The president of Iraqi Kurdistan has called on Turkey’s Kurds to back a flagging peace process with Ankara, in a show of support for Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s bid to overcome a three-decade conflict.
Masoud Barzani made the announcement on Saturday during his first visit to Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s Kurdish-dominated southeast, in two decades.
Ankara hopes to use Barzani’s influence as a respected figure among Turkey’s Kurds to bring the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) back to the negotiating table.
“This is a historic visit for me … We all know it would have been impossible to speak here 15 or 20 years ago,” Barzani said, as members of the crowd waved green, white and orange Kurdistan flags.
“Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has taken a very brave step towards peace. I want my Kurdish and Turkish brothers to support the peace process,” he said.
Ankara seeks to kick start the stalled peace talks since a ceasefire declaration in March. PKK is saying reforms announced by Ankara last month, meant to boost Kurdish rights, had fallen well short of expectations.
Turkey’s effort to make peace with the PKK has been given a sense of urgency by Syria’s 2-1/2 year civil war in which Kurds have made major territorial gains, paving the way for their long-declared plans for independent governance in parts of Syria just over Turkey’s southern border.
Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan share concern about the growing clout of Kurdish militias in Syria, particularly after their announcement this week of an interim administration that aims to carve out an autonomous Syrian Kurdish region.
Both Turkish and Iraqi Kurdish officials in Arbil have criticised the declaration, which lays out plans for a regional government similar to that of Iraqi Kurdistan, seeing it as part of a deal with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Kurds, often described as the world’s largest stateless ethnic group, number about 30 million, concentrated in parts of Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq. While they have had partial autonomy in Iraqi Kurdistan since 1991, nationalist movements have long been suppressed in Turkey, Syria and Iran.