Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo: AP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region—In a speech in the majority Kurdish city Diyarbakir on Saturday, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan railed against Kurdish groups in Turkey and Syria – calling the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) “atheists” who have destroyed mosques and condemning the United States’ “dishonest” support for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria.
“Those who are our friends, who are with us in NATO,” said Erdogan, “cannot, must not send their soldiers to Syria wearing YPG insignia.”
An AFP photographer captured images of US special forces wearing insignia of the Kurdish group when supporting Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is predominantly made up of the YPG, in their offensive against the Islamic State north of Raqqa.
The photographs inspired passionate responses from all sides. Kurds lauded the US forces for their support. Salih Muslim, co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the political wing of the YPG, thanked the Americans for wearing the patches and standing “shoulder-to-shoulder on the same front, fighting terrorists.”
But Turkey, who considers the PYD and YPG to be extensions of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is named a terrorist organization by Turkey and the US, swiftly condemned the action.
Erdogan accused the US of being dishonest in their support for the YPG while claiming to be fighting terrorism.
“The PKK, the PYD, the YPG, Daesh [Islamic State], there is no difference,” he said. “They are all terrorists.”
The United States, in an effort to diffuse tensions with its NATO ally, has ordered its troops to not wear the Kurdish insignia, but has played down the rift.
“We understand Turkey’s concerns,” said Mark Toner, deputy spokesman for the US State Department, vowing to discuss with Ankara its concerns yet maintaining that the United States will continue to support the YPG.
“[W]e believe the YPG as well as other forces in northern Syria are effectively taking the fight to ISIL [ISIS],” Toner said. “And we’re going to continue to support them with our assist and support operation.”
Also in his speech on Saturday, Erdogan railed against the PKK, calling them atheists.
“Haven’t they destroyed our mosques? These people are atheists,” he said, vowing to see the fight with the PKK “through to the end.”
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim also maintained a hardline stance against the PKK in a speech at the same event. “The PKK terrorists don’t have any concern about Kurdish issues. Everyone should know that we can divide roads or our bread, but we will never, ever let anyone divide the country.”
“Terrorists will not be successful. They may make a bomb or slaughter civilians. But they will not accomplish anything.”