The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PPK) terrorist group’s leadership has called upon the United States to intervene and encourage the Turkish government to engage in peace talks with the Kurdish group, in the hopes of ending the air campaign Turkey is waging against them while claiming to be fighting the Islamic State (ISIS).
Zübeyir Aydar, one of the highest-ranking members of the PKK not currently imprisoned, told Voice of America he hopes to see American government officials call for Turkish and PKK representatives to come to the negotiating table and resolve their differences, so both can work together to fight the Islamic State. “We want the U.S. Congress and White House to play a role in the Kurdish process that puts peace on the forefront,” he said, “As the U.S. is involved in a dialogue with the Turks, we want [the U.S.] to form the same dialogue with the Kurds.”
Aydar added that negotiations were vital because “these conflicts jeopardize the struggle against ISIL,” which is a common enemy of Americans, Turks, and Kurds.
Aydar’s comments echo a similar call from Salahattin Demirtas, the head of the Kurd-friendly mainstream People’s Democratic Party (HDP), for the European Union to broker talks between the PKK and the Turkish government. “The EU should send a clear message that the PKK and Turkey should again hold talks … and also that a third-party observer should be at these talks,” he urged, adding that it does not “necessarily have to be the EU,” but that some neutral third party with legitimacy should help bring both parties to the table.
Tensions have flared between the PKK, a U.S.-designated Marxist terrorist group, and the Turkish government since Turkey announced an air campaign in Syrian territory, allegedly intended to create an “ISIL-free zone” in Syria. Turkey has allowed the United States to use its air bases to attack ISIS in Syria, as well. It rapidly became clear, however, that Turkey was putting more effort into targeting PKK targets in Syria and spread its air campaign to Iraq to eliminate the Kurdish group. There is little evidence Turkey’s campaign has done much to diminish the strength of the Islamic State in the region.
Supporters of the Kurdish factions in Syria, both the PKK and the People’s Protection Units (YPG and YPJ), note that, in contrast with the Turkish campaign, Kurds have made significant gains against the Islamic State. Aydar made this exact point in calling for peace talks to Voice of America: “Everybody knows that there is only one force that is fighting ISIL and that is the YPG [People’s Protections Units] and the HPG [People’s Defense Forces]. And Turkey is bombarding the HPG’s center,” he said. “This is a great support to ISIL.”
The only major Kurdish group opposing the PKK’s involvement in the war on the Islamic State is the Kurdish Regional Government of Iraq, which is also the largest non-left-leaning Kurdish entity. President Masoud Barzani has repeatedly called for the PKK to leave the Kurdish regions of Iraq entirely, accusing them of being distractions and causing the deaths of civilians by bringing Turkish airstrikes upon Iraq.
The PKK has refused, with soldiers telling Kurdish outlet Rudaw they will remain in Iraq “until the war is finished.”
The United States has stood behind fellow NATO member Turkey in its campaign against the Islamic State, and has opposed the PKK for years. As Al Monitor notes, however, American officials have refused to fail to distinguish between the PKK and the YPG/YPJ, who are friendly with the PKK but separate entities, and extremely anti-ISIS. America’s tacit support for the YPG and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) of Kurds in Syria that it supports is such that Turkey had to specify that Americans could not use their air base to fly missions that would support the YPG and YPJ against ISIS, even if it did help in the fight against the terrorist group.