It was in the police station in Yüksekova, early September 2015. A group of some thirty civilians and one journalist (me) were detained because we had been in a restricted area where fighting between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the army was ongoing. The civilians were part of a human shield group that had been trying to stop the fighting in a valley where they had erected a tent and I was there to report about it.
In a small room, I tried to soften the uniformed man who aggresively interrogated me – which had the contrary effect and he just burst out in greater anger. I am reminded of his outburst now that the thirteen PKK prisoners were killed, because it was so telling about the nature of this conflict.
September 2015, that’s after the summer in which the so-called peace process had ended beyond repair and the violence had resumed. I had hoped to report about the ways in which an emerging peace would evolve in different regions of Kurdistan and Turkey, but that was obviously not going to happen. Now, I was here again reporting about the resistance against violence.
I think, against my better judgement, I tried to find some common ground with the man sitting opposite me and I started reflecting on how utterly sad it was that the ceasefire had come to an end and that there would be so many new deaths again and on how much pain that would again inflict – but I was harshly interrupted as his voice thundered through the small room: “THERE WAS NO CEASEFIRE!”, he roared.
There had been no cease fire, he claimed, because ‘ceasefires only happen between states in a state of war and Turkey is not in a war: Turkey is fighting terrorism and there will never, ever be a ceasefire’. One hundred exclamation marks.
Homes and villages
In the fight against terrorism, everything is permissible. However, in a war, there are rules to abide by. The minute Turkey acknowledges that it is indeed involved in a war with the PKK, it will be held responsible for all the crimes it is committing that are violating the Geneva Convention: targeting civilians (in Kurdistan in Turkey, also known as Bakur, but also in its relentless bombing campaigns in Kurdistan in Iraq, also known as Başur), forcibly displacing people from their homes and villages and razing them to the ground without any military necessity (again in both Bakur and Başur), engaging in torture and collective punishment, and many more crimes – you can check the applicable part of the Geneva Convention yourself.
This is why Turkey is so keen on keeping the PKK in its list of ‘terrorist’ organisations and this is why it insists on using the term ‘terrorist organisation’ every time, again and again, when it talks about the PKK. Turkey is fighting terrorism, nothing else. It has to slavishly cling to that narrative.
Prisoners of war
The PKK, on the other hand, has always insisted that it is involved in a war. According to international law, it is right: the conflict between the Turkish state and the PKK is, to be precise, a Non-International Armed Conflict. The Geneva Convention applies. And the PKK – and other armed and unarmed groups that work under the same ideology as itself, like the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria – makes an effort to abide by the Conventions. They have, for example, signed agreements with international NGOs against child soldiers (which doesn’t mean that there are no underaged PKK-members but that’s another column), they have banned the use of landmines (but not of roadside bombs, which are fundamentally different weapons), and they respect the rules for prisoners of war, which are laid down in this part of the Geneva Convention .
This is the reason the prisoners were held in a cave in the Garê mountains. If the PKK wanted them dead, they would have kept them in the mountains right at the border, where the bombs never stop falling. The Garê mountains are in a part of the Kurdistan Region where Turkey bombs less and where there is less fighting, because it is further away from the border.
And now suddenly we are asked to believe they shot the prisoners in the head?
That’s simply just not the PKK’s modus operandi. On the contrary: the PKK has always shown willingness to come to an agreement with Turkey about the orderly release of prisoners, which has happened on numerous occassions before – find an example here. But this time, the state was not interested, as is laid out in detail in this piece.
And now Turkey had set up a ‘rescue operation?’ If they wanted the prisoners back alive and well, they have had ample and multiple opportunities in the last couple of years.
So, if they didn’t care about these captive prisoners lives and needed such a ‘scenario’ to spin and make it seem like it was a ‘PKK crime’ so as to pressurise Joe Biden into allowing Turkey to expand its occupation in Syria, to strengthen the ultra-nationalist alliance at home by banning the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and locking up more HDP MPs (and keep others where they are despite rulings of the European Court of Human Rights), to justify the intensification of yet more bombings of PKK camps and to manipulate events to justify invading of Yezidi homelands of Shengal in Northwest-Iraq, well, then what we have just witnessed in Garê was such a scenario played out for that effect.
I have checked the Geneva Convention but there is nothing in it about one of the parties to a conflict annihilating their own people in the enemy’s hands. It was probably too absurd for those who drew up the conventions. In the mind of a fascist state like Turkey, on the other hand, nothing is too absurd. Nothing is beyond the imagination and everything is tolerable to hold on to power. No lives matter.
Fréderike Geerdink is an independent journalist. Follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her weekly newsletter Expert Kurdistan.