A senior Iraqi Kurdish official has called on Ankara to engage in dialogue with a Syrian Kurdish group that Turkey says is the Syrian arm of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), noting that Turkish authorities are already in contact with the PKK leadership.
“Isn't Ankara already having talks with the PKK? There are ongoing talks with the [jailed] PKK leader; there is direct or maybe indirect contact with Kandil [where the PKK leadership is based]; there is contact with PKK elements in Europe,” Safeen Dizayee, the spokesman of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), said in an interview. “So there should be no problem.”
Turkey was alarmed when the Democratic Union Party (PYD) took over control of Kurdish towns in northern Syria, near the Turkish border, after President Bashar al-Assad's forces vacated them. Ankara says the PYD is a mere extension of the PKK and dreads the prospect of a Kurdish rule dominated by the PYD in northern Syria.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reiterated earlier this week that Turkey will not tolerate the emergence of an autonomous Kurdish entity in northern Syria similar to the Kurdish region in Iraq, which has been governing Kurdish provinces in northern Iraq since the 1990s.
Turkish authorities have been in talks with Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK leader imprisoned on İmralı Island south of İstanbul, since October to discuss a plan to end a conflict that has killed 40,000 people since the PKK took up arms in 1984.
Dizayee said Turkish concerns regarding the changes in Syria were normal, given that it shares a 900-kilometer-long border with the civil war-torn country, but emphasized that the change in Syria was inevitable and that the PYD presence is a fact. “Turkey should not avoid confronting reality,” he said. “Instead of watching others invest in [good relations with] Kurds, Turkey should take the initiative and approach the [Syrian] Kurds with a positive attitude. No Kurdish group, including the PYD, should be left out,” said Dizayee.
Turkish leaders insist that the Syrian regime has intentionally left the border towns to the PYD, in order to create troubles for Turkey as punishment for its staunch support for the opposition that is striving to topple the Syrian regime. But Dizayee said the Syrian army vacated the Kurdish towns to better defend areas of bigger strategic importance, dismissing claims that the PYD is cooperating with the Syrian regime as “exaggeration.”
The Kurds took over the control of the towns in order to protect them and prevent regime-opposition clashes that have caused massive devastation in other parts of Syria, according to Dizayee.
He lamented that the Syrian opposition groups “do not have a clear vision” regarding the status of the Kurds in the future of Syria. Dizayee also blamed the al-Nusra Front, a radical Islamic group designated as a terrorist organization by the US, for clashes in some of the Kurdish towns between the Kurdish and opposition groups, dismissing that those clashes are a harbinger of a Kurdish-Arab conflict. “The al-Nusra Front has its own agenda; it is a radical, fundamentalist group linked to al-Qaeda. The stability and security of the entire region would be at risk if it is allowed to grow stronger,” said Dizayee.
Secession from Iraq: a decision up to Kurds
Dizayee also left open the door for possible Kurdish independence and said the Kurds, being a major element of stability in the Middle East, cannot be left out of the process of transformation as the peoples across the Middle East are facing a major chance to acquire democratic rights.
“Our priority is to remain within Iraq, within the federal framework outlined by the Iraqi constitution. But the situation will change if an authoritarian rule is established and our rights are not respected,” he said. According to Dizayee, the decision whether to set up an independent state is up to Kurds and argued that such a decision cannot come before the KRG and the Iraqi central administration resolve their differences on the status of disputed territories next to the KRG borders.
He also said US complaints about deepening energy cooperation between Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds were “hard to understand,” saying Washington's concerns that such cooperation could lead to disintegration of Iraq were “not realistic.”
Washington is concerned that the growing Turkish-Kurdish energy cooperation, which angers the Baghdad government, could tip the volatile country towards disintegration and push an increasingly isolated Baghdad into Iran.