Syrian President Bashar al-Assad greeting journalists from the Turkish television Ulusal. Photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Turkey is negotiating peace with its separatist Kurds because of the conflict in Syria and cannot be trusted to keep its promises, Syria’s embattled President Bashar al-Assad said.
Assad, whose regime is battling against an uprising that is in its third year and has claimed an estimated 70,000 lives, added that he opposed the idea of Kurdish independence anywhere in the region, claiming that only a small minority of Kurds favored independence.
Assad said that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose government is engaged in historic peace negotiations for the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to end three decades of armed struggle, cannot be trusted to keep his promises.
“I do not trust this person. I doubt that he will fulfill his promises,” Assad told Turkey’s nationalist Ulusul TV channel and the Aydinlik newspaper, which oppose Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP).
I do not trust this person. I doubt that he will fulfill his promises
“All the steps he has taken are temporary measures to win support. Here again we ask the same question: Why didn’t he take these steps a few years ago?” he asked, adding that Turkish talks with the Kurds were motivated by the conflict in Syria.
Erdogan’s party began indirect talks this year with the jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, who last month called on his fighters in Turkey to disarm. If the peace process succeeds, it would end a three-decade internal conflict in Turkey that has resulted in an estimated 40,000 deaths.
The Syrian president said that his government supports any steps to solve the Kurdish issue in Turkey.
“Since the initial steps taken in Turkey a few years ago to solve the Kurdish problem, our declared position has been to support any solution between the Turks and Kurds,” he said. “We do not want to see more bloodshed in Turkey, which will no doubt have a negative impact on the region.”
He also admitted that Syrian Kurds are not newcomers to the region.
“Any genuine solution in this direction has our support because the Kurds are a natural fabric of the region. They are not guests or new immigrants. They have been living in these lands for centuries, for thousands of years,” Assad said, seemingly apologizing for decades of injustice.
Since in 1962, 20 percent of Syria’s estimated two million Kurds were deprived of their citizenship, with the state arguing they were illegal immigrants from neighboring countries. Human rights groups have said Syrian Kurds have long faced discrimination from the Arab government.
Assad admitted to past mistakes toward Syria’s Kurdish citizens, saying that the Turks and Arabs had not been inclusive.
“The problem with the concept in the past was perhaps that the adopted mentality was one of rejecting and eliminating other cultures,” Assad said. “I believe that the most beautiful aspect of this region is its diversity, and the most dangerous aspect for us is not to see this diversity as enriching and empowering,” Assad said.
Asked about the control of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) -- the Syrian arm of the PKK -- over Syria’s northern Kurdish areas since the start of the uprising in 2011, Assad said that was natural.
“When there is chaos in any state, as is the case in Syria at the moment, certain groups are bound to appear in order to fill the vacuum,” he said.
Any genuine solution in this direction has our support because the Kurds are a natural fabric of the region.
Assad said he believed that, although there are small Kurdish groups seeking separation in Syria and who favor a “greater Kurdistan” created from the Kurdish regions of Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran, most Kurds do not support this notion.
“Most Kurds are patriotic people who want to live in Syria,” he said. “This notion of separation is completely rejected by the Syrian people and the Syrian state. No sovereign state accepts a part of its territory to be cut or separated from its mainland. This position is categorically unacceptable and is not subject to any discussions with us in Syria,” Assad stressed.
He said that Syria, Iran, Iraq and Turkey would never accept secession by their Kurdish populations, and any contrary attempts would lead to wars.
“If we accept the notion of separation this means we have to live with the consequences, namely the fragmentation into small mini states based on ethnicities, and sects,” he said. “This creates a dangerous situation that would precipitate wars in the future.”
Although he rejected Kurdish nationalist demands, Assad still said that the four countries with large Kurdish minorities should do their best to let their people feel they are first class citizens, with equal stakes in their state.
“When a citizen feels he is second or third class he is bound to think of separation or act against its own state,” Assad said.