Turkey’s premier says KRG administration made grave mistake by lighting 'fire of separation'

Turkey’s prime minister said Friday that Ankara’s response to the illegitimate referendum in northern Iraq would only target “those who decided to hold it,” not the civilians living there.

Speaking in Istanbul, Binali Yildirim said the administration of northern Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) had made a mistake by holding the illegitimate referendum on Monday despite strong opposition from all neighboring countries, including Turkey, Iran, and Iran’s central government.

“Any measures we take will be against those who made this mistake,” he told a ceremony ushering in the new school year at Canakkale Onsekiz Mart University in northwestern Turkey.

Yildirim stated that that KRG authority in Erbil had made a grave mistake by lighting “the fire of separation,” warning that this would fuel problems in the region, which has been suffering from Daesh and PKK terrorism as well as various Iraqi insurgents and occupations.

“We will not make the people living there, the civilians, pay for this, in any way,” Yildirim added, saying that taking measures against innocents would violate Turkish traditions, and its future vision.

He underlined that Ankara has no problem with its "Kurdish brothers", as Turks, Kurds, and other ethnic groups are living in unity and fellowship in Turkey.  

The premier accused that KRG authorities of neglecting “better living conditions for Kurds” and instead serving their own political ambition.

“They did not hesitate to drag millions of people into adventurism for their own future ambitions, for the sake of the continuation of their power,” he said.

Turkish Airlines suspends northern Iraq flights
Region closed off

Referring to countries closing off the borders of the landlocked KRG since Monday, he added, “Imagine there is an independent, artificial state. The northern side is closed off, the southern part and eastern parts are closed off, Syria [border] is also closed off. What will it do, how will it breathe?”

Monday's illegitimate referendum saw Iraqis in KRG-controlled areas -- and in a handful of territories disputed between Erbil and Baghdad, including ethnically mixed Kirkuk and Mosul -- vote on whether or not to declare independence from Iraq's central government.

Official preliminary results said 93 percent of voters backed Kurdish independence, although the vote was widely criticized by the international community.

Along with Iraq’s central government, Turkey, the U.S., Iran, and the UN spoke out against the illegitimate poll, warning it would distract from the ongoing fight against Daesh and further destabilize the region.

Turkish-EU relations  

The prime minister also touched on Turkey’s membership negotiations with the European Union, urging the bloc to determine its future vision.

He said that Turkey joining the EU would benefit Europe more than Turkey itself.

“Thousands of foreign fighters, terrorist elements ... If Turkey doesn’t stop them here, life in Europe will become poison, they will be unable to go out onto the streets. The Europeans know this.”

“For this reason, Europe has to decide whether to go forward again [with Turkey]. They have to decide how they will walk,” said Yildirim, adding that Ankara was always in favor of improving its relations with Europe.

Ties between Ankara and European capitals have been strained since the defeated coup in Turkey last year, as Turkish leaders slammed European countries for failing to show strong solidarity with the government against the coup bid.

Despite the German government’s recent harsher tone towards Turkey, so far only Austria has openly backed freezing Turkey’s EU membership talks.

Turkey’s EU Minister Omer Celik warned this week that any suspension of Ankara’s EU accession talks would be seen as breaking them off completely.

Any decision to terminate Turkey’s membership talks would require unanimity among all EU member states, something seen as unlikely by diplomats, as most member states were opposed to such calls earlier this year.

The EU can temporarily suspend negotiations with Turkey if a majority of its member states back such a proposal, which can be initiated by the European Commission or by one-third of EU member states.