On the night of November 19th, Turkey conducted massive air strikes against the autonomous region in North and East Syria. 6 days later, NRK (Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation) reported that, “So far, Turkey has attacked close to 500 Kurdish targets in Syria and Iraq since the country launched a new military operation on November 19. The offensive is targeted towards the PKK and the Syrian-Kurdish YPG militia.”
In the past weeks, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin has changed the methods of warfare in Ukraine. He and his loyal generals are aiming to destroy all civilian infrastructure: Schools, hospitals, water supplies and power stations. More and more of the population are loosing access to electricity for heating and cooking for longer periods. If Putin continues like this, many Ukranians will freeze to death in the coming few months.
War criminal Putin is being condemned.
Heads of governments and many others in the US and in Europe are saying that Putin is committing war crimes on a daily basis in Ukraine. The media is constantly raging at the war criminal Vladimir Putin. As far as human rights international law is concerned, it is in my opinion that there is a solid foundation for such harsh criticism. The statutes of the international criminal court (the Rome-statutes) leaves no doubt. The following are among actions defined as war crimes:
• Intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities;
• Intentionally directing attacks against civilian objects, that is, objects which are not military objectives;
• Attacking or bombarding, by whatever means, towns, villages, dwellings or buildings which are undefended and which are not military objectives.
What about the commander-in-chief of NATO’s second largest army?
What is the difference between Putin’s criminal methods and those methods of warfare which president Erdogan has been resorting to the last 10 days before NATO’S foreign secretary summit on November 29? To destroy a power station has the same impacts whether it is in Ukraine or Syria. For those affected, it makes little difference that Ukraine is larger than Kurdistan.
I will limit myself to one example: The power station in the village of Teqil Beqil.
It is situated a few kilometres from Derik city in north-eastern Syria. A news team from the independent Rojava Information Center (RIC), travelled there. The journalists interviewed five people who came to the power station right after the first attack. RIC has translated an unedited version. The text is exactly as the words were spoken.
Ebdulrehman Mejid explained:
“The things which we have been seeing are this: We were at home. It was between 11 and 12 [at night], when the sound of an explosion came. We heard the sound of the explosion and of airplanes. We stood up; we understood that the place where they targeted is the same place they targeted last year and the year before. We understood it was the place of the power station. We knew there were two guards there. We said “okay let’s go to the guards and see how they are, maybe they are injured, if they are injured we can help.”
When we went and reached the place: Both guards were injured, and a lot of people had come, especially from the Kocherat area and Berave area. The villages around Kocherat, a lot of people were coming. And Americans [soldiers] also had arrived. Four armoured vehicles of America had arrived. (…) It looked like there was coordination between America and Turkey. Turkey was waiting for the American patrol to leave and were waiting for many people to be in one place before they fired the other bombs. It was clear the goal was to kill as many as possible.”
Shihab Under, from the village of Sherie, was there when Turkish planes returned for a second time to bomb those who had come to help. He explained:
“Then at 2 o’clock planes came again. It’s not clear what they were doing there. Some civilians were dead but we couldn’t get them out. Until the morning, we were there walking around. We didn’t use a car. The bombs attacked the people there. The airplane came targeting the civilian people with missiles. Six to seven people tried to flee to the cars and then a bomb attacked those people fleeing to the cars. The people who were struck, their bodies were divided into parts. In some places were their hands, in some places their legs. In some cases the hands were 100m away from the bodies. There were some friends in the car and the car was on fire. With the fire in the car they died.”
That night, Turkey killed, in all, 11 civilians.
I am in no doubt that Putin kills more civilians than Erdogan. But is there any difference when it comes to the two president’s relations to the international law of war?
Turkey and IS (Islamic State)
Turkey’s support to IS and other jihadist groups in Syria are documented and well known, at least since 2014. Turkish editors, police, and public prosecutors were handed long jail sentences because they revealed that a weapons load was on its way to jihadist groups in Syria. The trucks belonged to the MIT – the national intelligence agency.
One of the Turkish airstrikes in the last week was aimed at the security personnel from SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) at the al-Hol camp. Eight of them were killed. The ground troops from the SDF defeated IS in 2019. Ever since, suspected IS-supporters who are not believed to have committed serious war crimes, along with their families, have been held in al-Hol. Today there are over 50 000 people in the camp.
After the Turkish attack, many IS-detainees used the opportunity to escape.
Who other than IS had an advantage from the fact that Turkey in this way created an escape-opportunity? The SDF claimed in a statement that “the invading Turkish state wants to reorganise the Islamic State.” Is this an unreasonable claim?
A new alliance: NATO and Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei.
This autumn, the Mullah-regime in Iran has killed hundreds of women, men and children who have taken part in protests after the Kurdish woman Zhina Amînî died whilst being held in custody of the Morality Police. Because of this, the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has been condemned at least as intense as Russia’s president Vladimir Putin. In this regard, the NATO countries and many other states, stand together.
Several opposition groups in Rojhilat – the Kurdish part of Iran – have important parts of their organisations situated in the Kurdish region in Iraq. The Mullah-regime has intensified its rocket and drone attacks across the state border. During the autumn, the attacks have killed tens of opposition members and wounded several more.
NATO’S Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
The Kurdish region in Iraq is being hit by increasingly powerful military attacks from Turkey in the north. Iran is simultaneously attacking from the East. The Mullah regime in Iran is now threatening to follow Turkey’s example and launch a ground invasion. The interior ministers of Turkey and Iran recently held talks to coordinate their wars against the Kurds. A new military alliance is thus a fact, although it is unlikely to be written down and signed. In the war against the Kurds, the NATO country Turkey has allied itself with the Mullah regime in Iran.
Had this been possible if NATO’s Secretary General for eight years had not wholeheartedly supported what both he and President Erdogan refer to as “Turkey’s fight against terror.” In any case, I think that it would have been more difficult for Erdogan to get NATO’s tacit support.
More war crimes in 2023 – or hope for peace ?
I am sure that the foreign ministers of several NATO countries travelled to the summit without joy. Some of them perhaps want an end to both Turkey’s and Iran’s war against the Kurds. I am writing this before 30 foreign ministers gather around Jens Stoltenberg’s meeting table in Bucharest. But I do not have much hope that any of them will ask Stoltenberg to change the agenda. They hardly dare to provoke Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. He will certainly react negatively if someone demands that the meeting discuss Turkey’s wars in Syria and Iraq, which violate international law. I also don’t think any of them dare to challenge Erdogan’s new alliance with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in Iran.
On the other hand, there is also some light. In Oslo today I was in a cross-party demonstration in support of the women’s revolution in Iran. Here were participants from various ethnic groups and provinces in Iran: Persians, Kurdistan, Baluchistan, Azerbaijan, Luristan and several others. I have never seen such broad cooperation among exiled Iranians. Now they fight together, and across political and ethnic lines. Just like in the home country.
If such a unity becomes even stronger, it can mean the end of the Mullah regime.
Among political leaders in Europe, there is a silent but widespread dissatisfaction with the fact that the commander-in-chief of NATO’s second largest army uses more and more of the war methods of Vladimir Putin. Among Kurds – both in Kurdistan and in exile – there is broad support for the new form of cross-cultural popular government.
2023 could perhaps be a year that gives hope to the peoples of the Middle East.
Erling Folkvord is a journalist and a former member of the Norwegian Parliament.