Iran's ambassador to Ankara, Mohammad Ebrahim Taherian Fard, said on Wednesday that Tehran considers the PKK's Syrian affiliate Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its People's Protection Units (YPG) militia to be terrorist groups, stressing that cooperation between Tehran and Ankara is needed to tackle terrorism.
Responding to questions from journalists in Ankara during a fast-breaking iftar dinner event, Fard said that Tehran "describes the PKK, the PYD and the YPG to be terrorist groups."
The ambassador said that Ankara and Tehran must join hands to tackle extremism and terrorism, and that this "is a necessity rather than a choice."
Fard's statement comes as a surprise as Tehran has so far refrained from calling the PYD or the YPG terrorist groups. The two groups collaborate with Bashar Assad's regime across Syria. The regime is heavily backed by Iran both on the ground and at the table in the international arena.
In early 2016, Iran's deputy foreign minister for Arab and African affairs, Hossein Jaberi Ansari, did not answer a question from Anadolu Agency (AA) about if Iran officially recognizes the YPG as a terrorist group.
When asked, he really meant that Tehran sees the PYD and the YPG as terrorist groups, Fard said that regardless of which group is carrying out terrorist activities, Iran recognizes all terrorists as terrorists, saying: "We condemn those who operate against the territorial integrity of countries."
The YPG has been seeking support from the Assad regime in northern Syria. The terrorist group raised the Syrian flag during the latter's offensive on Aleppo in late 2016. Also, the Manbij Military Council, a local administration led by the YPG, announced in March that it had reached a deal with the Syrian regime to create a buffer zone against Turkish-backed rebels that hold territory west of the Syrian town of Manbij.
While the YPG and the Assad regime collaborate in Syria and raise each other's flags, Iran has been a staunch supporter of Assad. Fard said Tehran stands behind the territorial integrity of Syria and the Assad regime 100 percent.
"The number of martyrs who have died from our country defending holy shrines has now exceeded 1,000," Tasnim news agency quoted the head of Iran's Foundation of Martyrs and Veterans' Affairs, Mohammad Ali Shahidi Mahalati, as saying, referring to Syrian losses in late 2016.
An expert on Middle East affairs and specialist in Iranian affairs, Bayram Sinkaya, said in a report in October 2015 that Tehran's relations with the PYD are mainly carried out through Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps. According to his findings, Sinkaya said that the PYD does not top Iran's agenda in Syria. However, he argues that Tehran prioritizes its defense of the Assad regime.
"Within this framework, the PYD has been a valuable partner [for Iran] in terms of fighting both al-Nusra and Daesh," Sinkaya said.
'It is not time to build walls'
Ambassador Fard was asked about a recent plan by the Turkish government to erect a wall along the Iranian border similar to the one along the Syrian border, to prevent the illegal crossings of terrorists and to ensure border security.
Stressing that Ankara will make the final decision, Fard said: "It is Turkey's decision to make. However, the president says that the times of erecting walls are over. The times of building bridges have begun."
Turkish media outlets reported earlier in May that Ankara would consider building a wall along its Iranian border as a part of counter terrorism measures to stop the cross-border mobility of PKK terrorists. Several PKK camps hold approximately 1,000 people near and along the Iranian border. In case of military operations targeting PKK camps in eastern Turkey, terrorists can easily cross the border and shelter in those camps, as well as illegally cross the border and enter the country.
An Iranian diplomatic sources told Daily Sabah that Tehran does not welcome the Turkish plan to erect a wall along the border because "it would give the impression that Iran is an insecure country."