NATO backs Turkey’s war on ‘terror’

President Erdogan says it is not possible to carry on the peace process with PKK.

Published - July 29, 2015 01:31 am IST

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday it was impossible to continue a peace process with Kurdish militants and urged parliament to strip politicians with links to them of immunity from prosecution.

Hours after he spoke, the Turkish military said its F-16 fighter jets had bombed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants in the southeastern Turkish province of Sirnak, which borders Iraq, in response to an attack on a group of gendarmes.

Turkey last week launched air strikes on PKK camps in northern Iraq following a series of attacks on its police officers and soldiers blamed on the Kurdish militant group.

The PKK has said the air strikes, launched virtually in parallel with strikes against Islamic State fighters in Syria, rendered the peace process meaningless but stopped short of formally pulling out.

"It is not possible for us to continue the peace process with those who threaten our national unity and brotherhood," Erdogan told a news conference in Ankara before departing on an official visit to China.

Western allies have said they recognise Turkey's right to self-defence but have urged the NATO member not to allow peace efforts with the PKK to collapse. While deeming the PKK a terrorist organisation, Washington depends heavily on allied Syrian Kurdish fighters in battling Islamic State in Syria.

An emergency NATO meeting in Brussels on Tuesday offered political support for Turkey's campaigns in Syria and Iraq, and Erdogan signalled Turkey may have a "duty" to become more involved.

For NATO allies, the prospect of Turkey, which borders Iran, Iraq and Syria, fighting a domestic conflict against Kurdish as well as Islamist fighters is a deep concern. But for many in Turkey, Kurdish rebellion remains the primary national threat.

Besir Atalay, spokesman for the ruling AK Party, said it was too soon to declare the peace process over and said it could resume if "terrorist elements" put down arms and left Turkey.

"There is currently a stagnation in the mechanism but it would restart where it left off if these intentions emerge," he told a press conference in Ankara.


Braving nationalist anger, Erdogan introduced tentative reforms on Kurdish rights and in 2012 launched negotiations to try to end a PKK insurgency that has killed 40,000 people since 1984. A fragile ceasefire had been holding since March 2013.

However, any calculation Erdogan may have had that his political gamble would reap broad electoral support from Kurds, some 20 percent of the population, demonstrably failed.

The pro-Kurdish HDP party won 13 percent of the vote in a June 7 poll, helping to deprive the AKP Erdogan founded of a majority in parliament for the first time since 2002.

Many Kurds believe that by reviving conflict with the PKK, Erdogan seeks to undermine support for the HDP ahead of a possible early election. That poll - so runs the argument - could then provide him with the majority he seeks to change the constitution and increase his powers.

Turkey has shut down almost all Kurdish political parties over the years. Erdogan, who wants the AKP to win back a majority and has recently accused the HDP of links to the PKK, said he opposed party closures, but urged parliament to lift the immunity of politicians with links to "terrorist groups".

"We have committed no unforgivable crimes. Our only crime was winning 13 percent of vote," HDP chairman Selahattin Demirtas told party members in parliament.

"The only way for the AKP to be in government on its own is if the HDP is liquidated. Tomorrow the HDP's 80 lawmakers will submit a request for immunity to be lifted," he said, effectively challenging parliament to fulfil Erdogan's threat.

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