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Growing Rapport Legitimizes Terrorism, Jeopardizes Religious Freedom   

08/27/2021 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that on August 27, 2021, Turkey’s President Erdoğan announced that Turkey held its first diplomatic talks with the Taliban in Kabul, Afghanistan. “We have held our first talks with the Taliban, which lasted 3.5 hours,” Erdoğan told reporters. “If necessary, we will have the opportunity to hold such talks again.” The Taliban have reportedly asked Turkey for help to run the Kabul airport, and Turkey insists that the Taliban must first agree to a Turkish security presence.

On Monday, August 23, ICC released a report that predicted Turkey’s growing military role in the Middle East, particularly as it relates to the Afghanistan crisis. This runs parallel to a worsening religious freedom environment within Turkey. The report states, “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.”

Turkey contributes more than a quarter of the world’s total humanitarian aid, something which the Taliban is hoping to capitalize on. The Taliban told the Turkish press, “Our entire infrastructure has collapsed. We will rebuild Afghanistan in all areas, and we need Turkey the most to do that. Turkey is a very important factor for us. It’s a respectable and strong country in the world and has a special place for the Muslim community. Turkey’s bond with Afghanistan can’t be compared with any other country. I’m saying this clearly; As the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, we need Turkey’s friendship, support, and cooperation the most.”

In countries where this type of cooperation is already established, such as Syria, the humanitarian support provided by Turkey is used to force the relocation of minority groups such as Christians.

ICC’s report further discusses how Turkey integrates former members of ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other extremist groups into its security structure. This is primarily done through Turkey’s defense contractor SADAT, which is also the proposed contractor to run security services at Kabul Airport. ICC’s report warns, “It has increasingly become clear that wherever SADAT is active, terrorism thrives. And where terrorism thrives, religious freedom suffers.”

Equally concerning is that last week, SADAT was a major feature at a defense fair hosted by Turkey. Known terrorists and human rights abusers were photographed at SADAT’s booth. This potentially included at least one individual who is not only a recognized terrorist and leader of the Sultan Murad militia in Syria but also an individual who is one of many rumored to be actively recruiting for an Afghanistan deployment. ICC’s report states that these are the same “terrorist leaders supported by Turkey who also has deliberately contributed to the genocide of Christians and other minority groups.”

The 2021 Annual Report for the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has recommended Turkey for the State Department’s Special Watch List, the same recommendation which was given for Afghanistan. It is also worth noting that Turkey is a NATO member.

Claire Evans, ICC’s Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “We are very worried by Turkey’s overtures with the Taliban and the rapport which is developing between the two. A general trend within the Middle East post-ISIS has been attempts by regional governments to legitimize relationships with terrorist groups and the use of national security language to prevent Christians from being fully functional members of society. What we are seeing this week between Turkey and Afghanistan not only accelerates this trend but also gives the trend the appearance of credibility. If this continues, the long-term impact for religious minorities throughout the entire region will be profoundly negative.”