Barzani, who heads northern Iraq’s regional Kurdish administration, arrived in Ankara on Wednesday evening for his first-ever visit to Turkey as regional president. Barzani last visited Turkey in April 2004 when he held the rotating presidency of the now-defunct Iraqi Governing Council.
His visit came days after the PKK, listed as a terrorist group by Turkey and much of the international community, fired rockets at a Turkish naval base on Monday, killing six soldiers and wounding seven others. The PKK, which has bases in northern Iraq, took up arms in 1984 for self-rule in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority Southeast, sparking a conflict that has cost about 45,000 lives.
“We are saddened by the bloodshed whether it is a Kurdish youth or a Turkish youth. This has to come to an end,” Barzani said on Thursday at a joint press conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. His remarks in Kurdish were translated into Turkish through an interpreter.
As he offered his condolences to the families of those soldiers who were killed in Monday’s attack by the PKK, Barzani was asked whether concrete steps for cooperating with Turkey in its efforts against PKK terrorism might be expected.
“We don’t support the continuation of violence. And we don’t consider Turkey’s security as a separate issue from our own security. We will exert all of our efforts to reach an end to saddening incidents,” Barzani responded. Turkey and the regional administration have been trying to improve ties that have often been tense over Turkish accusations that the region has been harboring PKK members who launch attacks on Turkey from bases on the mountainous border region.
Coerced by the US, Iraqi Kurds have in the past two years been cooperating against the PKK, sharing intelligence with Turkey. The cooperation has also brought improved trade relations, and there have been talks of opening a second border crossing between Turkey and the region. But Turkey is also seeking the closure of PKK offices and bases as well as a UN-led refugee camp it accuses of harboring PKK members.
For his part, Davutoğlu, who officially invited Barzani, reiterated Ankara’s call for greater cooperation from Iraqi Kurds in combating PKK members who stream across the border. Davutoğlu said Turkey was aiming to achieve “total economic integration” with the neighboring, semiautonomous Iraqi Kurdish region, but help in fighting the PKK is necessary. “The greatest threat to this joint perspective is, unfortunately, terrorist activities,” Davutoğlu said at the joint news conference.
Davutoğlu, meanwhile, addressed Barzani as “Kak Massoud” -- a respectful but affectionate “Mister” in Kurdish.
“I have observed from Kak Massoud both a hospitality -- which reflects a rooted family tradition -- and a strong political will on the issue of building a joint future with Turkey,” Davutoğlu said, referring to the way he had been treated by Barzani during his visit to Arbil in late October. Later on Thursday, Barzani was hosted by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and is expected to have talks with President Abdullah Gül today.