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Turkish FM claims PKK seeking to take over Kurdistan Region’s Erbil

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu claimed on Tuesday that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was controlling many areas in the Kurdistan Region's Sulaimani province and that it was seeking to gain control the regional capital Erbil.

He made the comments at a press conference in Ankara, adding that that the armed group has “partial control and influence” over the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) political party, prominent in Sulaimani.

The PKK has been engaged in a decades-long insurgency against Turkey over Kurdish rights and self-rule. Turkey, the United States, and the European Union all designate it as a “terrorist” organization.

In the past year, Turkey has carried out military operations against PKK fighters based within the Kurdistan Region with continued regularity, with its forces crossing into the region up to 20 kilometers deep in some areas to target the group.

In mid-June, the Turkish Defense Ministry launched a series of airstrikes against alleged PKK positions in the Kurdistan Region, including Sinjar (Shingal), Qandil, Karacak, Zap, Avasin-Basyan, and Hakurk, as part of a military operation which Ankara calls “Operation Eagle Claw,” which it said on Saturday had been “successfully completed.”

Such attacks have led to the evacuation of many villagers from the Kurdistan Region as Ankara’s warplanes continue to damage residential and agricultural lands, and, on occasion, kill civilian bystanders about whom there have been no claims of PKK affiliation. Aggrieved locals and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have long urged both sides to take their conflict elsewhere.

As recently as Tuesday morning, Turkish forces shelled a rural area over its southern border in the Kurdistan Region’s Duhok province

Cavusoglu continued, saying that the PKK has so far occupied thousands of villages in the region, but made the further claim that its main goal was to take control of Erbil, saying, “The PKK is well aware that its separatist efforts will not work in Turkey so now it is kidnapping Yezidi (Ezidi) and Arab children in Sinjar (Shingal) and recruiting them to fight in Syria and the mountains.”

In his speech, he also said that a distinction should be made between the PKK and what he called “our Kurdish brothers in Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran.”

The foreign minister pointed out that his administration was criticized by many in Turkey after displaying the flag of the Kurdistan Region at a reception welcoming the region’s president Nechirvan Barzani, with some incorrectly claiming that it was the flag of the PKK.

“This perception is wrong and we should not mix between the PKK and our brothers the Kurds as this view will escalate the violence against the Kurds and we reject this matter.”