Saturday, October 5, 2013

Iraq’s Foreign Minister Calls For Direct Talks Between Turkey and Rebels

By Namo Abdulla - for Rudaw

NEW YORK – As Turkey is trying to reform its constitution that has long denied the existence of ethnic minorities such as Kurds, Iraq’s Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, says a comprehensive solution of the Kurdish question in that country requires Turkey to engage in direct talks with the Kurdish rebels.

 Mr. Zebari’s comments underscore the increasing significance of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) at a time when its fighters seem to have found a new safe haven in Turkey’s neighbor, Syria, where the government of Bashar al-Assad has voluntarily withdrawn its troops, allowing for PKK-affiliated rebels to take control.

 Mr. Zebari says that the PKK has done its part in reaching a peace deal with Ankara. “Now the ball is in Turkey’s court,” he told Rudaw on Saturday in New York where world leaders had gathered to discuss among other things, two of the Middle East’s pressing issues: the Syrian civil war and Iran’s nuclear program at the UN General Assembly.

On Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, introduced new reforms that would allow the teaching of the long-banned Kurdish language, albeit in private schools, the use of Kurdish in election campaigns, naming children and naming streets and villages.

Although no Turkish leader in the country’s modern history has taken Mr. Erdogan’s steps to grant Kurdish rights, leaders of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) have said the reforms are not enough to put an end to a three-decade-old conflict that has claimed more than 40,000 lives, most of which were mainly Kurds.

The PKK took up arms in 1984 to fight for the establishment of an independent homeland for Turkey’s 15-million Kurds. With independence no longer the goal, the PKK is now pushing for more cultural and political rights, such as allowing Kurdish children to study in their mother tongue in public schools and the release of the group’s leader, Abdullah Ocalan, who has been behind bars on Imrali island since 1999.

 Mr. Zebari said he had met with Turkish President Abdullah Gül last week in New York to improve Turkey-Iraq ties, which have largely remained strained since the 2003-US-led invasion of Iraq.

Despite the lack of warm relations between the two nations, Zebari says Turkey is still Iraq’s largest trade partner thanks primarily to the friendly ties Turkey has built with the KRG, which serves as a gateway to the rest of Iraq.

The PKK is designated as a terrorist group by the US and European Union. But a joint 2011 statement by Zebari, a Kurd, and his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutolgu in Ankara, described the PKK as a “terrorist” organization, this caused controversy among many Kurds.

 In his most recent interview with Rudaw, Mr. Zebari, once a rebel fighter for Kurdish rights in Iraq, renews his assertions that the description was accurate because “some of [the PKK’s] activities had been terroristic.”

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