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The Kurdish Question Raises Stakes In Turkey-Syria Tensions

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan targets PKK strongholds along the Syrian border after tensions last month sparked by Syria's shooting down of a Turkish military jet. The move is part of a longstanding conflict over Kurdish minorities who live in both countries.

Article illustrative image Partner logo In the Syrian border town of Qamishli, a protester with a Kurdish and Syrian rebel flag (Freedom House)

ANKARA - Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced increased measures to counter the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Syria, which he says has moved to seize control of a number of villages along the Syria-Turkey border.

“In the north, President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has allotted five provinces to the Kurds, to the terrorist organization,” Erdogan said, speaking to top civilian and military officials at a Wednesday security summit.  “Of course Turkey will not look warmly on the PKK’s offshoot in Syria, the Democratic Union of Kurdistan (PYD). The activities of the separatist terrorist organization in our country and in neighboring countries must been discussed.”

This was the first time Erdogan has mentioned the presence of the PKK in Syria. In the late 1990s, Turkey and Syria edged to the brink of war because of Damascus’ support of the PKK. The dispute ended when Syria stopped backing the *terrorist organization.

During the summit, Erdogan was asked by a journalist if Turkey would strike fleeing rebels if they attack on Turkish soil, to which Erdogan responded  “That’s not even a matter of discussion, it is a given. That is the objective. That is what we have been doing and will continue to do in Iraq.” 

Turkish security forces killed at least 15 PKK terrorists in a raid near the country's border with Iraq on Tuesday, after tracking them with drones and attacking them with helicopters and ground forces.

Turkey may beef up its military presence along the Syrian border, where the PYD and PKK are most active. Turkish troop presence had already increased after Syria downed a Turkish fighter jet last month.

Eye on Qamishli

Turkey will focus operations on the small border town of Qamishli, where the PYD are most active. The PYD is preparing to take control of the town amid reports that the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has sent Syrian Kurds to northern Syria after training them for armed conflict. Video recordings of men in military uniform, believed to be crossing the Syrian border from northern Iraq, have increased concerns in Ankara. But the KRG has denied the reports. 

Meanwhile, the Turkish military has deployed teams trained in dealing with chemical weapon attacks to the Syrian Border. The order comes after Damascus threatened it would use such weapons, should it be attacked by another country. 

**This is a digest item, not a direct translation.

*Worldcrunch editorial note: In the Turkish media, the PKK is routinely referred to as a terrorist organization.



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