Erdogan opens ‘Saladin’ airport in Turkey’s restive southeast
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday opened a new airport in a restive eastern province dogged by a Kurdish separatist insurgency, naming the facility for a celebrated Muslim medieval leader of Kurdish origin.
Erdogan inaugurated the airport in Yuksekova in Hakkari province, close to the border with Iran and Iraq, alongside Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in a joint appearance ahead of June 7 elections.
They announced the airport would be named for Selahaddin Eyyubi to remember the 12th century founder of the Ayyubid dynasty who led Muslim resistance against Christian crusaders in the Middle East who sought to control Jerusalem.
Of Kurdish origin, he is known simply as Saladin and in Arabic as Salah ad-Din.
“We are naming this airport Selahaddin Eyyubi to send a message of solidarity and brotherhood and to say that Jerusalem belongs to Kurds, Turks, Arabs and Muslims forever.”
Pious Muslims, Davutoglu and Erdogan frequently make use of religious rhetoric to rouse followers.
Hakkari province was for years one of the centres of the decades-long separatist insurgency of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), with almost daily attacks on the security forces.
The opening of an airport at that time by Turkey’s top leadership would have been inconceivable.
“Hakkari is walking to the future with the airport,” said Erdogan, complaining that the opening had been pushed back by two years because of PKK-linked violence in the region.
Violence has reduced sharply with the government involved in a peace process, but it has stumbled amid tensions in the run-up to the elections.
Around 50 masked protesters clashed with police who used water cannons and tear gas in the town centre of Yuksekova ahead of Erdogan’s arrival, the Radikal online daily reported.
On Monday the Turkish army had accused the PKK of firing on an military base in the region. There were no casualties.
The airport is the second to be opened by Davutoglu and Erdogan within days after they inaugurated Turkey’s first artificial island airport on the Black Sea last week.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) touts the implementation of large infrastructure projects as one of its major achievements during its almost 13-year rule of Turkey.
However in the June 7 legislative elections, the party faces a far stiffer challenge than in previous years and Erdogan has notably stepped up his campaign appearances in a bid to boost the party.