There have been many serious and repeated human rights violations with many falling into the category of war crimes in Turkey in the 40-plus year period of conflict rooted in the inability to solve the Kurdish question. During this period, qualified as one of “low intensity warfare”, approx 17,000 people have fallen victim to extra judicial killings, torture, disappearances and unsolved murders, thousands of villages have been burnt to the ground and demolished, millions of Kurdish people have been forced to migrate from their homes, and crimes against humanity have regularly surfaced on Turkish soldiers phones and eye witness testimony such as decapitations and mutilations of Kurdish guerilla fighters, dead bodies being dragged behind armoured vehicles and villagers being humiliated with such practices as being forced to eat excrement and forcibly stripped naked have been applied by Turkish soldiers.
Alongside these known violations in question by the Turkish state, now charges and allegations of the use of chemical weapons, internationally recognised as a “crime against humanity”, are frequently being discussed during this period. This charge has once again come to the fore with the military operations launched by Turkey against the Federal Kurdistan Region on 23 April, to the effect that chemical weapons have been used hundreds of times in the six-month period.
Chemical weapons are a type of weapon made from toxic materials used in the field of chemistry, which has lethal effects on all living creatures. Chemical weapons can be solids, liquids or gases, they can be produced in hundreds of different ways. They are easier and cheaper to produce than other weapons and they can have long-lasting effects and produce unanticipated changes on the environment.
They can be absorbed in a variety of different ways (through the skin, eyes, airways, mouth) and can cause serious damage to areas of contact. VX nerve gas, sarin, mustard gas, phosphorus and chlorine are some of the more dangerous and better known chemical weapons.
These weapons are used in many wars and conflicts with the aim of annihilating the enemy, and to the present day they have been the cause of the loss of millions of human lives and at least as many injuries. They have also done serious damage to the environment, causing the deaths not only of human beings, but of all living creatures in the places they were used. These effects are still visible in certain places. Vietnam, Japan, Syria, Belgium, Aleppo, the Iraqi Kurdistan…
According to some research shared by MA, the first use of chemical weapons was in the Ancient Greek period during siege of Kirra city by the army of Athens. The first use of more developed chemical weapons in modern history was by Germany in World War I.
At the beginning of 1915, Germany used newly developed toxic weapons against the Russian forces in the region of Bolimow in Poland. Later, it used toxic chlorine gas against the French. In both attacks, thousands of soldiers lost their lives without knowing what was happening to them.
It did not take long for a response to this German move from the opposing side. Britain and France then both began to develop chemical weapons. In 1917 the US used chemical weapons it had developed itself extensively against the Germans on the Western Front.
According to some data, there were a million people who were casualties from the use of chemical weapons used by Germany, France and Britain in the First World War.
According to the statistics of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), around 100,000 tons of chemical weapons were used in the war, and at least a hundred thousand lost their lives.
Similar scenes of slaughter due to chemical weapons also emerged during the Second World War. Sources estimate that between three and almost six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis with toxic gases in concentration camps like Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen in this war. Other states also used similar toxic gases throughout the war.
Around six million Jews and other peoples such as Roma and LGBT were systematically murdered by the Nazis, the majority with poisonous gases in extermination camps of Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, and many others in this war.
The US used chemical weapons such as napalm and Agent Orange gases in the Vietnam war, which started in 1955 and lasted over 20 years. Agent Orange was known as a “defoliant” which caused leaves to drop from the trees, but both these gases caused the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives as well as serious damage to the environment.
According to the government of Vietnam these chemical weapons were the cause of around 400,000 deaths and 1.5 million birth defects.
Since World Wars I and II it has been the Middle East that has suffered the most from chemical weapons. There have been numerous massacres perpetrated with chemical weapons within the lands of the Middle East, which the imperialist states divided up with artificial borders. The first of these massacres that comes to mind is that perpetrated against the Kurds using chemical weapons by Saddam Hussain in Halabja.
On 16 March 1988, a massacre was perpetrated in Halabja, near the Iranian border in what is now the Federal Kurdistan Region of Iraq, which also remains a black mark in the history of humanity forming part of a larger genocidal campaign or al Anfal against the Kurds.
Towards the end of the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam Hussein launched the Anfal Campaign against the Kurds. Saddam Hussein gave the order to Colonel General Ali Hassan al-Majid al-Tikriti, also known as “Chemical Ali”, to use chemical bombs, dropped from aeroplanes attached to the Iraqi army on the town of Halabja. Chemical bombs with toxic gases dropped on the town for three whole days.
According to World Health Organisation figures, over 5,000 people lost their lives and over 7,000 were injured as a result of the chemical gases, which victims said ‘smelled of apples’. Sixty-one thousand two hundred people were disabled.
After the massacre, the words of a small child running to her mother, bombs exploding around her, remain: “Dayê bêhna sêva tê” (Mum, it smells of apples) are all that remains of her…
Ali Hassan al-Majid al-Tikriti, who perpetrated the Halabja massacre, was later tried for the Anfal campaign, and in 24 June 2007 sentenced to death for “Crimes against humanity and genocide”. Saddam Hussein himself was executed on 30 December 2006.
On 1 March 2010 the Halabja Massacre was accepted by the Supreme Criminal Court of Iraq as “slaughter and genocide”. In the subsequent period the Iraqi Assembly and the Federal Kurdistan Regional Assembly recognised Halabja as a massacre. The Anfal massacre which took place in Halabja is still internationally recognised as the “Kurdish genocide”.
Since Halabja other attacks have occurred in the Middle East.
Syria, where there has been a civil war since 2011, is one of those places where most chemical weapons have been used. The first claims of the use of chemical weapons in Syria emerged in 2013. Upon reports that Bashar al-Assad’s government had used chemical weapons, an international research commission of experts conducted research for the United Nations. In the report published by the commission in September 2013, it was stated that there were findings to the effect that Sarin gas had been used, but that it had not been possible to determine which forces had deployed it.
Images and reports emerged in 2016, 2017 and 2018 to suggest that chemical weapons had been used. Research conducted by the United Nations, (UN) and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said that there were findings that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons in the region. On 14 April 2018, the US, the UK and France launched rocket attacks against three targets in Damascus and Homs, to “send a message” to the Syrian regime, whom they held responsible for the chemical weapons attacks.
In regards to the use of chemical weapons, Turkey has a very long record. The first charges against Turkey using chemical weapons emerged during a clash with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in 1994.
Thirty-six People’s Defence Units (HPG) fighters lost their lives in the bombardment of Kazan Valley, in the Çukurca district of Hakkari, on 22-24 October 2011.
National and international delegations visited the area and were faced with burnt and decimated bodies. All the findings indicated that the HPG fighters had been killed by chemical weapons. Despite this the findings were not dealt with by independent institutions and the outcome of the inquiry that was initiated is still not known.
Over the years there have been many other reports of chemical weapons use by Turkey against Kurdish fighters in SE Turkey.
Allegations of Turkey and its associated paramilitary groups having used chemical weapons in operations against cities in northeast Syria continue until today. It is alleged that Turkey used chemical weapons in an operation it launched together with its paramilitary groups on a village in Afrin in 2018, and that six people lost their lives in this attack.
Again on 9 October 2019, images emerged indicating that chemical weapons had been used in an operation against the city of Ras al-Ayn (Serêkaniyê), also in northeast Syria. The incident was publicised by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), and it came on to the international agenda.
The burning of 13-year-old Mihemed Hemide’s whole body due to a phosphorus bomb in Ras al-Ayn hit the world press.
Most recently, reports of Turkey’s use of chemical weapons have been emerging since the 3rd month of the operation launched in the Federal Kurdistan Region on 23 April. According to reports from the Fırat News Agency (ANF) based on statements of the HPG, Turkey has used chemical weapons 323 times in the last six months. This is a staggering number. In the same period, 548 people have attended hospital with various complaints and symptoms conducive to a chemical weapons attack.
Numerous institutions, thinkers, writers, academics and politicians have issued calls to the relevant institutions to conduct investigations in the regions where chemical weapons are said to have been used.
In Europe, 51 organisations and political parties have written to the OPCW.
Until today steps taken regarding the use of chemical weapons across the world have been fruitless, because almost all of these steps have been been taken by states which produce and even use chemical weapons themselves.
The first step towards the control of chemical weapons was taken with the 1899 Hague Convention. Following the 1899 Hague Convention, World War I broke out. Later the 1925 Geneva Protocol was signed. This protocol prohibited the use of chemical weapons in war. But there was no indication of action to be taken if the protocol was violated.
The continued use of chemical weapons after the Geneva Protocol pushed countries towards signing new protocols and more conventions. Some of these were the 1968 Nuclear Conventions, the 1972 Convention on the Prohibition of Biological Weapons and the 1987 Missile Technology Control Regime.
Moving on to 1993, the first multilateral weapons reduction agreement, the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) was opened for signature by the UN. It remained open for signature until 29 April 1997. In 1997 the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was founded.
The OPCW has over 180 member countries, including Turkey, and parties to the convention meet annually for a conference, to discuss findings, claims and investigations relating to activities which are related to the requirements of the convention.
The OPCW also aims “to achieve a world free of chemical weapons and the threat of their use”. But to date, the OPCW has maintained its silence with regards to the use of Chemical weapons in the Kurdish lands in particular, despite the images, testimonies and documentation that has emerged.
This position of the OPCW, which has taken no steps in the face of all of these claims, only serves to raise more questions.