New accusations have been made against the Turkish army for the use of banned weapons in the war against the PKK. Inside Turkey, more people are beginning to speak out and ask questions. The reactions to their courage to speak out only adds to the urgency with which this issue needs to be addressed and the necessity of the outside world to put in some weight.
The accusations against the Turkish army aren’t new. Since for more than a year the PKK has said that chemical weapons are being used against them. I have to admit I have been sceptical about it, as the footage that was shown to underpin the accusations were multi-interpretable and didn’t make a highly convincing case. On the other hand, why would the PKK spread around such information if they weren’t seriously worried and furious about the kind of weapons used against them?
This week, new footage emerged, and the PKK has released the names of several fighters who were allegedly killed by illegal weaponry. There was footage of a fighter who was clearly suffocating, had a very difficult time breathing and coughed terribly, and he succumbed to his wounds. Another video showed Turkish soldiers with some kind of device, seemingly blowing up something in a cave in the mountains. Again, we don’t know what happened exactly, we don’t know what the fighter died of, but legitimate questions are being asked.
The main call from the PKK and the wider Kurdish political movement is for the OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) to investigate the claims. In a previous column about this subject, published on Medya News here last year, I have already explained why that is not going to happen, so I will keep it short here.
The OPCW is an intergovernmental organisation that is implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention, a convention signed by most countries in the world, including Turkey. It only acts when a state party to the convention is asking them to do so. In this case, Iraq would be the country to do so since the alleged use of chemical weapons is happening on their territory. But for political reasons, Iraq can’t ask the OPCW to act: it would distort its relations with Turkey and it is not in a position to do that.
And even if Iraq were to ask the OPCW to act, Turkey could frustrate the investigation by just continuing the military operations in the mountains, so it is too unsafe to conduct an investigation on the ground. Currently, it is also the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) that is obstructing delegations that want to investigate the PKK’s claims to reach the affected areas. The KDP is in charge of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq and economically and politically totally dependant on Turkey.
With the news footage emerging, the call for an investigation is intensifying. Jailed former HDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtaş dedicated a Twitter thread to it, questions have been asked in parliament by HDP’s Meral Danış Beştaş, but now also Şebnem Korur Fincancı has called for a serious investigation into the issue. She is an internationally acclaimed human rights giant: a medical doctor, a forensic expert, president of the Turkish Medical Association and prominent member of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey. She studied the available footage and said that “chemical gases that directly affect the nervous system were used”, and urged an investigation.
The Turkish media, controlled by Erdoğan, has gone berserk, and accused Fincancı of being a terrorist. A prosecutor in Ankara has opened a criminal investigation against her. This vile smear campaign is a direct threat to her life, as everybody who follows Turkey knows. In 2007, Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was murdered after he was accused of being a traitor for speaking up about the Armenian genocide and for real reconciliation between Turks and Armenians. In 2015, human rights lawyer and Diyarbakır Bar Association chair Tahir Elçi was murdered after he had said on TV that he didn’t consider the PKK a terrorist organisation, and was framed as dangerous instead of as the intensely good man that he was.
How deep the hate against anybody speaking up for basic human rights to be respected when it comes to the war against the PKK, is also very clearly visible when you check the reactions to Demirtaş’s tweets. It’s truly horrifying and disgusting how dozens and dozens of people say that human rights don’t apply to ‘insects’, ‘cockroaches’, and more of such filth, and worse.
Chemical weapons are banned, and any alleged use of it must be investigated. That’s what the Convention was written for, that’s what countries that ratified it claim to be dedicated to. Signatory states can not stay silent because they outsourced the precarious subject of chemical weapons to an official body that doesn’t speak to the press, that doesn’t make any public statement despite the calls for them to do something via petitions, e-mails, and groups of Kurds peacefully entering their offices and protesting outside their building in The Hague.
Now that the ones who do call for respect for human rights are being targeted, it has become even more urgent for international organisations and governments to dust off their morals, strengthen their spines, act in the spirit of the convention and ask Turkey some serious questions. Lives of both guerrilla fighters fighting for a just cause and lives of civilians are at stake.
Fréderike Geerdink is an independent journalist. Follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her acclaimed weekly newsletter Expert Kurdistan.