Pro-Kurdish HDP equivalent to outlawed terrorist PKK, says Erdoğan

There is no difference between Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Sunday, while noting that Ankara maintains low-level contacts with the Syrian regime.

"The HDP equals the PKK, which equals the People's Protection Units (YPG)/The Democratic Union Party (PYD),’’ Erdoğan said during a live interview on state-run TRT television on Sunday. ‘’The truth is out in the open. People who head [these organisations] say so [themselves] anyway.’’

Erdoğan’s statements arrive amid an ongoing crackdown on HDP politicians, accused by Ankara of harbouring sympathies and acting in the interest of the PKK, an armed group that has been in war in Turkey for over three decades. Ankara maintains the YPG is the Syrian offshoot of the PKK and has vowed to destroy it.

The Turkish president covered a wide range of topics during the interview, from his upcoming meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin to the country’s March 31 local elections.

Noting that he would be meeting with his Russian counterpart on Feb. 14 in Sochi, where the pair are expected to discuss Syria, Turkey’s strongman said Ankara supported the territorial integrity of the neighbouring war-torn country.

"Regarding Manbij we are saying now that if necessary, let us and Russia solve the issue of patrols. Such a step has been taken at this time,’’ Erdoğan said.

On Dec. 12, Erdoğan declared his intention to launch a military operation “within days” against Kurdish militias in northern Syria, including those deployed alongside U.S. forces in areas like the Kurdish controlled town of Manbij.

Russian military police began patrolling areas near the northern Syrian town of Manbij earlier this month, as uncertainty continues over whether U.S. President Donald Trump will go through with his plan to withdraw U.S. forces and clear the way for a Turkish advance into the area.

Erdoğan added that Ankara maintains "low-level" contacts with the Syrian regime.

The Turkish president’s comments are the first time Turkey has confirmed direct low-level talks with Damascus.

Erdoğan also spoke on the case of slain dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Noting that he cannot understand U.S. "silence" over the former Washington Post contributor’s killing, Erdoğan said that there may be a number of suspects in the case who are no longer alive.

"We’ve heard some things, maybe they may have taken some of them, and there could be among them victims of traffic accidents and such,’’ the Turkish president said about the 22 suspects in the killing according to Ankara.

"I cannot understand America's silence... We want everything to be clarified because there is an atrocity, there is a murder," Erdoğan added. "The Khashoggi murder is not an ordinary one."

The journalist, known for his criticism of the Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, was murdered after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 3. Riyadh was slow to offer explanations about the disappearance of Khashoggi, eventually admitting that he was killed, albeit as a result of a “fistfight” inside its Istanbul consulate.

The kingdom has arrested 18 people and dismissed five senior government officials as part of an investigation into the killing, however, Turkey continues to call for a detailed probe.