From Brussels to Damascus and Back?

Islamic Jihad Militants pray during a Rally in Gaza city
Islamic Jihad Militants pray during a Rally in Gaza city. Photo: Suhair Karam/IRIN.

Stories of youths travelling to Syria to participate in the struggle against the Assad regime continue to make headlines in Belgium. Like that of 18-year-old J.B., a once average teenager who converted to Islam at the age of 15 before radicalising under the influence of the recently dissolved organization Sharia4Belgium. In February of this year, J. travelled to Cairo to study Islam. Or so he told his parents. Before long, J. found himself in a training camp somewhere in Syria, where his passport and money were confiscated. After hearing about his son’s fate, J.B.’s father travelled to Syria in an attempt to bring him back home. At one point he found himself in the hands of a radical group and was interrogated for several hours on suspicion of spying for the United States. And while he escaped with his life, he was unable to locate J.B. and bring him back to Belgium.

Determining the exact number of young Belgians that have travelled to Syria remains a challenge. The International Centre for the Study of Radicalization (ICRS) estimates, for example, that there are between 30 and 85 Belgian “jihadists” are currently in the country. It is also believed that at least 12 Belgian jihadists have so far lost their lives in Syria. According to Edwin Bakker, director of the Hague-based Centre for Terrorism and Counterterrorism, this makes Belgium in relative terms “number one when it comes to the number of youths fighting in Syria”. What is known, however, is that most of the Belgian jihadists come from the Brussels-Vilvoorde-Antwerp axis and are aged between 15 and 30.

Turkish Foreign Policy: Goodbye to “Zero Problems”?

Catherine Ashton with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu
Catherine Ashton with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. Photo: European External Action Service – EEAS/flickr.

On November 3 2012, the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP) (Justice and Development Party – JDP) celebrated the 10th anniversary of its landslide victory in the 2002 Turkish general election. Founded a year earlier, the AKP won 363 out of 550 seats in the Grand National Assembly.Ankara’s new administration immediately set about reforming. And arguably one of the domains where reforms have been most noticeable is that of Turkey’s foreign policy. Once described as “one-dimensional”, “reactive”, “passive” and “hesitant”, successive AKP administrations transformed Turkish foreign policy into something far more ambitious, assertive and independent.

When discussing Turkish foreign policy after 2002, it is difficult – if not impossible – not to mention Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and his book “Stratejik Derinlik” (Strategic Depth). Turkey’s strategic depth, according to Davutoğlu, “rests on its geographical and historical depth”. The country’s location in the midst of Afro-Eurasia and its Ottoman past “provides Turkey with a unique set of relations with its neighboring countries and at the same time places the country in a position to relate to and influence…developments”. Accordingly,Turkey seeks to use its strategic depth to promote stability and peace in its neighboring regions, an outlook that is often referred to as Ankara’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy. This essentially involves improving or re-establishing economic and political ties with Turkey’s neighboring countries.