EU Swoboda: Iran seeks to destabilize Turkey through Kurdish issue

21 September 2012 / TODAY’S ZAMAN, VIENNA – Hannes Swoboda, the head of the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, has condemned acts of terror in Turkey and accused the Iranian government of seeking to inflame tensions in its neighbor.

“I condemn every act of terror and strongly believe that terror cannot be used as a means to attain your goals in today’s world,” Swoboda said in a recent speech in Vienna, delivered at the opening of the “Time in Turkey” photo exhibition, held as part of activities in celebration of the 25th anniversary of Zaman, Today’s Zaman’s Turkish-language sister newspaper.

“There is now a Kurdish region in Northern Iraq and we could see similar developments in Syria,” Swoboda said. “What we are also witnessing are attempts by the Iranian regime to destabilize Turkey through the Kurdish issue,” he added, without elaborating further.

Turkish officials believe that Iran is secretly supporting activities of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has visibly stepped up its attacks on Turkish security forces in southeastern Anatolia in recent weeks. Iranian support for the PKK is apparently a side effect of political tensions between the two countries over Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad faces an uprising against his rule. Turkey backs the opposition that seeks to topple him, while Iran remains a key ally of the embattled president.

Swoboda also called for continuation of reforms to address the Kurdish issue, although he emphasized that nothing justifies terrorism.“We should all act together to eradicate the environment that breeds terror, a process that Turkey has already started but which also needs to be continued,” he said. “There are also steps that Turkey should take to further reinforce the rights of Kurds in a bid to end discrimination once and for all. Having said this, I want to strongly underline that nothing could justify terror. We, as the European Union, have a very clear position to contribute to peace. The Kurdish problem cannot be resolved by terror.”

The Socialist leader lamented the stalemate in Turkey’s bid to join the European Union but praised Turkey for the role it has played in the Arab Spring, saying Ankara could be a significant actor in its neighborhood, which includes the Middle East and the Black Sea.

“[Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan’s speech in Cairo last year was an important confirmation of the coexistence of democracy, respect and tolerance. We very much wish that we hear these sorts of words, not only from Turkey, but from other Islamic countries as well,” said Swoboda. The Austrian politician also said he hoped for normalization of relations between Turkey and Israel, in crisis since Israeli commandos killed eight Turks and one Turkish American during a raid on an aid ship trying to breach an Israeli blockade of Gaza on May 31, 2010. “This could bring about a new period in which Turkey could reassume the mediator role between Palestine and Israel, which I believe both the Austrians and all Europeans would welcome,” he said.

In his speech, Swoboda also praised Zaman, saying it has been “advocating democracy, rule of law, minority rights and religious tolerance,” a stance which, he said, helps Turkey and the European Union move closer.

He also dismissed accusations that sometimes his remarks about Turkey were misstated in Zaman. “Some of my politician friends from Turkey occasionally argue that my comments are being misquoted by Zaman stressing that I could not have possibly uttered those words. My response to these accusations has always been plain: ‘What I said has been properly reflected’. I always think of Zaman as a serious newspaper that attached the utmost importance to fundamental values. It is essential for us that Zaman has been strongly supporting the strengthening of democracy, while endorsing respect and tolerance,” he said.