On 12 October 2022, the organisation International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) published a report which corroborates the suspicion that the Turkish army is using chemical warfare agents. The suspected use of these weapons took place in northern Iraq near the Turkish border, allegedly against Kurdish fighters as well as civilians.
The IPPNW notes that Turkey’s alleged use of banned chemical weapons has been raised repeatedly for more than a year. So far, there has been no clear evidence of proving it. Therefore, an IPPNW delegation from Germany and Switzerland has now been on the ground in northern Iraq looking for tangible evidence of the use of chemical warfare agents.
According to the report of the IPPNW delegation, tear gas was apparently used, as well as other chemical agents, including chlorine gas. The use of these chemicals in military operations is prohibited under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and thus constitutes a war crime.
The IPPNW stressed in a press release on 12 October: “In view of this violation, the member states of the CWC could initiate appropriate consultations with the Turkish government, invoking Article IX(1) of the Convention. Measures could also be taken within the United Nations framework to prevent future violations of the chemical weapons ban by Turkey.”
Accusations about the Turkish army using banned chemical agents against Kurdish fighters is not something new. Such accusations have been made repeatedly for years. What is new is the intensified use of such weapons.
After the terrible experiences of World War I and World War II, the international law and the international law of war were put into practice to limit the sufferings of people during wars and armed conflicts as much as possible, if wars and armed conflicts cannot be avoided. Since chemical warfare agents cause particularly severe suffering, they were banned outright by the Chemical Weapons Convention.
If the use of these banned agents by the Turkish army is irrefutably confirmed, it will be a massive violation of international law by Turkey. The IPPNW report itself is not sufficient to obtain legally binding evidence of their use. Another UN-led international commission of enquiry would have to investigate further on the ground.
However, as IPPNW points out, the member states of the Chemical Weapons Convention could already start consultations with the Turkish governments under Article IX(1) of the Convention to call on the Turkish government to stop these war crimes and to prosecute those responsible for the alleged use of the banned chemical warfare agents.
In addition, the UN has the possibility of taking appropriate measures to force Turkey to respect the ban on chemical weapons in the future.
At present, however, it does not look like even one of these two actions will be taken.
The IPPNW report has not yet (as of 21 October 2022) been mentioned in any of the relevant German-language newspapers in Europe (Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Belgium).
This is due to several reasons. In the European media, the focus is on the developments of Russia’s war against Ukraine. This war is taking place in the immediate neighbourhood of the European Union. Hardly anyone in the European Union expected such a war to be possible.
Moreover, Russia is an important gas supplier for the EU, but especially for Germany. German industry is the largest industrial sector in the EU and consumes a lot of energy. The stopping of gas supplies from Russia has led to enormous price increases for energy and has caused social tensions and conflicts within the EU and among EU member states.
At the same time, very hot temperatures during the last summer has shown that climate change is not a future threat, but that it is already an issue today. The energy crisis and the climate crisis are intertwined and both are linked to the war in Ukraine.
The Ukraine war, the energy crisis and the climate crisis are the three big issues – along with other smaller issues that dominate media coverage in Europe. These issues are the main focus of attention. As a result, the IPPNW report is currently not receiving the attention it deserves.
Unfortunately, it is no different in the political arena. There too, the three issues of the Ukraine war, the energy crisis and the climate crisis dominate. The European Union is preoccupied with the question of how to cap energy prices and how to support Ukraine. Even from the European Parliament, which has always kept a critical eye on Turkey, nothing has been heard about the IPPNW report so far.
Another extremely critical point is that Turkey is a NATO member. From NATO’s point of view, Turkey is of high strategic importance. Therefore, NATO does not want to lose Turkey as a partner. Especially not in the current crisis situation. Turkish President Erdoğan is cleverly exploiting this situation for his own interests.
The situation has become even more complicated since Sweden and Finland want to become NATO members as a result of the Russian attack on Ukraine. Sweden and Finland can only be admitted to NATO if all existing NATO member states agree. In return, Erdoğan wants Finland and Sweden to give up their previous friendly attitude towards Kurds. Twenty-eight of the 30 NATO member states have so far approved Sweden’s and Finland’s application. However, the approval of Turkey and Hungary is still missing. In return for his approval, Erdogan wants a maximum of concessions from the Swedish and Finnish governments with regard to the persecution of Kurds.
Under the current circumstances, the Western states show no interest in a conflict with the Turkish government over its actions against the Kurds. The Ukraine war allows Erdoğan to shamelessly blackmail NATO and the EU and to continue the war crimes highlighted in the IPPNW report largely without risk.
So, the situation for the Kurds is extremely difficult at the moment. However, there is a sore point for NATO and the Western countries. They do not want the world order based on international law to be replaced by a world order in which only the law of the strongest applies. And the Western states accuse Russia of massive violations of international law and war crimes in Ukraine. If Russia is to be held accountable for its war crimes after the war ends, NATO and the Western states need credibility. So, if they ignore the war crimes of NATO member Turkey against the Kurds, then these countries lose their credibility. Then they apply different measures and standards in judging war crimes. In this way, the Western states isolate themselves. It is already apparent that only about 40 of the 193 UN member states support the sanctions against Russia. However, far greater support would be needed to prosecute Russian war crimes. But the Western states will not get it if they work with double standards. Therefore, this is a starting point to put pressure on NATO and the EU to urge the Turkish government to end the war crimes, the use of chemical weapons against Kurdish civilians and Kurdish fighters and to finally end the war against the Kurds.
*Jürgen Klute became a member of the European Parliament (DIE LINKE/The Left) and spokesman for the Kurdish Friendship Group in the EP from 2009 to 2014. Since December 2016, he has been editing the Jürgen Klute became a member of the European Parliament (DIE LINKE/The Left) and spokesman for the Kurdish Friendship Group in the EP from 2009 to 2014. Since December 2016, he has been editing the Europa.blog.