ISTANBUL (Reuters) - President Tayyip Erdogan was quoted on Saturday as saying Turkey would never allow the formation of a Kurdish state embracing its south-east and parts of northern Syria, comments likely to anger Kurds as a peace process with Ankara stalls.
Turkey has looked askance as Syrian Kurds have made military advances against Islamic State militants in neighbouring Syria, fearing that could lead to the creation of an autonomous Kurdish state there and further embolden Turkey’s own 14 million-strong Kurdish minority.
“We will never allow the establishment of a state in Syria’s north and our south. We will continue our fight in this regard no matter what it costs,” local media quoted Erdogan as saying during a dinner late on Friday.
“They want to complete the operation to change the demographic structure of the region. We will not turn a blind eye to this.”
Turkish officials have accused Syrian Kurds of driving Arabs out of villages and towns they have occupied. The Kurds deny any suggestion of ‘ethnic cleansing’.
The fate of Turkey’s Kurdish minority is one of the country’s most vexing political questions. Erdogan took a huge gamble in 2012 when he opened up peace talks with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to end a three-decade insurrection for greater Kurdish autonomy that has killed 40,000.
But peace talks have since stalled and Kurds accuse Erdogan of backtracking.
The backlash against Erdogan culminated with a stunning success for the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in parliamentary elections this month, when it crossed - for the first time - the 10 percent threshold required to enter parliament.
Its victory helped deprive the governing AK Party founded by Erdogan of a single party majority for the first time since it swept to power more than a decade ago. The AKP is now looking for a junior partner to form a coalition.
Syrian Kurdish fighters said on Saturday they had fully secured the town of Kobani near the Turkish border and killed more than 60 Islamic State militants, after two days of fighting that saw Islamic State kill around 200 civilians.
The HDP said this week the Kobani attack was the direct result of years of Turkish state support for Islamic militants, something Erdogan angrily denied.
He accused the HDP, in turn, of a “slanderous defamation campaign”.
Reporting by David Dolan; editing by Ralph Boulton