Over the past few decades, Turkey has conducted several cross-border ground and aerial operations, including since 2016, Euphrates Shield, Olive Branch and Peace Spring in Rojava and Operation Claw Lock conducted in the northern Iraqi regions of Zap, Metina, and Avashin-Basyan. Most recently nine civilians including children were killed in a park in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region, and the victims included Iraqi tourists who had come to the northern Iraqi hill village of Parakh in Zakho district.
Additionally, three YPJ [Women’s Protection Units] members and commanders: Jiyan Tohildan, Roj Xabûr and Barîn Botan were martyred by a Turkish drone strike near Qamishlo yesterday, as the women’s revolution in Rojava celebrates its 10th anniversary. These cross-border operations that wreak devastation and loss of civilian and legitimate protectors’ lives in the region are an attempt to wipe out the Rojava Revolution, and to expand the aspirations of a delusional genocidaire dictator and his trawante (Afrikaans for henchmen/sidekicks), to establish regional domination, by any means necessary.
In order to further legitimise its unlawful and morally reprehensible conduct, Turkey’s Parliament in October 2021 approved a motion, referred to it by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and supported by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), and the Good Party (IYI), which allowed the Turkish military to carry out cross-border operations in northern Iraq and Syria for two more years, from 30 October 2021, until 30 October 2023. This motion was opposed in the Turkish Parliament by the Republican People’s Party (CHP), and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
These unchecked operations of the Turkish military sanctioned by its government are reminiscent of the Apartheid era tactics of a belligerent racist regime. The belligerence of the Apartheid State was saliently espoused by the Minister of Defence, General Magnus Malan, on 4 February 1986 when he stated at the Apartheid Parliament, “The security forces will hammer them, wherever they find them. What I am saying is the policy of the government. We will not sit here with hands folded waiting for them to cross the borders … we shall settle the hash of those terrorists, their fellow-travellers and those who help them”.
Apartheid South African military and police were responsible for the loss of lives beyond South Africa’s borders. South Africa had been allied for decades with the Portuguese colonial rulers in Angola and Mozambique and the white settler regime in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to defend white minority rule in the southern part of Africa. The ushering of independence came to Angola and Mozambique in 1975, Zimbabwe in 1980, and Namibia (which South Africa had illegally occupied) in 1990. These countries together with Botswana, Tanzania and Zambia formed the “frontline states” that provided refuge and support to the varied South African liberation movements.
South Africa undertook military operations against all these countries. The South African Defence Force engaged in a full-scale war in Angola. On just one day in 1978, South African troops killed approximately 1,200 people at Kassinga and Chetequera, military bases and refugee camps of the SWAPO [South West Africa People’s Organisation] movement from Namibia. The official death toll, according to an Angolan government White Paper, was 624, of whom 159 were men — only 12 of them soldiers — 167 women and 298 teenagers. In addition, 611 South West Africans were wounded in the attack. These were largely victims of the initial bombing attack. The dead were buried in two mass graves. Between 1980 and 1985, UNICEF estimates that at least 100,000 Angolans died, mostly of war-related famine. The destruction in Mozambique was enormous, as well. Wealthy Americans also supported RENAMO [Mozambican National Resistance] even though South Africa was the principal backer of the RENAMO guerrillas, who caused the deaths of at least 100,000 Mozambicans and created more than one million refugees.
South African forces also carried out cross-border assassinations such as the January 1981 attacks at Matola, Mozambique, in which 16 South Africans and one Portuguese national were killed, and the December 1985 attacks on two houses in Maseru, Lesotho by Vlakplaas, a covert South African police death squad which killed six South Africans and three Lesotho citizens. Apartheid forces also coerced guerrillas and activists to become “askaris” – serving the white regime by attacking their former comrades (such as Namibians recruited into Koevoet and the assassin who killed Sahdhan Naidoo, manager of an ANC farm in Zambia). Askaris were also used to kill opponents of apartheid with parcel bombs, as in the cases of Ongkopotse Abraham Tiro (Botswana, 1975), Boy Mvemve (Zambia, 1975), and Philemon Mahlako, Ruth First and Enoch Reginald Mhlongo (Mozambique, 1979, 1982 and 1989, respectively).
As in South Africa against Apartheid the International Community should not only condemn Turkey but take decisive action against the genocidaire leader and his trawante presiding over a belligerent State. It is a failure and betrayal of humanity when fellow NATO partners, the UN, and the governments of the International Community fail to take decisive action against Turkey, and demand it stop all further cross-border incursions and ground operations, and strictly adhere to the precepts of International law and human rights for all.
Mahmoud Patel, legal scholar, academic and human rights activist, is the Chairperson of the Kurdish Human Rights Action Group in South Africa.