Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has vowed that Ankara will not allow a separate political entity in northern Syria amid reports that Arabs and Kurds have recently signed a deal to jointly rule territories on the Turkish border.
Erdoğan, speaking to chiefs of Turkish news agencies on a plane en route to Ankara from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), said the integrity of Syria is “very, very important” for Turkey and that Ankara does not want to see problems in Syria similar to those in northern Iraq.
Erdoğan was referring to political bickering between central government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq over oil payments that has lasted for more than a year now.
Syrian Kurds have exploited the civil war between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition fighting to oust him by asserting control in parts of the northeast which have been spared the worst of the violence.
Syrian opposition fighters and the Kurdish militia, which have fought each other for months in a town near the Turkish border, reportedly signed a cease-fire earlier this month, but opposition members later denied that such an agreement existed.
Erdoğan added that Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and particularly Turkey are against the division of Syria and that “we will not allow -- God willing -- such a situation to emerge.”
Erdoğan said any autonomous entity in northern Syria will damage the country's integrity and that Ankara will not allow any development that brings about this change.
The prime minister rejected that what is happening in Iraq -- referring to a devolution of power from center to provinces -- means division, saying it is a “transformation to a state system.”
Iraqi law could give a special status to disputed cities such as Kirkuk and Mosul, Erdoğan said, while complaining that Baghdad does not agree with this suggestion. Erdoğan said sooner or later Kirkuk and Mosul will also enjoy autonomous status, as happened in northern Iraq.
Erdoğan justified his arguments on offering different status for Kurds in Iraq and in Syria on the grounds that the demographic structures of the countries significantly differ.
Erdoğan also said the Syrian border with Turkey is not completely controlled by Kurdish militants linked to the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). He said there are areas where Arabs, Turkmens and Kurds who don't affiliate themselves with the Kurdish militants control the border areas. He added that this situation creates significant challenges for Turkey.
Kurds in Syria see the war as an opportunity to win rights long-denied them by Assad and his father before him, but are wary of the Arab-dominated opposition, which they see as inherently hostile to their interests.
Those suspicions are fuelled by Turkish support for the opposition fighters. Turkey has a fraught relationship with its own Kurdish population and has fought for years against the PKK.
Meanwhile, Kurdish militants in Syria have blamed Turkey for inciting the opposition fighters to attack Kurdish militants.
Turkey accused Syrian Kurdish parties aligned with the PKK of colluding with Assad in return for his leaving them to their own devices and keeping out the opposition fighters, saying that Assad's interests are further served by unnerving Turkey.