Erdogan Stops Talking with Kurdish Militants

Tue Jul 28, 2015 18:24:26

Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday it was impossible to continue talks with Kurdish militants following an upsurge in violence, signaling a formal end to a four-year peace process that many hoped would end three-decades of conflict, Al-Alam News Network reports.

Speaking in Ankara ahead of a state visit to Beijing, Mr. Erdogan said Turkey wouldn’t back down in the face of terror and warned that Kurdish lawmakers—who won a record number of seats in June elections—would be stripped of their immunity from prosecution if deemed to support militant groups.

“It is not possible for us to continue the peace process with those who threaten our national unity and brotherhood,” Mr. Erdogan told reporters.

“Turkey has the strength to hold terrorists and so-called politicians accountable for the blood of our martyrs. Stepping back is out of the question,” he said.

Mr. Erdogan’s speech appeared to codify the collapse of Turkey’s peace talks with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK—a Kurdish militia listed as a terror organization by Turkey and the US that has fought for greater autonomy from the Turkish state since 1984. Senior PKK commanders said over the weekend that the peace process was finished and vowed to retaliate against attacks by Turkish security forces. Turkey on Tuesday accused the PKK of blowing up a gas pipeline in eastern Turkey, although there was no immediate claim of responsibility.

After an escalation of violence in Turkey’s southeast last week, Turkish warplanes on Friday launched airstrikes on the PKK’s mountain base in northern Iraq for the first time in three years. The bombing raids came just hours after Turkey launched its first strikes against ISIL in Syria and agreed to allow the US-led coalition access to its air bases after years of reluctance.

Mr. Erdogan’s statement comes as Turkish officials have cast operations against ISIL and Kurdish militants as a “war on terror with distinction.” In recent days, Turkish security forces have launched a series of raids to arrest more than 1,000 alleged members of the PKK, ISIL and other prescribed organizations.

“For us the PKK and ISIL are the same,” a Turkish official said.

The shift has drawn condemnation from Kurdish lawmakers, who have accused the government of using the strikes against ISIL as a smokescreen for a broader attack on Kurdish groups, a charge the government denies.

“Our only crime was winning 13% of the national vote,” said Selahattin Demirtas, leader of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party on Tuesday.

Mr. Erdogan’s statement marked the more hawkish tone than Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who said early this week that Turkey would continue with the process and that a Syrian Kurdish militia closely linked to the PKK could “have a place in the new Syria.”

Mazhar Bagli, a member of the executive committee of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, said Mr. Erdogan’s statement shouldn’t be seen as a definitive end to the peace talks.

“The President’s statement reflects the sentiments of the Turkish public. But it shouldn’t be understood as the end of the process, that ‘this is it’,” he said. “But it means the PKK must either withdraw its armed elements from inside Turkey, or disarm itself altogether, otherwise the talks cannot continue.”

The shift has also complicated relations with Washington. On Monday, Kurdish fighters who are allied to the US accused Turkey of shelling their positions in Syria, a sign of the difficulties Ankara and the US face as they boost cooperation to fight ISIL militants.

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