In a very unusual move, Turkey recalled its ambassador to Washington on Monday over a statement made by the United States regarding the recent killing of thirteen kidnapped Turks in the nation of Iraq.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared angrily that the US statement, which equivocally condemns the killings — apparently only if the killings are found to be the responsibility of the PKK — shows that Washington in fact supports the Kurdish armed group.
Turkey summoned its ambassador back to Ankara on Monday in an effort to convey “in the strongest terms” its reaction to the statement, which Erdogan charged was “a farce”.
According to Turkish sources, fighters from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) executed the captives on Sunday. Their number included Turkish military and police personnel who were part of a military operation in northern Iraq.
With fighting between the Peshmerga and the PKK now intensifying again in Iraq, Turkey vowed that its operation against the PKK in that country will continue.
The US has long sided with the Kurdish fighters in the neighboring country of Syria. However, Erdogan openly accused the United States on Monday of supporting what he said were “terrorists.”
US statement “a farce”
“The statement made by the United States is a farce,” Erdogan charged. “You said you did not support terrorists, when in fact you are on their side and behind them,” he stated in televised remarks critical of the US State Department statement, which did not blindly accept Ankara’s account of the incident.
Earlier this month, Turkey launched a new military operation against PKK bases in northern Iraq which Erdogan claimed today was designed in part to free the hostages.
However, at least 48 members of the Kurdish armed group were also killed during the operation, according to information from the Turkish defense minister.
The PKK has been included on a list of terrorist groups worldwide by the United States and many other Western nations. The group has been in open rebellion against the Turkish government since 1984 in an effort to establish a homeland for the Kurdish people and tens of thousands of people are believed to have perished in that struggle.
The Kurdish rebels in Syria, known as People’s Protection Units, or YPG, have been supported by the US in the nearly-constant internecine battles in that war-torn country.
In a statement released on Sunday, the US State Department said that it “deplores the death of Turkish citizens” but would wait for further confirmation of Ankara’s account of the deaths of the thirteen men.
“If reports of the death of Turkish civilians at the hands of the PKK, a designated terrorist organisation, are confirmed, we condemn this action in the strongest possible terms,” the State Department said in a statement.
The PKK itself stated that the men died when Turkish forces bombed the cave where the men were being kept as hostages.
True to form, Erdogan would not accept the US statement on the death of the Turkish men, flatly declaring that Turkey’s NATO allies must choose sides.
“After this, there are two options,” he stated. “Either act with Turkey with no ifs or buts, without questioning, or they will be a partner to every murder and bloodshed,” he warned.
“The terrorist organisation on our doorstep, on our borders, is killing innocents,” the Turkish premier added.
A report from Al Jazeera out of Istanbul said that the US doesn’t seem convinced by the official Turkish line that the Turkish men were killed by PKK bullets, leading Erdogan to “lash out” in indignation.
“Turkey has been criticizing the US for providing weapons and arms for the YPG, which is at the same time PKK for Turkey, because Turkey believes those weapons provided by the international coalition (to the PKK) in the fight against ISIL in Syria will one day be diverted to Turkey,” the report stated.
“That’s what officials have been claiming for the past two days … the PKK is using those weapons on Turkey’s citizens. That’s why Turkey is calling the West to pick a side – either with Turkey or the PKK.”
Turkish Foreign Minister calls killings a “massacre”
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stated after the diplomatic row that “Countries that claim to be combating terrorism are either silent on this massacre by the PKK or are trying to slur over it with ifs and buts.”
While making remarks at the opening of a new building for the Ethiopian Embassy in Ankara, Cavusoglu said that he promised to avenge the victims in the incident.
Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin also accused other countries of failing to speak out against the rebels in a Tweet he wrote on Sunday.
“(The PKK) attacks Turkish and Iraqi security forces and civilians. It continues its terrorist attacks in northern Syria. The world is silent. This silence is a shameful act of complicity. But we will not remain silent.”
The Turkish Army is known to conduct regular cross-border operations, even including air raids, on PKK bases in northern Iraq. Last Wednesday, Ankara launched a new mission, dubbed Claw-Eagle 2, against what it said were PKK fighters who were holed up in the northern Iraqi region of Gara.
The northern Iraq region has become the focus of Turkish actions over the last two years, where the PKK is known to have its stronghold, in the Qandil mountains along the Iranian border.