ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – President of the Kurdistan Region Nechirvan Barzani said on Tuesday that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) had previously warned Syrian Kurdish authorities to distance themselves from the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), adding that the PKK’s struggle for legitimacy in the area led to the Turkish invasion.
“Turkey’s problem in the beginning was not Kurds in Syria, it was the PKK. They were clear in saying one thing: ‘we cannot bear seeing the flag of the PKK on our borders with Syria,’” he told a crowd at a forum hosted by the Middle East Research Institute in Erbil.
“We have always tried to make our friends in Syria understand that [Turkey’s concerns] are a grave danger,” he added.
He continued by saying that the suffering of the Syrian Kurds under the Turkish incursion came as a result of PKK “policy” to gain legitimacy in Syria.
“The biggest problem was that the PKK tried to obtain its legitimacy at the expense of Syrian Kurds. What Kurds eventually suffered came as a result of the wrong policy they followed,” he added.
President Barzani added that the best possible solution to the current crisis in the north-east enclave, known as Rojava, is for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to engage in further dialogue with Damascus.
“Emotionally, there is no doubt that all of us, any Kurd, who sees what is happening in Syria and what Kurds are suffering there, is sad and want things to happen in a different way” Barzani said.
The Turkish Army and its Syrian proxies launched Operation Peace Spring against the SDF on October 9 after US forces withdrew from the area.
Ankara repeatedly threatened a military incursion to push the SDF away from the border and establish a “safe zone” up to 30 kilometers deep.
Ankara considers the YPG – the backbone of the SDF-to be the Syrian extension of the PKK, seen as a terrorist group in Turkey .
The YPG, although ideologically inspired by PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan, denies any links to the PKK, which is based in the Qandil Mountains of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
Kurds accuse Turkey of planning to carry out ethnic cleansing and demographic change, uprooting the Kurdish population from their homes, and pushing them away from the border to make way for refugees who come from other parts of Syria.
President Barzani added that he believes Kurds should not always criticize other governments for their silence or inaction, and that “we have to criticize ourselves” too.
“When something happens, we are used to immediately criticizing others. But we never criticize ourselves and see what factors triggered the issues to happen. If we see these mistakes in the first place, we can take future steps with caution,” he said.
The Kurdish leader revealed for the first time that he has spoken with General Mazloum Abdi, general commander of the SDF on the situation unfolding in northern Syria and added he informed Abdi of his request to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov to facilitate talks between the SDF and Damascus.
The day before the Turkish incursion began on October 9, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was in Erbil where Kurdish leadership asked him to protect Kurds in northern Syria.
He added that Mazloum Abdi, commander-in-chief of the SDF, described the prospect of talks between the SDF and Damascus as “the right thing” to do.
The Kurdish president discussed other concerns over the Turkish attack, including mass displacement and the resurgence of ISIS.
“We host around two million Iraqi and Syrian refugees and IDPs. It has now reduced to 1.1 million. The population of the Kurdistan Region increased by 25 to 30 percent. The cost on the Kurdistan Region was around 1.5 billion dollars. It is a handsome amount of money on the Kurdistan Region,” the president said.
The biggest concern however, was the potential for ISIS to make a comeback.
“We do not think that Daesh has been eliminated, nor the ideology disappeared. We believe Daesh is still a grave security danger on the Kurdistan Region and Iraq in general,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
Barzani stated that the KRG will work with Baghdad to mitigate the threat of the terror group.
The Kurdish leader also added that the KRG will not interfere in external issues.
“Our responsibility to carry is the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. We will not meddle in any country’s affairs, neither Syria, nor Iran or Turkey,” Barzani stated.
Despite this, Barzani said the KRG has urged Kurdish actors in Syria to be united and “work together”.
This was echoed by SDF Commander Abdi, who called on all Kurdish forces to “join efforts and let us decide on the fate of our nation together.”
“We will need to a have a single unified Kurdish discourse,” Abdi told Rudaw on Tuesday.