAT and Turkish intelligence (MİT), actively support known terrorist groups in Syria. By maintaining a relationship with key leaders, Turkey can recruit mercenaries to provide infantry support during Turkey’s global military activities.

The following individuals have been identified as a sample of those terrorist leaders supported by Turkey who also have deliberately contributed to the genocide of Christians and other minority groups. During the month of July, SADAT and Turkey courted these three militia leaders for a possible Afghanistan mercenary deployment. Since the fall of Kabul in August, it is unclear how Turkey will now utilize these militias.

Saif Balud (nicknamed Sayf Abu Bakr), Sultan Murad:

A Syrian Turkman from the town of Bizaa north of Aleppo, his career of militancy began in the Abu Bakr Sadiq Brigades as part of the opposition forces in the Syrian Civil War. At some point, Balud became connected to ISIS (how, when, and for what purpose remains unclear). It is rumored that he had became an asset for Turkish intelligence between 2013-2014, with the possibility that his identity had become “discovered” by ISIS, which could potentially explain his trajectory into a leadership position of the Turkish-backed Sultan Murad. A social media account under his name has a pinned tweet saying, “(Turkey) You have been a shelter for all the oppressed, especially us Syrians. Whenever we were in trouble, you were with us. Now it’s our turn. Like a place on earth! Wherever you want to stand, tell me, we will plant you there!”

Saif Balud has routinely served as one of Turkey’s primary contacts and leader of militias who intervene in foreign and local Syrian conflicts. During the second Nagorno-Karabakh war, Balud led or at least organized an expedition of 500 fighters as mercenaries for Azerbaijan engaging in genocide against local Armenian Christians. Some Syrian sources report that Balud had attended a July meeting of militia commanders and Turkish intelligence officials to plan for Turkey’s tentative recruitment of Syrian fighters through its SADAT contractor for an Afghanistan deployment. Balud was reportedly in attendance at Turkey’s Defense Industry Fair in August, where SADAT maintained a booth.

Muhammed al-Jassem, (nicknamed Abu Amsha), Suleiman Shah Brigade:

Before the civil war, Amsha was an Arab Bedouin tribe of alleged Turkmen origin and a farmer from Hama. Prior to the Turkish intervention in Syria, Amsha reportedly formed the Sultan Suleiman Shah Brigade from his tribe using Turkish funding in 2016. Throughout its history the Suleiman Shah Brigade has participated in every major Turkish offensive in Syria and prominently participated in Turkey’s foreign interventions abroad in Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh. There are numerous accounts of rape, genocide, looting, and other human rights violations attributed to the Brigade, including many individual violations by its leader. Much discontent among the Brigade has been reported as a result of Amsha defrauding mercenaries. A defector stated, “More than 1,000 fighters were defrauded, who have been recently sent to fight in Azerbaijan with decent salaries, where nearly 12 million Turkish liras were stolen, equivalent to 143 thousand U.S. dollars, of their salaries promised by the commander Abu Amsha.”

Nonetheless, local sources also report that Amsha was in attendance during a July meeting of militia commanders and Turkish intelligence officials to plan for Turkey’s tentative recruitment of Syrian fighters through its SADAT contractor for an Afghanistan deployment. He is sometimes locally referred to as “one of the godfathers of the operation of transferring mercenaries.”

Yasser Abdel Rahim, Commander of Majd Corps:

Originally from a village in the countryside of western Aleppo, Major Yasser Abdel Rahim of the Majd or “Glory” Corps has had a long career among Syrian opposition militias. Originally an officer in the Sham Legion, Yasser was dismissed in 2018 and joined its close ally militia the Majd Corps as a field commander. The Majd Corps under Yasser’s leadership has seen action in every major Turkish offensive in Syria, with Yasser himself posting photos on social media of his involvement in human rights abuses towards minorities and other vulnerable populations. He has participated in mercenary deployments to Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh. It is believed that Yasser attended a July meeting of militia commanders and Turkish intelligence officials to plan for Turkey’s tentative recruitment of Syrian fighters through its SADAT contractor for an Afghanistan deployment.

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