13 April 2016

Foreign Fighters in Transcaucasia: Nagorno-Karabakh Sounds the Alarm About the Grey Wolves and ISIS

Of course the spokesman for the Nagorno-Karabakh republic has a stake in the fight and so I will remain a little dubious about his statements. The few articles that are circulating in the American press are written by Armenians as well. This doesn't mean they're necessarily wrong but I urge caution. The emotions run so high in the Caucasus that statements and claims can get a little carried away.

While I do not question the Grey Wolves attacking Chinese in Thailand and Turkey or units being deployed to Azerbaijan, Central Asia, the North Caucasus and Ukraine, I do question some of the conclusions being drawn about ISIS.

We know there are factions within the Turkish Establishment that are connected to the Grey Wolves and they certainly had CIA ties in the past. I doubt that's changed. In fact there's much to suggest to the CIA is very active right now working within the framework and horizon of Pan-Turkism. This where Pennsylvania based Fethullah Gulen also comes into the story.

Pan-Turkish or Turanism is the domain of the Grey Wolves and they have proved quite useful and able both in the past and in recent years. They are paramilitaries (which sometimes include terroristic acts) and it can be fairly said that at times they have functioned as death squads and assassins.

The Grey Wolves and the elements within the Turkish government that support them are not Islamists. They're Kemalists, Turkish Nationalists. They're the people that have (in the past) worked against Islamists trying to take control of the Turkish government. And we're not talking about Wahhabis, we're talking about very moderate Islamists. I have a problem believing these elements are working in league with ISIS. In many ways ISIS represents their worst fear and their greatest foe. Someone might counter and argue that factions of the Grey Wolves are associated with Turkey's BBP or Great Union Party which purports to have Islamist leanings. This might explain why Erdogan has at times praised the Grey Wolves (or so it is reported) and yet at the same time likely fears them.

It might be more correct to say the Grey Wolves have evolved into covering a wider ideological spectrum.

Of course in typical Turkish-Byzantine fashion there's also the suggestion that not all Grey Wolves are really Grey Wolves. It is argued that some groups attacking the Kurds are masquerading as Grey Wolves but in reality are Erdogan's agents.

It's quite complicated. But again it must be stressed that generally speaking Kemalist Nationalism is against a specifically 'Islamic' identity for Turkey. They are Turks first, Muslims second.  

Chechnya has experienced this same phenomenon. Their Islam was always syncretistic and Sufi-flavoured, that is until the wars with Russia. Since then their society has been heavily infiltrated by Saudi-style Wahhabism and Salafi elements. The US has been happy to back this and in some cases they have used Turkey to help facilitate the arming of these groups.

That said, I have no problem believing there's some collaboration. There are common enemies and interests, the defeat of Assad as well as the degradation of both the YPG and PKK factions of the Kurds. Many of the Kurds have embraced forms of Marxism. The Grey Wolves hate ethnic minorities but they also hate internationalist ideologies like socialism and Marxism. This explains why (in part) the Kemalist administrations and the United States were willing to back them. In the 1970s they were killing Leftists.

And of course ISIS wants to destroy anyone who does not embrace their agenda. But they harbour a special hatred for secular Muslim leaders like Assad and Azerbaijan's Aliyev.

Are both elements of the Grey Wolves and ISIS being facilitated by Baku and introduced into the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict? I know there's been a lot of suggestion that Erdogan is collaborating with ISIS and again I think in terms of buying oil and even providing arms... there's a real possibility. He wants Assad to be toppled.

Although it would seem that the US has worked more to facilitate al Nusra rather than ISIS, this may be a point where Erdogan is working his own angle. I don't doubt it. Both Washington and Erdogan want Assad removed. But for Turkey there's also the question of the Kurds. Erdogan knows the US is not a true friend.

But I do doubt that Azerbaijan's Aliyev would willingly import ISIS fighters into Transcaucasia. That doesn't mean they're not there but there's got to be more to the story. They might migrate to Chechnya but they could just as easily turn against Baku. The Aliyev regime is exactly the kind of government Islamists hate. It's secular, corrupt, dictatorial and treacherous. It's a friend to the Turks, the United States and Israel.

I think there is evidence to suggest tacit US support for the Grey Wolves being introduced into the North Caucasus as well as funding and support for Chechen fighters, some of which are allied with al Qaeda and now even ISIS.

A lot of this is really about Russia. The US and the Turks want to make Putin bleed and for the Azeri Turks, if they can get a little revenge on the Armenians while they're at it... so much the better. Trouble with Armenia is a way to stir Russian angst and anger.

The proxy war in Syria is now generating secondary proxy wars. The situation is very dangerous. There are many schemes and dark deeds at work. If trouble breaks out in Azerbaijan it's also likely that Iran would be drawn into the picture. They would like to teach Aliyev a lesson.


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