ISTANBUL/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Turkey accused the European Parliament of encouraging terrorism on Wednesday by exhibiting photographs from Kurdish-controlled northern Syria, highlighting the challenges Ankara and Brussels face in trying to finalize a migrants-for-visas deal.
Turkey has been enraged by the West’s support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia in the battle against Islamic State. Ankara says the group is a terrorist organization with ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and fears the YPG will carve out an independent Kurdish state on its southern border.
The exhibit of 30 photos from northern Syria, “Rojava in the European Parliament”, opened this week. Rojava is the Kurdish name for northern Syria.
“European Parliament has become an instrument (for) making propaganda of a terrorist organization and encouraging terrorism w/ the exhibition,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Twitter - an accusation that left the photographer, Thomas Schmidiner, perplexed.
The incident comes at an awkward time. Turkey is trying to secure visa-free travel to Europe as part of a wider agreement to curb illegal migration, but Brussels wants it to bring its anti-terrorism laws into line with EU standards.
Turkey says it cannot change the laws when it faces threats not only from jihadist group Islamic State, blamed for a suicide bombing that killed 45 people at Istanbul airport two weeks ago, but also from a three-decade-long insurgency fought by the PKK in its mainly Kurdish southeast.
The PKK is also considered a terrorist organization by the European Union and United States.
Schmidiner said the exhibit was the product of visits to northern Syria between 2013 and 2015, and an attempt to show the daily lives of its people. He said he was puzzled by the suggestion it was terrorism propaganda.
“The exhibition is not about the PKK and not even about Turkey. It is an exhibition about Rojava, the Kurdish region of Syria,” he told Reuters.
Many of the photos show everyday life in Rojava. But some show Kurdish fighters, and at least one a rally at which supporters carried photos of the PKK’s jailed leader, Abdullah Ocalan.
Turkey previously criticized the EU after Belgian authorities allowed supporters of the PKK to set up a protest site outside an EU-Turkey summit in March.
Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, Ines Kagubare and Francesco Guarascio in Brussels and Nick Tattersall in Istanbul; Writing by David Dolan; editing by John Stonestreet