Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan continued on Thursday to associate Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) referendum on independence from Iraq with Jews and Israel while threatening to shut down border crossings and air travel with KRG in near future.
“Who is giving you counsel? Only Israel is behind you,” Erdoğan said of KRG President Masoud Barzani who defied international pressure from allies, and threats from neighboring Iran and Turkey to go ahead with the poll.
“Who teaches you [Barzani] this? Only Israel is behind you. A former French foreign minister in on your right side, another Jew is on your left side, you work at the table with them. They are not your friends. They are with you today, but tomorrow not. You should look at us.” Erdoğan added, referring to Bernard Kouchner and the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy respectively.
He was alluding to a recent photograph of Barzani’s on the night of the referendum with a group of former Western statesmen, intellectuals and Kurdish officials that included the two Frenchmen with Jewish roots, long-time supporters of the Kurdish cause.
Since the emergence of the picture, Turkey’s pro-government and Islamist media have been buzzing with conspiracy theories about Levy’s activities, his Jewish ethnicity and questions about Barzani’s roots, some of the articles loaded with anti-Semitic and anti-Kurdish hostility.
“They are not your friends, not your friends. They are with you today, but will disappear tomorrow,” Erdoğan said in a protesting tone during a televised meeting with an audience from Kurdish provinces.
Erdogan’s comments followed his earlier claims in Iran during meetings with President Hassan Rouhani and the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that KRG’s vote was a scheme designed by the Israeli intelligence agency MOSSAD.
“You have to look at us,” he further said, complaining that KRG leaders did not ask him when they initiated the process for independence. He further accused Erbil of being ungrateful to Turkey and treacherous to Iraq but claimed he had no problem with his “Kurdish brothers.”
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected previous, similar allegations by Erdoğan that his country played any role in the Kurdish push for statehood. Erdoğan last week threatened a food sanctions on Kurdistan and vowed to shut down an oil pipeline carrying oil from the region to the world markets through Turkey.
Erdoğan on Thursday said Turkey, Iraq and Iran would soon close airspace and borders with the KRG as a measure against an independence referendum held in the KRG on September 25.
“There is Iran on one side, in the north Turkey, in the south, the Iraqi government, in the west, Syria. What will you [KRG President Massoud Barzani] do? Where will you go? How will you exit? Now all airspace will be closed. Flights have already been halted, who will come? How will you go? Borders will also be closed soon. How will you enter and exit?” Erdoğan said while talking to a group of civil society representatives from Kurdish-populated southeastern Turkey at the presidential palace in Ankara.
Ankara, Tehran and Baghdad have been weighing sanctions against the KRG, which held an independence referendum on Sept. 25 despite warnings from neighbors and the international community including the US.
Upon a question, Erdoğan said there has been no positive signal from the KRG up to now and no contact with KRG officials, either. “Finally, [KRG President Massoud] Barzani and friends will give it up. In fact, there is no legitimacy to what they have done. It is against international law,” said Erdoğan. “He has to cancel the results of the referendum,” Erdoğan said upon a question of what steps by Barzani would be welcomed by Ankara.
“There is no support for the KRG except by Israel. Hence, they have to give it up. If not, we will have to take some steps in accordance with a timetable.”
Erdoğan on Sept. 26 warned Barzani not to rely on Israel. “Those who are provoking you today will leave you alone tomorrow, but we will continue to live together for thousands of years. Don’t destroy your tomorrow by your ambition today. The fact that Israeli flags are waving there will not save you, you should know that,” Erdoğan said.
Ninety-two percent of voters in Kurdistan approved on September 25 the century-old Kurdish quest for statehood. Ankara and Tehran fear the secession of KRG would embolden their millions-strong Kurdish populations to demand further cultural, linguistic and political freedoms, including different degrees of autonomy.
Meanwhile, Ankara has reiterated that it is ready to initiate a military invasion of the self-declared Kurdish canton of Afrin in northwestern Syria, Erdoğan’s spokesperson İbrahim Kalın said on Thursday. Speaking to the state-run TRT television, Kalın said Afrin, controlled by the US-allied People’s Protection Units (YPG), constituted a threat to Turkey’s national security and borders.
“Turkey will intervene as it finds the time and the place suitable. Let everyone come to their senses,” he reiterated a months-old threat on Afrin. “Our President says we may suddenly show up one night,” Kalın said, reminding of a phrase oft-used by Erdoğan to imply military action.
Kalın claimed Turkey’s problem was not with the Kurds in Afrin but with the ruling Democratic Union Party (PYD), the ruling party in Syrian Kurdistan. He added Ankara had no plans to punish the Kurdish people in the KRG either, but Turkey’s reaction was “only meant to force the regional administration reverse the mistake.”
In Afrin, surrounded from the north and west by Turkey and isolated from the other two self-declared Kurdish autonomous cantons of Kobani and Jazira, the US has no military presence. However, Kurds in Afrin mostly rely on a regiment of the Russian army to keep any Turkish threat in check.
YPG has previously announced that any Turkish invasion would meet with resistance and disrupt an ongoing campaign to liberate the Islamic State Of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) de facto capital of Raqqa in eastern Syria. In October 2016, a score of Turkish airstrikes killed over 100 fighters in airstrikes on Afrin that drew condemnation from Russia, and which the US described as “uncoordinated movements.”