Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has said Turkey's relations with Kurds living in neighboring countries are not a threat and added that taboos regarding ties with Kurds should be broken, Today`s Zaman reported.
Davutoğlu's comments came as he was on his way back to Turkey from a two-day-visit to Iraq on Monday after reporters asked him to comment on Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) leader Massoud Barzani's upcoming visit to Turkey.
"There will be a very positive atmosphere [during Barzani's time in Turkey]. These [visits] are part of normalization. It is also a reflection of self-confidence. We as Turkey would have been afraid in the past if Turkey's Kurds and other Kurds had developed relations. One should not see bridges being built between Turkey and [other Kurds] as a threat. We should break these taboos," Davutoğlu told reporters on the plane.
Prime Ministry sources confirmed on Monday that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will meet with Barzani in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır on Saturday. Davutoğlu said Barzani was visiting Turkey due to a wedding invitation he received in the southeastern province.
Barzani's visit comes amidst Turkey's recent efforts to address the Kurdish conflict in the Southeast. Erdoğan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) launched a settlement process last year to resolve the country's decades-old terrorism problem and has been holding talks with Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), since then. The government's move is supported by the Iraqi Kurdish government as well.
The Erdoğan-Barzani meeting comes at a time when disagreements between the KRG and the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Syrian offshoot of the PKK, are growing deeper. The tension between the PYD and Barzani-supported Kurdish parties has become more apparent as Syrian Kurds recently gained ground in Syria's north after a fierce struggle with al-Qaeda-linked groups. The KRG has expressed its discomfort over the PYD's attitude in northern Syria, saying it has gone too far in committing violence against other Kurdish groups in Syria.
Davutoğlu also commented on his visit to Iraq's Najaf and Karbala, the two holy Shiite cities in the country. "The normalization of relations with Iraq is also a step to solve Sunni-Shiite friction," Davutoğlu said, adding: "As the culture of competition disappears in the [Middle East] region, Turkey will gain more strength. Otherwise, Turkey will be harmed, including the settlement process."
The foreign minister likened Turkey's position in the settlement process to being "in the middle of a stream." He added that if Turkey turns back from the path it has chosen, it will lose out.
"One needs to be patient. I am saying this keeping developments in the region in mind; whoever returns from the stream [after getting halfway across] will lose," Davutoğlu warned.
In March, a cease-fire was proclaimed and Öcalan ordered his terrorists to retreat from Turkey to Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region, but the withdrawal was suspended last month as the terrorists said Ankara had not held up its side of the bargain.
Claims of support to al-Qaeda-linked groups
Davutoğlu categorically rejected once more allegations that Turkey is supporting al-Qaeda-linked groups in Syria.
"There is a serious smear campaign about this [alleged Turkish support for al-Qaeda]. This perception is built in such a way that it has been accepted [by many] as the truth," said Davutoğlu and added that some circles in Iraq and Iran created the perception that al-Qaeda is responsible for all the terror in Syria.
"There was no al-Qaeda in 2011; the number of [al-Qaeda militants] increased to a few hundred in 2012 and to a few thousand in 2013. How? As [Bashar] al-Assad increased the pressure, those who lost their beloved ones [in clashes] turned towards the radicals. As the crisis lengthened, the quagmire also grew," the foreign minister said.
Davutoğlu and other top Turkish officials have several times refuted news reports and claims that Turkey cultivated relationships with radical groups operating in Syria.
The foreign minister also gave information about Turkey's collaboration with other countries in the fight against al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in Syria. He said: "Whenever there was a discussion about the fight against al-Qaeda with either Western countries or others, I told them: 'If you know members of al-Qaeda who cross into Syria, either do not let them leave your country, or give the al-Qaeda members to us; we will do what is necessary.' We are asking them to give names; they do not. They argue that they are a democratic country where there is freedom to travel. How can we possibly detain those [militants] whom you cannot prevent [from leaving your countries]. They [the Western and other countries] do not provide us with intelligence help. You are not fulfilling your responsibilities [in regards to intelligence] but you are accusing Turkey [of providing support to al-Qaeda] in media stories," Davutoğlu stated.