25 January 2014 /ANKARA, TODAY’S ZAMAN – Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has stated that the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the political offshoot of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Syria, is responsible for its own absence at the Geneva II international peace conference for Syria, which brought together the members of the Syrian opposition and the regime for the first time.
“Every party should make it clear who it sides with. The absence of the PYD at the [negotiating] table is its own responsibility. Turkey has done its best for the PYD and the other Kurdish groups to participate in the Syrian national coalition. However instead of keeping the promises they made to us, they preferred to side with the regime,” Davutoğlu said on the sidelines of the Geneva II conference on Thursday.
As the crisis in Syria deepened, Syrian Kurds gained ground in Syria’s north after a fierce struggle with al-Qaeda-linked groups and made major territorial gains. On Tuesday, Syrian Kurds declared an autonomous administration in the northern part of civil war-torn Syria.
The PYD’s presence in northern Syria is a source of concern in Turkey because of the group’s links with the PKK. Ankara is also wary of autonomy moves that could encourage further demands for autonomy among its own Kurdish population. “If the PYD revises its position, they could be included in the process. But the important thing is to make it clear who it sides with,” Davutoğlu said. Syria’s Kurds make up around 15 percent of the population and are mostly concentrated in the country’s northeast and northwest, along the Turkish and Iraqi borders.
The Syrian government withdrew troops from those regions in mid-2012. When the PYD and other Kurdish parties announced the establishment of an autonomous transitional administration in November, Turkey harshly criticized the self-rule declaration and accused the PYD of not “keeping its promise.”
Davutoğlu noted that the groups with the Syrian national coalition had made a decision about the participation of the PYD in the Geneva II talks, adding that the current situation in the talks is the result of the PYD’s actions. Davutoğlu noted that when Saleh Muslim, the head of the PYD, visited Turkey in May, Turkey had conveyed three proposals to him: stop cooperating with the regime; participate in the opposition ranks; and avoid a unilateral declaration of an autonomous region in Syria.
“However, after the use of chemical weapons in Syria, with the belief that nothing would happen to the regime, the PYD further cooperated with the regime and refused to sit at the table with the opposition. Now the opposition have stated that the PYD will only participate in Geneva II along with regime members. Turkey never wanted any group to be excluded. We wanted every party to take part in the process,” said Davutoğlu.
Iran’s participation in Geneva II useful, says Davutoğlu
The foreign minister noted that Turkey considered Iran’s participation in the Geneva II talks useful, adding that Ankara had done its best for Tehran to attend the conference. Iran was not represented in the Geneva I conference. United Nations General-Secretary Ban Ki-moon revoked his invitation to Iran on Monday after the Syrian opposition said it would not take part in the conference if Iran attends.
“I spoke with my Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, on Monday. One wishes that Iran could participate in this conference because as a regional country, Iran has the ability to contribute to the Syria process,” Davutoğlu said. Davutoğlu noted that it was not a secret that Iran and Russia were behind the Syrian regime. “Therefore, it would be appropriate for Iran to assume some responsibility,” said Davutoğlu.