Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan bitterly attacked ally the United States over its support for Syrian Kurdish groups, as they seized an airport near Aleppo and sought to build ties with Russia.
In an impassioned and sometimes angry address, Erdogan accused Washington of creating a “pool of blood” in the region by working with Kurdish groups Ankara lists as terror organisations.
The US has been supporting Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia in their fight against Islamists in Syria, but Turkey considers them to be terror groups allied to Kurdish rebels on its soil.
“Hey America! How many times have we had to tell you?” Erdogan said. “Are you together with us or are you with the PYD and YPG terror groups?”
“As you have never recognised them (as terror groups) the region has turned into a pool of blood.”
His remarks escalated a row between Washington and Ankara over the role of Kurdish fighters in the struggle against Islamic State (IS) jihadists in Syria.
The dispute also risks further complicating the search for a solution to Syria’s five-year conflict, driving a wedge between two key members of the anti-IS coalition and further hampering a stuttering peace process.
“Is there a difference between the PKK and the PYD? Is there a difference with the YPG?” growled Erdogan. “We have written proof!”
“Allies don’t tell each other my enemy’s enemy is my friend. You must have principles. But there are no principles here.”
‘Most successful’ against IS
Turkey on Tuesday summoned the US envoy to Ankara in protest after the US State Department said Washington did not recognise the PYD as a terror group and would continue to support its operations in Syria.
Ankara has also expressed outrage over a visit last week by US presidential envoy Brett McGurk to the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane where he met YPG fighters.
“Even the best of friends aren’t going to agree on everything,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said earlier this week.
“Kurdish fighters have been some of the most successful in going after Daesh (IS) inside Syria.”
YPG fighters backed by Arab rebel groups captured the strategic Minnigh air base and adjacent town in northern Syria from anti-government factions, monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said early Thursday.
The advance comes after days of fierce clashes that saw YPG forces advance east from the Kurdish stronghold of Afrin and take over a series of villages before reaching Minnigh.
“With the defeat at Minnigh, Islamist fighters lost the only military airport they held in Aleppo province,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.
Turkey says the Syrian Kurdish groups are simply a branch of the rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is recognised as a terror group by the United States, and has carried out a string of deadly attacks in Turkey in the last few months.
‘Relations will fray’
Can Acun, a researcher with the Ankara-based Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research, said Turkey was facing a “serious crisis” with the United States on the issue.
“We don’t know if the US is using the Syrian Kurds for short-term tactical reasons or in the long-term. If it’s the second, then bilateral relations will fray,” he said.
In a further twist, a Syrian Kurdish group on Wednesday opened a representation in Moscow, which is currently in the throes of a diplomatic crisis with Ankara and is working to tighten ties with the Kurds.
“This is a historical moment for the Kurdish people,” said Merab Shamoyev, chairman of the International Union of Kurdish Public Associations, adding that those present at the ceremony had ties to the PYD.
Russian air strikes in support of a regime offensive around Aleppo have sent tens of thousands of people fleeing to the border with Turkey, already home to some 2.5 million refugees from Syria and hundreds of thousands from Iraq.
More than 500 people have been killed by the onslaught so far this month, the Observatory said.
But Erdogan blasted the response from members of the United Nations, saying: “UN, what are you useful for?”
“We have so far taken in three million people from Iraq and Syria and how many have you taken in? How many people has each country taken in? You are troubled by 300-500 people but we have taken three million.”