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Russia Weighs Response as U.S. and EU Add More Sanctions

Germany's foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, center, arrives for an informal..
Πηγή: Bloomberg
By James G. Neuger, Daryna Krasnolutska and Ilya Arkhipov
Sept 12 2014

Russia threatened retaliation to a U.S. and European Union decision to stiffen sanctions against Moscow over Ukraine and may ban some imports including clothing and used cars.

The EU added 15 companies, including OAO Gazprom Neft, OAO Rosneft and OAO Transneft, and 24 people to the list of those affected by its sanctions against Russia. European companies and taxpayers “will have to pick up the costs” for the penalties, Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian PresidentVladimir Putin, told Interfax yesterday. President Barack Obama said yesterday the U.S. will also “deepen and broaden” its measures against Russia’s financial, energy and defense industries.

The moves raise the level of confrontation and follow reprisals last month, when the Russian leader banned a range of food imports after an earlier round of U.S. and European penalties. Putin denies any involvement in the fighting that broke out after he annexed Crimea in March in what has become the worst crisis between Russia and its former Cold War adversaries since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“The current political risks, various restrictions and barriers are worsening the situation,” Putin said today in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. “They directly harm the global business climate and reduce trust in international trade and the financial system.

New Penalties

Under the new penalties published today in the Official Journal, the EU extended a ban on share or bond sales with a maturity of more than 30 days to the three energy companies and three industrial producers -- Oboronprom, Uralvagonzavod and United Aircraft Corp. Nine defense companies are subject a curb on the import of dual-use technology.

The targeted individuals include Rostec Corp. Chief Executive Officer Sergei Chemezov and Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a lawmaker in Russia’s lower house of parliament, as well as eight members of eastern Ukraine separatist groups and two Crimean officials.

Russia’s Economy Ministry drafted a list of goods that may be banned, including automobile imports, particularly used cars, as well as textiles and clothing, state-run RIA Novosti reported, citing Kremlin economic aide Andrei Belousov yesterday. The country was also weighing restrictions on overflights to the Asia-Pacific as a response to sanctions against Aeroflot’s low-cost unit Dobrolet.

Thousands Killed

The ruble weakened to a record for a second day. The currency retreated as much as 0.6 percent to 37.7265 per dollar before trading 0.4 percent lower at 11.35 a.m. in Moscow, bringing this week’s loss to 2 percent. Ten-year local-currency bonds retreated for a fifth day, sending the yield up two basis points to 9.78 percent.

The fighting in Ukraine has killed more than 3,000 people and driven more than 1 million from their homes, according to the United Nations. The Sept. 5 cease-fire continued to show signs of strain, with the separatists firing at checkpoints and the Donetsk airport overnight, Ukrainian military spokesman Oleksiy Dmytrashkovskyi said today.

Although Ukrainian authorities said separatists continued to fire on government positions, President Petro Poroshenko said Russia is beginning to withdraw troops from the border conflict zones.

The 28-member EU is offering to ease the restrictions once the Kremlin makes a good-faith effort to end the conflict.

Reversing Measures

“We have always stressed the reversibility and scalability of our restrictive measures,” EU President Herman Van Rompuy said in a statement from Brussels. A review of the cease-fire in eastern Ukraine by the end of September may lead to EU “proposals to amend, suspend or repeal the set of sanctions in force, in all or in part.”

The EU won’t spell out what it wants to see on the ground to justify an easing or lifting of sanctions, according to an official from the bloc who spoke on condition of anonymity. It also won’t predict exactly when this decision will be made. The review will cover all sanctions now in force.

The latest sanctions and the ones adopted in July run until end-July 2015, the official said. A unanimous decision by all 28 EU government will be required to renew them.

EU governments first voted for the sanctions on Sept. 5, laying bare the bloc’s divisions over Russia by putting the curbs on hold as the cease-fire between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists kicked in. Some countries had argued that rushing ahead with the restrictions now would give the Kremlin a pretext to restart the fighting.

“It is certainly a difficult situation because every further set of sanctions can lead to counter reactions that we don’t know today,” Austrian Finance Minister Hans Joerg Schelling said today before the meeting of euro-area finance ministers in Milan, Italy.

How Greece Has Fallen Victim to "Economic Hit Men"

"My sin was ripping off people around the world," said John Perkins, author of "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man," at Transitions Bookplace in Chicago, on February 3, 2006. (Photo: Peter Thompson / The New York Times)
Πηγή: Truthout
By Michael Nevradakis
Sept 11 2014

John Perkins, author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, discusses how Greece and other eurozone countries have become the new victims of "economic hit men."

John Perkins is no stranger to making confessions. His well-known book,Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, revealed how international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, while publicly professing to "save" suffering countries and economies, instead pull a bait-and-switch on their governments: promising startling growth, gleaming new infrastructure projects and a future of economic prosperity - all of which would occur if those countries borrow huge loans from those organizations. Far from achieving runaway economic growth and success, however, these countries instead fall victim to a crippling and unsustainable debt burden.

That's where the "economic hit men" come in: seemingly ordinary men, with ordinary backgrounds, who travel to these countries and impose the harsh austerity policies prescribed by the IMF and World Bank as "solutions" to the economic hardship they are now experiencing. Men like Perkins were trained to squeeze every last drop of wealth and resources from these sputtering economies, and continue to do so to this day. In this interview, which aired on Dialogos Radio, Perkins talks about how Greece and the eurozone have become the new victims of such "economic hit men."

Michael Nevradakis: In your book, you write about how you were, for many years, a so-called "economic hit man." Who are these economic hit men, and what do they do?
John Perkins: Essentially, my job was to identify countries that had resources that our corporations want, and that could be things like oil - or it could be markets - it could be transportation systems. There're so many different things. Once we identified these countries, we arranged huge loans to them, but the money would never actually go to the countries; instead it would go to our own corporations to build infrastructure projects in those countries, things like power plants and highways that benefitted a few wealthy people as well as our own corporations, but not the majority of people who couldn't afford to buy into these things, and yet they were left holding a huge debt, very much like what Greece has today, a phenomenal debt.

And once [they were] bound by that debt, we would go back, usually in the form of the IMF - and in the case of Greece today, it's the IMF and the EU [European Union] - and make tremendous demands on the country: increase taxes, cut back on spending, sell public sector utilities to private companies, things like power companies and water systems, transportation systems, privatize those, and basically become a slave to us, to the corporations, to the IMF, in your case to the EU, and basically, organizations like the World Bank, the IMF, the EU, are tools of the big corporations, what I call the "corporatocracy."

And before turning specifically to the case of Greece, let's talk a little bit more about the manner in which these economic hit men and these organizations like the IMF operate. You mentioned, of course, how they go in and they work to get these countries into massive debt, that money goes in and then goes straight back out. You also mentioned in your book these overly optimistic growth forecasts that are sold to the politicians of these countries but which really have no resemblance to reality.

Exactly, we'd show that if these investments were made in things like electric energy systems that the economy would grow at phenomenally high rates. The fact of the matter is, when you invest in these big infrastructure projects, you do see economic growth, however, most of that growth reflects the wealthy getting wealthier and wealthier; it doesn't reflect the majority of the people, and we're seeing that in the United States today.

For example, where we can show economic growth, growth in the GDP, but at the same time unemployment may be going up or staying level, and foreclosures on houses may be going up or staying stable. These numbers tend to reflect the very wealthy, since they have a huge percentage of the economy, statistically speaking. Nevertheless, we would show that when you invest in these infrastructure projects, your economy does grow, and yet, we would even show it growing much faster than it ever conceivably would, and that was only used to justify these horrendous, incredibly debilitating loans.

Is there a common theme with respect to the countries typically targeted? Are they, for instance, rich in resources or do they typically possess some other strategic importance to the powers that be?
Yes, all of those. Resources can take many different forms: One is the material resources like minerals or oil; another resource is strategic location; another resource is a big marketplace or cheap labor. So, different countries make different requirements. I think what we're seeing in Europe today isn't any different, and that includes Greece.

What happens once these countries that are targeted are indebted? How do these major powers, these economic hit men, these international organizations come back and get their "pound of flesh," if you will, from the countries that are heavily in debt?
By insisting that the countries adopt policies that will sell their publicly owned utility companies, water and sewage systems, maybe schools, transportation systems, even jails, to the big corporations. Privatize, privatize. Allow us to build military bases on their soil. Many things can be done, but basically, they become servants to what I call the corporatocracy. You have to remember that today we have a global empire, and it's not an American empire. It's not a national empire. It doesn't help the American people very much. It's a corporate empire, and the big corporations rule. They control the politics of the United States, and to a large degree they control a great deal of the policies of countries like China, around the world.

John, looking specifically now at the case of Greece, of course you mentioned your belief that the country has become the victim of economic hit men and these international organizations . . . what was your reaction when you first heard about the crisis in Greece and the measures that were to be implemented in the country?
I've been following Greece for a long time. I was on Greek television. A Greek film company did a documentary called "Apology of an Economic Hit Man," and I also spent a lot of time in Iceland and in Ireland. I was invited to Iceland to help encourage the people there to vote on a referendum not to repay their debts, and I did that and encouraged them not to, and they did vote no, and as a result, Iceland is doing quite well now economically compared to the rest of Europe. Ireland, on the other hand: I tried to do the same thing there, but the Irish people apparently voted against the referendum, though there's been many reports that there was a lot of corruption.

In the case of Greece, my reaction was that "Greece is being hit." There's no question about it. Sure, Greece made mistakes, your leaders made some mistakes, but the people didn't really make the mistakes, and now the people are being asked to pay for the mistakes made by their leaders, often in cahoots with the big banks. So, people make tremendous amounts of money off of these so-called "mistakes," and now, the people who didn't make the mistakes are being asked to pay the price. That's consistent around the world: We've seen it in Latin America. We've seen it in Asia. We've seen it in so many places around the world.

This leads directly to the next question I had: From my observation, at least in Greece, the crisis has been accompanied by an increase in self-blame or self-loathing; there's this sentiment in Greece that many people have that the country failed, that the people failed . . . there's hardly even protest in Greece anymore, and of course there's a huge "brain drain" - there's a lot of people that are leaving the country. Does this all seem familiar to you when comparing to other countries in which you've had personal experience?

Sure, that's part of the game: convince people that they're wrong, that they're inferior. The corporatocracy is incredibly good at that, whether it is back during the Vietnam War, convincing the world that the North Vietnamese were evil; today it's the Muslims. It's a policy of them versus us: We are good. We are right. We do everything right. You're wrong. And in this case, all of this energy has been directed at the Greek people to say "you're lazy; you didn't do the right thing; you didn't follow the right policies," when in actuality, an awful lot of the blame needs to be laid on the financial community that encouraged Greece to go down this route. And I would say that we have something very similar going on in the United States, where people here are being led to believe that because their house is being foreclosed that they were stupid, that they bought the wrong houses; they overspent themselves.

The fact of the matter is their bankers told them to do this, and around the world, we've come to trust bankers - or we used to. In the United States, we never believed that a banker would tell us to buy a $500,000 house if in fact we could really only afford a $300,000 house. We thought it was in the bank's interest not to foreclose. But that changed a few years ago, and bankers told people who they knew could only afford a $300,000 house to buy a $500,000 house.

"Tighten your belt, in a few years that house will be worth a million dollars; you'll make a lot of money" . . . in fact, the value of the house went down; the market dropped out; the banks foreclosed on these houses, repackaged them, and sold them again. Double whammy. The people were told, "you were stupid; you were greedy; why did you buy such an expensive house?" But in actuality, the bankers told them to do this, and we've grown up to believe that we can trust our bankers. Something very similar on a larger scale happened in so many countries around the world, including Greece.

In Greece, the traditional major political parties are, of course, overwhelmingly in favor of the harsh austerity measures that have been imposed, but also we see that the major business and media interests are also overwhelmingly in support. Does this surprise you in the slightest?

No, it doesn't surprise me and yet it's ridiculous because austerity does not work. We've proven that time and time again, and perhaps the greatest proof was the opposite, in the United States during the Great Depression, when President Roosevelt initiated all these policies to put people back to work, to pump money into the economy. That's what works. We know that austerity does not work in these situations.

We also have to understand that, in the United States for example, over the past 40 years, the middle class has been on the decline on a real dollar basis, while the economy has been increasing. In fact, that's pretty much happened around the world. Globally, the middle class has been in decline. Big business needs to recognize - it hasn't yet, but it needs to recognize - that that serves nobody's long-term interest, that the middle class is the market. And if the middle class continues to be in decline, whether it's in Greece or the United States or globally, ultimately businesses will pay the price; they won't have customers. Henry Ford once said: "I want to pay all my workers enough money so they can go out and buy Ford cars." That's a very good policy. That's wise. This austerity program moves in the opposite direction and it's a foolish policy.

In your book, which was written in 2004, you expressed hope that the euro would serve as a counterweight to American global hegemony, to the hegemony of the US dollar. Did you ever expect that we would see in the European Union what we are seeing today, with austerity that is not just in Greece but also in Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, and also several other countries as well?
What I didn't realize during any of this period was how much corporatocracy does not want a united Europe. We need to understand this. They may be happy enough with the euro, with one currency - they are happy to a certain degree by having it united enough that markets are open - but they do not want standardized rules and regulations. Let's face it, big corporations, the corporatocracy, take advantage of the fact that some countries in Europe have much more lenient tax laws, some have much more lenient environmental and social laws, and they can pit them against each other.

What would it be like for big corporations if they didn't have their tax havens in places like Malta or other places? I think we need to recognize that what the corporatocracy saw at first, the solid euro, a European union seemed like a very good thing, but as it moved forward, they could see that what was going to happen was that social and environmental laws and regulations were going to be standardized. They didn't want that, so to a certain degree what's been going on in Europe has been because the corporatocracy wants Europe to fail, at least on a certain level.

You wrote about the examples of Ecuador and other countries, which after the collapse of oil prices in the late '80s found themselves with huge debts and this, of course, led to massive austerity measures . . . sounds all very similar to what we are now seeing in Greece. How did the people of Ecuador and other countries that found themselves in similar situations eventually resist?

Ecuador elected a pretty remarkable president, Rafael Correa, who has a PhD in economics from a United States university. He understands the system, and he understood that Ecuador took on these debts back when I was an economic hit man and the country was ruled by a military junta that was under the control of the CIA and the US. That junta took on these huge debts, put Ecuador in deep debt; the people didn't agree to that. When Rafael Correa was democratically elected, he immediately said, "We're not paying these debts; the people did not take on these debts; maybe the IMF should pay the debts and maybe the junta, which of course was long gone - moved to Miami or someplace - should pay the debts, maybe John Perkins and the other economic hit men should pay the debts, but the people shouldn't."

And since then, he's been renegotiating and bringing the debts way down and saying, "We might be willing to pay some of them." That was a very smart move; it reflected similar things that had been done at different times in places like Brazil and Argentina, and more recently, following that model, Iceland, with great success. I have to say that Correa has had some real setbacks since then . . . he, like so many presidents, has to be aware that if you stand up too strongly against the system, if the economic hit men are not happy, if they don't get their way, then the jackals will come in and assassinate you or overthrow you in a coup. There was an attempted coup against him; there was a successful coup in a country not too far away from him, Honduras, because these presidents stood up.

We have to realize that these presidents are in very, very vulnerable positions, and ultimately we the people have to stand up, because leaders can only do a certain amount. Today, in many places, leaders are not just vulnerable; it doesn't take a bullet to bring down a leader anymore. A scandal - a sex scandal, a drug scandal - can bring down a leader. We saw that happen to Bill Clinton, to Strauss-Kahn of the IMF; we've seen it happen a number of times. These leaders are very aware that they are in very vulnerable positions: If they stand up or go against the status quo too strongly, they're going to be taken out, one way or another. They're aware of that, and it behooves we the people to really stand up for our own rights.

You mentioned the recent example of Iceland . . . other than the referendum that was held, what other measures did the country adopt to get out of this spiral of austerity and to return to growth and to a much more positive outlook for the country?
It's been investing money in programs that put people back to work and it's also been putting on trial some of the bankers that caused the problems, which has been a big uplift in terms of morale for the people. So Iceland has launched some programs that say "No, we're not going to go into austerity; we're not going to pay back these loans; we're going to put the money into putting people back to work," and ultimately that's what drives an economy, people working. If you've got high unemployment, like you do in Greece today, extremely high unemployment, the country's always going to be in trouble. You've got to bring down that unemployment, you've got to hire people. It's so important to put people back to work. Your unemployment is about 28 percent; it's staggering, and disposable income has dropped 40 percent and it's going to continue to drop if you have high unemployment. So, the important thing for an economy is to get the employment up and get disposable income back up, so that people will invest in their country and in goods and services.

In closing, what message would you like to share with the people of Greece, as they continue to experience and to live through the very harsh results of the austerity policies that have been implemented in the country for the past three years?
I want to draw upon Greece's history. You're a proud, strong country, a country of warriors. The mythology of the warrior to some degree comes out of Greece, and so does democracy! And to realize that the marketplace is a democracy today, and how we spend our money is casting our ballot. Most political democracies are corrupt, including that of the United States. Democracy is not really working on a governmental basis because the corporations are in charge. But it is working on a market basis. I would encourage the people of Greece to stand up: Don't pay off those debts; have your own referendums; refuse to pay them off; go to the streets and strike.

And so, I would encourage the Greek people to continue to do this. Don't accept this criticism that it's your fault, you're to blame, you've got to suffer austerity, austerity, austerity. That only works for the rich people; it does not work for the average person or the middle class. Build up that middle class; bring employment back; bring disposable income back to the average citizen of Greece. Fight for that; make it happen; stand up for your rights; respect your history as fighters and leaders in democracy, and show the world!

The podcast of the original interview as it aired on Dialogos Radio is available at

John Perkins "Confessions of an Economic Hitman"Extended Interview 2008

Exclusive: How Istanbul Became a Recruiting Ground for Islamic State

At first glance, this might seem like an everyday urban scene in Turkey - holiday paradise, member of Nato and aspiring EU country. But this town on the fringe of Istanbul is the recruitment ground for the ruthless zealots of Isis. 
Πηγή: Newsweek
By Alev Scott and Alexander Christie-Miller
Sept 12 2014

When Deniz Sahin’s ex-husband phoned out of the blue to say he wanted to see their two young children, the call came as a welcome surprise. The father, a former alcoholic, who had kicked his addiction and turned instead to fundamentalist Islam, had shown little interest in his children for the past year, but she thought they missed him.

“I told him not to be more than two hours,” says 28-year-old Deniz, who weeps silently as she pores over photographs of Halil Ibrahim, 4, and Esma Sena, 10. After their father, Sadik, picked them up from their home in Kazan, near Turkey’s capital Ankara, in April, she never saw them again.

In one of the pictures, which were sent by Sadik a week after their disappearance, a smiling Halil Ibrahim clutches a pistol. The index finger of his other hand is held skyward in a gesture associated with the Middle East’s most feared armed group: the so-called Islamic State, also known by its former acronym Isis. The children now live with their jihadist father in Syria’s Isis-controlled Raqqa province. They are among an unknown number of Turks – potentially in the thousands – being abducted or lured into Syria and Iraq either to populate Isis’ self-declared caliphate or to fight in its bloody sectarian war.

Deniz Sahin last saw her children, Esma, 10, and Halil, 4, in April. Her ex-husband, Sadik, sent her photos a week after taking them to Isis-controlled Raqqa province. Fatih Pinara for Newsweek

Stories shared with Newsweek in recent days by Deniz and others show the group has sunk its tendrils deep into Turkey, a country that may now be in its firing line after being named as part of a Nato alliance to combat the jihadist group. Many fear Isis has the capacity to wreak havoc in a nation that attracts 35 million tourists a year and whose porous border adjoins Isis-controlled territory.

Last week at a Nato summit in Wales, US President Barack Obama said Turkey was part of a “core coalition” to fight Isis. However, Deniz and other victims of Isis recruitment question their government’s willingness or ability to tackle the terrorist organisation’s infiltration of Turkey. They speak of their frustration at police inaction and of their powerlessness to retrieve their loved ones. In her extended family alone, Deniz says, 15 people – including five children – have gone to live under Isis rule or fight in its ranks in recent months.

Her story is echoed by others in Istanbul, who describe an organised recruiting network operating online and through religious study groups, targeting young men from Sunni Muslim districts plagued by poverty and drug addiction. One family, whose son joined Isis, says that he was among 19 young men from their neighbourhood alone who left for Syria recently, with at least four others planning to join them soon.

Pictures of Deniz Sahin's children, Halil and Esma, taken in Raqqa province by her ex-husband. Halil, 4, is seen holding a gun. Courtesy of Deniz Sahin

In June, Turkey’s Milliyet newspaper reported that as many as 3,000 Turks have joined the group. “No other Nato country is as exposed to the threat of Isis jihadism as Turkey is,” says Sinan Ulgen, a former diplomat and head of Edam, an Istanbul-based foreign policy think tank. In the past, Western diplomats have accused Turkey of indirectly facilitating the flow of arms and foreign fighters to Isis by operating an open-

border policy with Syria in its eagerness to help the rebels seeking to topple President Bashar al-Assad. After the group overran Turkey’s consulate in Mosul in June and took dozens of staff hostage, however, most now agree that authorities in Ankara has woken up to the seriousness of the threat, but may now have its hands tied in responding to it.

Forty nine Turkish citizens, including the consul general, remain Isis’ prisoners. In the past month it has beheaded two American journalists it was holding hostage in retaliation for US airstrikes.

“Turkey is not ‘soft’ on Isis,” a Turkish government official says. “It just avoids unnecessary rhetoric, in particular on the issue of hostages in Mosul.” He adds that “all necessary actions and precautions are being taken” to combat the domestic threat posed by the group.


That claim is disputed by the family of Ahmet Beyaztas, a 25-year-old Kurdish car mechanic, who joined the group last month. Speaking at home in the bleak factory town of Dilovasi, a polluted and poverty-stricken community on the fringe of Istanbul, his brother Kenan tells of how local Isis supporters openly displayed its flag in the windows of their cars and homes.

A month ago, Ahmet was among 19 young men from the neighbourhood who boarded two minibuses and headed to Syria to join the fighters. A member of parliament for an opposition party recently told a local newspaper that he believed 90 young men from another nearby town have made a similar journey in recent weeks.

“There are many, many more who are joining. And the police are doing nothing,” says Kenan, 30, a schoolteacher. “I’m Kurdish and a leftist. If four Kurds get together the state will break them apart. Of course they can stop them if they choose to.”

Kenan Beytaztas Fatih Pinara

Dilovasi has long been notorious in Turkey as an industrial dystopia. A town of 45,000, it hosts some 150 factories focused around dirty industries such as scrap metal smelting and paint manufacturing. The air is thick with an acrid chemical stench, and a study by a local university in 2004 found that cancer rates here are two and half times higher than the national average. Meanwhile, Kenan says, it is a haven for cemaats and tarikats – conservative religious movements, which were suppressed by Turkey’s secularist governments but have flourished under the Islamist-rooted administration of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Like many children in the town, Ahmet left school at 13. Like Deniz’s husband Sadik, he had a history of drug addiction before turning to a hardline religious group around two years ago.

“His psychological situation wasn’t good. He had taken drugs for two years, but was off them when he joined Isis,” Kenan recalls. While many people in the community are devout, according to Kenan, the Isis mentality is not “natural” to the area, but an extreme version of existing religious communities. “Until two years ago, Ahmet wasn’t very religious – he was religious like the rest of us, but not radical.”

After joining the local Isis sympathisers, Ahmet and his friends began to withdraw from their families. They stopped attending mosques, which in Turkey are run by government-appointed imams, whose sermons are approved by the state. He and his friends described them as münafik – a derogatory term referring to a debased or insincere form of Islam. “They stopped watching television,” says Kenan. “[Ahmet] told us to keep men and women in the family separate, and he refused to be in the same room as my wife.”

Kenan believes he and his friends didn’t fully realise what they were becoming involved in. “The local Isis people here don’t really understand the reality of it. They don’t believe the horror stories.” Nevertheless, Kenan himself avidly follows the news from Syria and is all too aware of the danger facing his younger brother. “From the first day Ahmet got involved . . . we knew something bad was going to happen and we knew one day he would go on jihad. The police wouldn’t do anything, because they said they had no reason to hold him. Ahmet told us not to meddle. There was nothing we could do.”

Now the family calls his mobile phone daily in the vain hope that he will answer. “Every hour,” according to his 65-year-old mother, Fezile, who weeps quietly as she recalls her son. His phone is always off. “Ahmet was gentle and kind,” she recalls. “If there was a plate of lokum [Turkish delight] he would always offer it around. He thought that if you were muslim you shouldn’t kill . . . We hope that if he goes there and sees what they are about he will change his mind.” If she could speak to him, she says, she would tell him: “Don’t hurt anyone; just come back.”

Kenan hopes his brother may indeed return if he changes his mind about Isis when he sees the reality, or else that he is injured and left in a Turkish hospital. “We know they hurt people and they behead people. We know about the rapes, about what they did in Şengal,” he says, referring to the Iraqi town that Isis last month purged of its inhabitants, who belonged to a religious minority that the group considers devil-worshippers. “We’re under no illusion as to what he’s doing.”


While typical Isis recruits are young men like Ahmet, other stories show that the group also targets women and children – often online – in its drive to populate its self-professed state. At the opposite end of Istanbul, Sahin Aktan, 44, a powerfully-built, unsmiling man, is struggling to understand what has happened to his ex-wife and son. In marked contrast to the Beyaztas family, his background is prosperous. He owns a clothing company and lives in Buyukcekmece, a bustling, secular suburb on the city’s western edge. Two months ago, his ex-wife, Svetlana, a 25-year-old Kyrgyz woman and native Russian speaker, took their three-year-old son Destan to Raqqa after deciding to join the Islamic State.

Aktan has devoted himself to working out the story of her indoctrination by posing on Facebook as an Islamic woman with similar ambitions, befriending and stalking Svetlana online. He employed taxi drivers to follow her while she was still in Istanbul and managed to find the Isis safe house where she briefly lived after their divorce. He is determined to track her down.

Sahin Aktan Fatih Pinara

“Believe me, I’ve been working like a policeman,” he says, as he pores over the file he carries with him everywhere, containing photographs of his ex-wife, maps of Syria, divorce papers and Facebook transcripts, all of which he has shared with Turkish police. His primary aim is to find and rescue his son. “If she blows herself up, then the child will stay in Syria. How will I find him then? I will have zero chance, and who will look after him?”

He shows one photograph of himself and his ex-wife embracing. The picture was taken six years ago, soon after they married. “Svet was 19 when we married, she spoke hardly any Turkish but I taught her quickly – she is very clever,” he says, adding that he met her through the clothing industry.

“We had a loving relationship. She was from a Christian family, I don’t think she even knew what Islam involved. She drank whisky, we went on holidays. There was no problem.”

Svetlana was isolated in her new home, he admitted. With little social life, she spent more and more time online. “This was her only friend”, he says, holding up his smartphone. “This, and me. She learnt about Islam online and decided to convert from Christianity. One day she said, ‘I want to cover myself,’ and I said, ‘Ok, then, cover yourself.’ She was on the internet all the time. I didn’t realise where it would lead. She told me to grow a beard, she said we had to pray five times a day and read the Quran for two hours. Of course, I didn’t want to do that.”

Aktan is morose on the subject of his wife’s religious transformation: “It was as though a different woman had entered my life.” He recalls how Svetlana appeared to lose interest in the marriage, she stopped cooking and stopped caring for the couple’s pet rabbit and dogs.

“When she said she wanted a divorce, I was not surprised,” he says. “She told me that she wanted to take our son and live in the way of Islam and tevhid [in unity with God]. I said she could do that here in Istanbul. She said, ‘No’.”

Within 15 days, the divorce was complete, granting custody of Destan to his mother and weekend visits to his father. Aktan started keeping tabs on his ex-wife via Facebook and learned that she had gone to live in a house in central Istanbul with other women and children from central Asia under the guidance of an Afghan man.

Aktan panicked and rushed to the house to rescue his son after receiving a message from Svetlana on July 30th that read: “The people who live under the black banner are good people, and I am going to live in the land of Sham [Greater Syria].”

He was too late – when he reached the house the door was opened by a young girl who told him everyone else had gone. The girl had no knowledge of Svetlana and Destan – it seemed they had been given Islamic names: Assia and Abdullah. Aktan later discovered from their Facebook correspondence that his ex-wife had been in contact with an Afghan mujahideen for four months before their divorce and was hoping to go and join him. “He convinced her that she had to live in the land of Isis. He was based in Raqqa but he came in and out of Turkey.”

Finally, Svetlana went to Gaziantep and the Afghan man came and took her into Syria, via smuggling routes. Aktan lost contact with her on September 1st, when she deleted her Facebook account after realising his true identity. Like Ahmet Beyaztas’ family, Aktan is scathing about government efforts to combat Isis, and claims many other families are in a similar situation to himself, but are too scared of the group to speak out.

“Between Syria and Turkey there is essentially no border. Everyone knows this. The state knows this, but they do nothing about it. The Turkish police are weak and deaf . . . Isis is a terrorist organisation, but there’s no case against them in any court.”


It remains to be seen what ability Isis has to strike inside Turkey, however there have been warning signs of the threat it poses. In March, Isis members murdered a Turkish soldier, a police officer, and another civilian when the militants were stopped in a car en route to Istanbul, according to the government official. Meanwhile, disputed evidence has emerged that the group was linked to two bomb attacks last year in the town of Reyhanli on the Syrian border, in which 52 people were killed, and which was among the deadliest in Turkey’s history. There are also fears that Isis supporters could become embroiled in a violent struggle inside Turkey with armed leftist groups linked to Kurdish rebels fighting it in Syria. Recently, the youth wing of the PKK, the Marxist Kurdish group whose Syrian affiliate is currently battling the jihadists, claimed to have killed an Isis organiser in an attack in an Istanbul suburb.

Bunyamin Aygun, a Turkish photojournalist who was held for 40 days by Isis fighters, says Turkish members of the group had boasted to him of their ability to devastate the country with bomb attacks. During his captivity in November and December last year, he was almost constantly blindfolded, with his hands cuffed behind his back, and never saw his captors’ faces, but in between interrogations they had long conversations in his presence.

Many were Turkish, recalls the 42-year-old. Some had accents from the country’s conservative eastern region, others were Turkish-German, and a couple were from Istanbul. They spoke of their hatred for Turkey’s conservative government, saying current President Erdogan was not a real Muslim. “Turkey fears us,” they told him. “We can set off bombs in all four corners of the country. If they close the borders we will cause civil and economic chaos.”

Aygun was told he was “worse than a Christian” because he worked for Milliyet, a mainstream daily newspaper that publishes pictures of scantily-clad women. Eventually, he was sentenced to death by a sharia judge with whom his captives corresponded via telephone and email, but was freed by moderate rebels who killed the militants holding him following a five-day gun battle. He fears Turkey is now left dangerously exposed to the Isis threat: “America gave support to the rebels at the start of the Syrian war, but now it has left Turkey on its own.”

In Turkey, a broader ideological debate is taking place among conservative Muslims about the validity of Isis and their worldview. Suleyman Mehmet is an Istanbul-based tailor and a member of the Saadet Party, a conservative political party that unites various orthodox Islamic sects in Turkey, and is considerably further to the right than the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). However, a recent survey conducted by Metropoll found that only 62.5% of AKP supporters consider Isis a terrorist organisation, compared to 82.1% of Saadet Party supporters, highlighting the sensitivity of the more religious party to ideological differences with Isis.

Mehmet’s tailoring shop is the headquarters of the local community’s cemaat or Islamic business network in downtown Beyoglu, and he says that he and his colleagues were at first appreciative of Isis’ apparent efforts to protect Sunnis from Assad’s regime in Syria, but later changed their minds.

“Isis represented many basic tenets we believe in, we had hope. But now we have heard the news, we know they are murderers. How can they call themselves Muslim? Only Allah can take someone’s life. They call us küfür (infidel) but they are the fakes. Not a single one of them will go to heaven.”

Mehmet is scornful of Isis’ aim to rule entirely by Sharia law, and thinks it could not work in Turkey: “We are a democracy. That can’t happen here. In Turkey, if you say you are Christian, Jewish, Shia, fine. We are [Sunni] Muslim but we accept you. Isis do not accept anyone but themselves – they do not even pray in normal mosques, only private mosques.”

The real objection to Isis, however, seems to be straightforward disgust at their war crimes. Suleyman’s son, Ali, brings the conversation back to beheading: “I can’t even bring myself to slit the throat of a chicken. How can they do that to a human being? Imagine it.” While the views of conservative Sunni Muslims like Suleyman and his son show that Isis ideology is far from mainstream in Turkey, the group is increasingly successful in grooming individuals in deprived areas. While there is a blanket media ban on the Turkish consular hostage situation, stories of Isis indoctrination are slipping into domestic media.

When Sahin Aktan’s story appeared in a local paper, Deniz Sahin decided to get in touch with him. She knew they had similar stories and similar frustrations with the authorities. On the day of the Newsweek interview, she travelled up from Ankara to meet Sahin in Büyükcçekmece to discuss the possibility of forming a support group for other affected families. While the primary aim of their meeting is to make a plan of action, the two bereft parents find solace in the similarities in their stories, such as the increasing spiral of internet dependence by their ex-spouses, and their feelings of gradual alienation.

Deniz has intermittent access to information about her daughter via a distant relative in Raqqa, but she has been sent no news of her son, bar the one photograph of him holding a gun. “I don’t even know if he is still alive... They’ve told me that my daughter cries all the time, that she always asks for me. I know how sensitive she is, and I know that she misses me.”

Deniz cries again as she points at two photographs of her daughter – in one, taken shortly before the kidnap, she is smiling in a vest and shorts. In another, taken on the road to Raqqa, she is already covered by a black chador, despite being only nine years old.

Both Deniz and Sahin are in an agony of indecision. While entirely consumed with finding their children, they are forced to face the reality that a rescue foray into the heartland of Isis territory could become a suicide mission, and they cannot rely on official help from any government. Deniz puts her choice in stark terms: “I must protect my children. But I am an infidel in the eyes of this group – if I go there, they might kill me, or they might not let me leave. What can I do?”