Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan Reuters

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan would rather see the Islamic State (ISIS) take over the border town of Kobane if the only way to defend it is to give arms to Kurdish rebels, he said Sunday. For Turkey, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is the main group fighting ISIS in Kobane, is “no different” than Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which Turkey claims is a terror group that has fought Turkey over the issue of Kurdish independence.

The US has been urging Turkey to allow it to ship arms to Kurdish groups via Turkish territory. Kobane, on the Turkish border, is closed from three sides, and the only way to get weapons to the city's Kurdish defenders is via Turkey. Last week, US officials said they were in touch with members of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia, part of Democratic Union Party (PYD).

However, Turkey will not help, Erdogan said. “There has been talk about forming a front against ISIS by giving the PYD arms. But the PYD, for us, is equal to the PKK; it is a terrorist organization,” Erdoğan said.

It would be very wrong for the US, a NATO ally, to openly talk of such support [to the PYD] and expect us to agree,” he said in remarks published Sunday.

Turkey has joined the US's anti-ISIS international coalition recently, but a closer alignment with the Kurds even at the cost of tension with Turkey may have its merits.

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura warned earlier this week that the fall of Kobane could see thousands of people massacred by ISIS jihadists, as they have done in the past when the opportunity presented itself.

On the political and strategic scale, however, Kobane's fall would present another problem: ISIS gaining a major stronghold along the Turkish border. 

Concerns over ISIS sweeping through Turkish territory - after it already barged into Iraq and engaged in skirmishes in Lebanon and Jordan - are so high that Turkish officials asked the US to step up its offensive against Kobane's fall earlier this month. But Kurds have accused the Islamist government in Ankara of indirectly aiding ISIS as a way of "solving" the Kurdish problem by allowing the jihadis to take over areas of northern Syria where the PYD recently declared autonomy.