The co-chair of Turkey’s leftist, pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has accused the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of acting as “an extension of ISIS” (Islamic State) in an emotional defense of Syrian Kurdish militias that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared terrorist groups tied to the Marxist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Following a suicide bombing in the center of the nation’s capital, Ankara, last week, Erdogan declared that evidence indicated the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG and YPJ) in Syria were responsible for the attack. Turkey began launching airstrikes on YPG targets in Syria the night of the bombing and have vowed to eliminate the YPG.
The HDP considers the YPG and YPJ, among the most successful militias currently fighting the Islamic State in Syria, ideological allies. HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtas delivered an impassioned speech Tuesday defending against Ankara’s claim that the YPG are “an extension” of the PKK. “What kind of an enmity against Kurds is this that they (AKP) await a bombing in some part of the country just to accuse the PYD?” Demirtas asked, adding, “Is there any better terror extension than you (AKP)? You are the extension of ISIS.”
Demirtas is echoing a recurring attack line on the part of anti-Turkish Russian propaganda outlets that the Erdogan government has ties to the Islamic State. Russian state-controlled outlets have repeatedly claimed that Turkey buys Islamic State oil, thus funding the terrorist group. When Russia Today published photos allegedly showing ISIS oil traveling to Turkey, however, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq identified the truck in the photos as their own; Turkey is known to trade with the KRG.
More recently, however, accusations of cooperation between the Turkish government and the Islamic State have surfaced from more reputable outlets than Russia’s. This week, the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet claimed to have evidence of cooperation between ISIS leaders and border patrol officers to allow jihadists to travel back and forth across the Turkish-Syrian border. Cumhuriyet’s editor-in-chief is currently facing a life sentence for approving a report last year that claimed that Turkey’s intelligence agency was arming anti-Assad militias in Syria.
Erdogan has responded to the HDP’s defense of the YPG by calling for Demirtas and other members of the party to be stripped of legislative immunity and be prosecuted for supporting “terrorism.”
“Nowhere in the world can you see a politician backing a suicide bomber,” Erdogan said this week. The suicide bomber in question is that of the Ankara bombing this month, which the Turkish government was quick to identify as a member of the YPG.
Shortly after that claim surfaced, however, a different group took credit for the attack. The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), a group associated with the PKK, issued a statement assuming responsibility for the attack. It identified the bomber as TAK member Abdulbaki Sonmez; the Turkish government had previously named YPG member Salih Neccar as the bomber. Erdogan has made clear on numerous occasions, most recently this week, that the Turkish government “does not distinguish” between Syrian Kurdish groups and terrorist organizations.
The United States, however, does. The PKK is a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, while the YPG is a U.S. ally on the ground in the war against ISIS. Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said on Tuesday that American officials are working to convince Erdogan’s government to distinguish between these groups, as the war to destroy ISIS may depend on how well armed and organized Kurdish groups on the ground are. Americans, he said, have “had conversations with Turkey at length about the situation in Syria specific with the Kurds, and again, we’ve expressed our support for groups on the ground that are taking the fight to ISIL [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant].”