Allegations regarding Turkey’s use of chemical weapons against Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq and Syria can only be confirmed through an independent international inquiry, French newspaper L’Humanité reported on Sunday.
Human rights advocates worldwide have urged international organisations to take action over allegations regarding Turkey’s use of chemical weapons in operations against Kurdish armed groups in neighbouring countries, particularly after the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) released footage in October that appeared to contain evidence backing the claims.
The Turkish government has repeatedly denied allegations about chemical warfare, and clamps down on anyone who dares to ask for an independent investigation.
The most high-profile attempt by the Turkish government to block open debate on the subject was the arrest of Şebnem Korur Fincancı, chair of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) and prominent human rights activist against torture and mistreatment.
After watching the PKK’s footage, Fincancı shared her suspicions about the possible use of toxic gases and called for an investigation. She was immediately jailed under charges of “terrorist propaganda”.
“It is impossible to make a definitive diagnosis on the basis of images alone. But the substance that comes to mind when seeing these scenes is M-CPP (metaChlorophenylpiperazine), a very toxic agent, which was once found in tablets to start fires,” L’Humanité quoted doctor Beppe Josef Savary-Borioli, who watched the same visual material that shows first a Kurdish fighter “in the grip of a fit of hilarity, then a dying fighter, seized with vomiting and shaken with disordered movements”.
“This compound can induce hilarity, as seen in this giggling fighter, but it can also cause nightmares,” Savary-Borioli explained. “And at high dosages, it can lead to a clinical picture similar to that presented by the fighter filmed here: coma, hyperventilation, cramps, epileptic seizure. Exposure to high concentrations can lead to death, excruciating death,” he said.
The Swiss doctor and his German colleague Jan van Aken travelled to northern Iraq in late September to collect information and evidence on Turkey’ possible use of chemical weapons on behalf of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW).
“But these doctors have been denied access to the mountainous areas which are the scene of Turkish operations and possible attacks of this nature,” L’Humanité said. With the Kurdish autonomous government in northern Iraq denying access to those areas, the mission was unable to collect samples and meet the victims, but it nevertheless gathered “indirect evidence of possible violations of the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons”, ratified by Turkey.
The indirect evidence gathered include drums of hydrochloric acid and bleach, agents that go into the composition of chlorine gas, as well as cartridges for gas masks of type C2A1, a special model for protection against biological and chemical agents, according to L’Humanité.
“To be clear: the presence of these three elements does not prove anything,” it added. “But the presence of these elements in this combination and in exactly this location at least raises questions that warrant further independent investigation.”
“Extensive epidemiological investigations including laboratory analysis, either of environmental samples (including remains of weapons, soil or clothing), or of medical samples such as blood, urine or hair” are required to shed light on these allegations of the use of chemical weapons, according to IPPNW report.
Moreover, evidence so far is sufficient for a member state to request an official investigation, under the aegis of the UN General Secretariat or under the authority of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said Savary-Borioli.
State-run France 24, in a broadcast on Monday morning, highlighted a comment in the story of L’Humanité that “the other possible option is that another state, such as France, may request a verification mission on whether Turkey is using chemical weapons in Iraqi Kurdistan.”
However, the French authorities said France had “no information” on possible violations by Ankara of the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, when asked by L’Humanité.
Meanwhile, the accusations are serious enough to justify the opening of an international investigation, according to the communist senator Pierre Laurent.
“Unfortunately, we do not have a reliable source on this subject. It’s so taboo that anyone touching it gets burned,” Pierre Laurent said, explaining that both sources of information, the Turkish army and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), are disputed.