Speaking to a group of reporters over an iftar (fast-breaking) dinner, Arınç said that Ankara is uncomfortable with the positions the Iranian government has taken recently towards Turkey on a number of issues, not necessarily tied to the Syrian crisis.
“What I mean by disturbing behavior [by the Iranian regime] is not related to Syria,” he said, stressing that Turkey will do ‘whatever is required” to counter Iranian threats.
The Turkish minister implied that a recent surge in terror attacks in Turkey's Southeast has the backing of Iran. “We have received information that Kurdistan Workers' Party [PKK] terrorists infiltrated from the Iranian side of the border and that they were stationed in the Şehidan camp [in Iran] and crossed into Turkey from the region of Harkuk in northern Iraq,” he said.
Based on government intelligence, Today's Zaman reported on Friday that the PKK had relocated some of its militants from hideouts in northern Iraq's Kandil Mountains to a terror camp on the Turkish-Iranian border, from where it can launch attacks against targets in Turkey. The PKK has found an alternative base for itself in the Şehidan camp, near the district of Şemdinli in Hakkari, in an attempt to protect its members from the constant bombardment by Turkish military forces of PKK hideouts in northern Iraq. The PKK sees the Şehidan camp as a “safe area” as the Turkish military does not have a mandate to carry out any cross-border operations in that region.
In Şemdinli, the PKK is reported to have attempted to kick-start an uprising in southeastern Turkey similar to the Arab Spring. The Turkish military launched a large-scale operation in the area last week after PKK members blocked the road of a village in the region and began interrogating villagers. Troops from neighboring battalions were dispatched to the region, killing around 100 PKK terrorists. Plans by the PKK to take control of Şemdinli were exposed by terrorists who surrendered to security forces earlier this year.
On Thursday, Arınç also said he stood behind the reporting by the semi-official Anatolia news agency last year regarding the alleged capture and release of the number two man of the PKK terrorist organization by Iranian forces, signaling that Iran and the PKK may have had an agreement. “Then Iran had been fighting with the PKK's Iranian offshoot, the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan [PJAK]. That fighting stopped,” he explained, adding that reports and denials coming out of Tehran helped Turkey to figure out what Iran was really after. Turkish dailies reported in October last year that Iranian security forces had captured PKK leader Murat Karayılan in August 2011, but later released him after negotiations with the terrorist organization.
The Şehidan camp in Iran was used by PJAK for many years. The PKK last year withdrew its PJAK militants from Iran after operations carried out by Iranian Revolutionary Guards dealt a severe blow to the terrorist organization. After the PJAK militants were moved to PKK bases in the Kandil Mountains, the PKK took control of the Şehidan camp.
Arınç dismissed Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi's remarks this week explaining those made by Iran's top general Hassan Firouzabadi, who blamed Turkey for the bloodshed in Syria. “Salehi came to Ankara and said that only the foreign minister, president and religious leaders can speak on behalf of Iran. This is not true. They can say whatever they want. Similar remarks were made in the past by other Iranian officials against the Kürecik NATO radar base in Turkey. Sometimes deputy ministers have issued similar remarks,” Arınç said, adding that Turkey holds the Iranian government responsible for these statements.
In October 2011, the deputy head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Iranian armed forces, Brig. Gen. Massoud Jazayeri, said, “Turkey should rethink its long-term strategic interests and draw lessons from the bitter historical experiences of other countries.” He warned of “adverse consequences” while urging Turkey to reconsider its decision to host the NATO radar.
Arınç also signaled that Turkey may launch a military operation in Kandil in northern Iraq. “We do not need permission to do that. These things are not being spoken of but rather being implemented,” he said.
On Syria: ‘Everything on the table
Arınç vowed that Turkey would not stay indifferent to events in Syria, emphasizing that “everything [is] on the table” with regard to Syria. “The Syrian refugees have passed the 50,000 mark and we are trying to build new container cities for new arrivals,” he said.
Asked whether establishing a buffer zone in Syria was among options being considered by the government, Arınç said that the measure, along with all others, is on the table at present, but declined to give further details.
Talking about the different positions of Turkey and Iran regarding Syria, the Turkish deputy minister said he was frustrated by Iran's support of embattled President Bashar al-Assad's regime in the violent crackdown that has taken the lives of almost 25,000 people. He said he was the first Cabinet member, in February, to openly criticize Iran for its indifference to the bloodshed in Syria, recalling: “When attacks by Syrian forces on the city of Homs happened, I said: ‘Oh, the Islamic Republic of Iran! You carry the word ‘Islamic' in your name, and I don't know how worthy you are [of that name], but did you utter a single sentence about the last two days' events in Syria?'”
Noting that six months had passed since he had made these remarks critical of the mullah regime, Arınç said that Iran continues to support the violent regime. “From a strategic point of view, Iran may want to maintain the existing regime. What we object to is the killing of people there, and Iran is failing to condemn this. The regime is killing women and children indiscriminately,” he said. Stressing that Turkey is looking at the crisis unfolding in Syria from a humanitarian perspective, Arınç stated that Iran's support of Assad is not limited to a political endorsement.
Rights of Feb. 28 coup victim foundations to be restored
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç has announced that civil society foundations closed during the Feb. 28, 1997 postmodern coup era will be reopened and their assets returned to their rightful owners. “When Parliament convenes for a new legislative session, we will submit a bill allowing the return of confiscated assets to foundations shut down by the profiling of military and civilian leaders between 1990 and 2010,” he said, predicting that some 20 foundations would be affected by the bill.
Arınç said that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government had issued a decree last year for the return of properties confiscated from religious minorities since 1936. “We have returned some of these. ... In cases where property belonging to such organizations has been sold by the state to third parties, the religious foundation was paid the market value of the property from the Treasury,” he stated.