Turkey’s Kurdish rebels will retaliate to any Turkish attacks on Kurds in war-torn Syria, the second in command of the outlawed PKK said in an interview published Wednesday.
“Turkey should stay out of this conflict and stop its scheming,” Murat Karayilan, who heads the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the absence of its jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan, told Swiss daily Le Temps.
“The PKK feels solidarity with all Kurds and we will support the Syrian Kurds. If the Turkish army attacks them… we will carry out very violent reprisals on Turkish territory,” said Karayilan, who was interviewed in a PKK sanctuary in Iraqi Kurdistan mountains near the Iranian border.
The PKK, listed as a terrorist group by Ankara, the United States and the European Union, took up arms in the Kurdish-majority southeast of Turkey in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed about 45,000 lives.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power in 2003 vowing to to solve the Kurdish problem, and the two sides agreed to sit down at the negotiating table in 2009, only to see the talks break down two years later.
Fighting between the PKK rebels and the Turkish army resumed, and in recent months the separatists have ramped up their attacks, triggering large-scale military operations in the Kurdish- majority southeastern Turkey.
On October 2, three Syrian Kurds were killed when Turkish troops fired across the Syrian border.
The three were members of the YPG, or “units for the protection of the people,” a militia close to the Syria-based Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which Ankara says is linked to the PKK.
Many of Syria’s more than two million Kurds have distanced themselves from the rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in the escalating conflict, fuelling suspicions among some of collusion with the regime.
Ankara, which has taken an increasingly strident line towards Syria, has accused Damascus of granting swathes of its territory in the north, including on the border to Turkey, to the PYD as a buffer zone.
Karayilan said meanwhile that the PKK “absolutely remains open to all negotiations, to all dialogue” with Ankara.
However, the Kurds had chosen Ocalan to represent them in negotiations with Turkey, and until the conditions of their jailed leader’s imprisonment were altered “we will not stop our armed attacks.”
Ocalan, he said, should among other things be transferred from prison to some kind of house arrest so he could lead such talks.
“This is the essential condition for stopping the violence,” Karayilan said.
Ocalan was captured by Turkish agents in Nairobi, brought back to Turkey and sentenced to death in 1999, but the sentence was commuted to life in prison.