Turkey’s president reiterated Wednesday that a group of more than 1,100 academics who signed a petition calling for an end to counter-terror operations in the southeast were “making propaganda” for PKK terrorists.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan questioned whether they knew the content of the petition before signing it. “If you did not know the content of the text you signed, it is a disaster,” he said. “If you signed knowing it, it is a separate disaster.

“Its name is not criticism. Its name is propaganda of a terror organization.”

Last week, the Group of Academics for Peace issued a manifesto calling for end to fighting in the southeast, where security curfews have seen several towns cut off as the police and military battle the PKK.

The declaration sparked an investigation into “terrorist propaganda” and insulting the state. More than a dozen academics were arrested over the petition, which accused the state of violating human rights and conducting a “deliberate and planned massacre”.

Addressing local leaders known as mukhtars at the presidential palace in Ankara, Erdogan said: “If you are on the side of unity of the country, why are you speaking with the jargon of the terrorist organization that attacks our security forces?”

Anti-PKK operations have concentrated on a number of districts in Sirnak, Mardin, Van and Diyarbakir provinces that have been under curfew since mid-December last year.

Anadolu Agency