Former Turkish president Abdullah Gül has said the Turkish government’s failure to resolve the longstanding Kurdish issue has turned it into a regional problem that is open to manipulation by international powers.
The Kurdish issue, a term prevalent in Turkey’s public discourse, refers to the demand for equal rights by the country’s Kurdish population and their struggle for recognition.
Gül said if Turkey had been able to resolve the Kurdish issue by granting more extensive democratic and fundamental rights and freedoms to the country’s Kurds, this would have strengthened Kurdish citizens’ loyalty and feeling of belonging and prevented the issue from becoming a regional problem that is open to the manipulation of international powers.
Gül’s remarks came during an event at a university bearing his name in his hometown of Kayseri over the weekend on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Turkish Republic, which will be marked on Oct. 29.
The Kurdish issue was one of the many discussed during the event.
Turkey has been accused of denying its Kurdish citizens, which make up approximately 20 percent of its population, their political and cultural rights and pursuing policies aimed at their assimilation since the foundation of modern Turkey.
The ruling Justice and Development Party launched talks with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leadership in 2012 in a bid to resolve the Kurdish problem, but the talks collapsed in 2015 after which the government allied with a far-right nationalist party and adopted a nationalist discourse, which further disenchanted Kurds.
Gül accused first the Soviet Union, then Russia and finally the United States of supporting “separatist terrorism,” a reference to the PKK and providing it with logistical support in line with their interests in the region. He said their support for the PKK hindered the maintenance of peace in society and economic development in Turkey.
The PKK, which has been waging a bloody campaign in Turkey’s southeast since 1984, is listed as a terrorist organization by much of the international community.
The former president’s remarks come at a time when Turkey is carrying out airstrikes in northern Iraq and northeast Syria against alleged PKK targets in retaliation for a terrorist attack in Ankara on Oct. 1 that left two police officers dead.
Kurdish authorities in Syria accuse Turkey of causing at least 44 civilian deaths and destroying crucial infrastructure in its airstrikes on Syria.
Last week President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused the United States of posing a threat to Turkey’s national security due to its activities with what he called “extensions of the PKK.”
He was referring to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which are considered by Turkey to be extensions of the PKK.
Both the SDF and the YPG provided crucial assistance to a US-led coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorist group. Turkey frequently criticizes the US for cooperating with these groups.
One day before Erdoğan’s remarks, the White House said in a statement that ongoing Turkish airstrikes in northeast Syria undermine the fight against ISIL, endangers civilians and destabilizes the region in addition to posing “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”
Erdoğan has been hardening his rhetoric against the US since the downing of a Turkish drone in Syria by US warplanes earlier this month.
US F-16 fighter jets on Oct. 5 shot down a drone belonging to Turkey that was deemed a potential threat to American forces in Syria.