Turkey warned that it may take action against Kurdish groups with links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, that have taken control of several towns in northern Syria near the Turkish border.
“We won’t allow such a structure on our borders,” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in a television interview today, according to the state-run Anatolia news agency. He accused President Bashar al-Assad’s government of permitting the Kurdish groups to seize border areas in order to stir up ethnic conflict and threaten its neighbor.
Davutoglu’s comments came after Turkish media reported that a group called the Democratic Union of Kurdistan, affiliated to the PKK, had taken control of towns near the border including Kobane and Efrin as Assad’s forces withdrew.
The PKK, which has its main bases in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, has been fighting for autonomy in largely Kurdish southeast Turkey for almost three decades, in a conflict that has left about 40,000 people dead, mostly Kurds. Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union classify it as a terrorist group.
Turkey, a former ally of Assad’s, is now one of the main backers of the Syrian rebels fighting to end his rule and allows them to operate from its territory.
Under Assad’s father, Hafez, Syria backed the PKK and hosted its leader, Abdullah Ocalan, and the group’s main camps for several years. It ended that support after Turkey massed troops near the border in 1998 and threatened an incursion.
Davutoglu said efforts by Kurdish groups to dominate parts of northern Syria would lead to tensions with the majority Arabs and other groups, including ethnic Turks. He said Kurds make up about 10 percent of the population of Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city, where clashes between security forces and rebels are intensifying.
Davutoglu is due to visit northern Iraq in the coming weeks for talks with its Kurdish leader, Massoud Barzani. Erdogan yesterday warned the Iraqi Kurds not to collaborate with the Kurdish groups in northern Syria.
Some Kurdish organizations have historically argued for a state that would bring together Kurds living in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria.