By Ayse Humeyra Atilgan
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday that Turkey's fight was against terrorist groups in the region but not against the Kurdish people.
Erdogan, addressing the local headmen in capital Ankara, said: "We regard the Kurds in Iraq and Syria the same as we regard Turkmen and Arabs."
Stressing that "no ethnicity is superior to the others," the president said: "Our only concern when fighting against PKK and Daesh is whether somebody is a member of those terror groups."
He said the PKK/PYD terrorist organization was exploiting the "Kurdish brothers”.
More than 1,200 people, including security force personnel and civilians, have lost their lives since the PKK -- listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S., and EU -- resumed its decades-old armed campaign in July 2015.
"Turkey is an old friend of the Kurds just like its other brothers," he said and added: "When everyone leaves [the region], we will stay together."
He added that Turkey would not tolerate those Kurds "who support terrorists”.
On the recent illegitimate independence referendum in the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), Erdogan reacted angrily and said: "How dare you say 'Kirkuk is ours'? Do you have a history there?"
The illegitimate referendum was carried out in the three provinces allocated to KRG control under the Iraqi constitution as well as disputed areas such as Kirkuk that KRG forces seized in 2014 as Daesh sent Iraqi government troops into retreat.
The referendum was condemned by all regional powers, but Israel, as well as the UN and U.S.
Most warned it would distract from the fight against terrorism and further destabilize the region.
Turkish president said no more flights would be made to and from the KRG's Erbil and reiterated that Turkey would deal with the legitimate Baghdad government over border crossings, airports and oil trade.
"Why Turkey, which has stood by the KRG sincerely until now, has begun closing its borders and airspace?" he asked, and said the KRG caused the change.
"I believe that the people of northern Iraq will speak against the wrong policy [of KRG] which harms their own peace and prosperity," Erdogan said.