Turkey lashes out at U.S statement on hostage killings

The United States issued a condemnation of the killing of 13 hostages allegedly committed by an outlawed terrorist group, but Turkey criticised it for being discomforting.

Last week, Turkey conducted airstrikes and armed raids against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Iraq, the group’s longtime headquarters. During the operation, 13 Turks believed to have been taken hostage by the PKK were discovered murdered in a cave in the Gare mountain range, stirring outrage within Turkey. 

According to the governor’s office in Malatya province where the bodies were taken for autopsies, eight of the hostages were identified as soldiers and police officers who were believed to be captured almost six years ago. Several of the bodies remain unidentified.   

The United States  quickly condemned the PKK for the executions and offered their condolences for the families of their loved ones. 

Ned Price, spokesman for the United States State Department, issued a statement that reiterated U.S support for Turkey. However, the statement itself was less than equivocal in outright condemning the PKK for the murders. 

“If reports of the death of Turkish civilians at the hands of the PKK, a designated terrorist organization, are confirmed, we condemn this action in the strongest possible terms,” read Price’s statement on Sunday. 

Ankara did not take kindly to the remarks. The U.S ambassador was summoned by the Turkish foreign ministry on Monday over what it saw as Price’s conditional condemnation. 

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was also displeased by the statement and accused the U.S of being a supporter of the PKK.

“There is a statement made by the United States, it is something else,’’ Tele1 news site cited Erdoğan as saying at a meeting of his party on Monday. “Was it not the case that you are not on the side of the PKK and the YPG? You are most certainly are on their side and behind them.’’

Turkey has consistently expressed its distaste for the U.S' continued support of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is ideologically affiliated with the PKK. Erdogan also called on President Joe Biden to “recognise” the group for its actions. It is unclear what the Turkish leader meant with this statement since Washington has recognised the PKK as a terrorist group since 1997.  

On Monday, U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke on the phone for the first time with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu where he again expressed condolences for the loss of the hostages and said that the U.S believes the PKK bears responsibility over the killings. 

However, in the Turkish readout of the call, it said that Cavusoglu made clear that he found the U.S response to be lacking. 

“During the meeting, our discomfort with the recent statements made by the US was also expressed. The two ministers agreed to discuss all the issues on the agenda in more detail in the coming period," read the Turkish foreign ministry’s statement

There was some disagreement with the State Department response from some former U.S officials. Rich Outzen, a retired U.S Army colonel and former advisor to Special Envoy to Syria James Jeffrey, tweeted that the PKK’s actions warranted a firmer response. 

“The terrorism of the PKK demands condemnation. The execution of hostages by the PKK in northern Iraq proves again who and what they are, and who and what are those who support or justify them. Prayers for the families of the executed hostages,” Outzen tweeted on Sunday. 



The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.