A week ago, on Monday 15 August, as the world was quite occupied with the Taliban takeover of Kabul, Turkish air strikes were responsible for killing Kurds. This time, Turkey assassinated a well known Yezidi military commander, Said Hassan, at the ancient bazaar of Shengal (Sinjar) city centre, when he was on his way to meet with Iraq’s Prime Minister Kadhimi in Sinjar, who was visiting, for the first time, the homeland of the Yezidis.
On the following day, Turkey persisted with its air strikes, even targeting a hospital in the village of Sikeniye, killing four injured Shengal Resistance Units (YBS) fighters and four more healthcare workers. Turkey has conducted 25 drone strikes in the past week in the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) region of Syria, targeting special Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) commanders who are key and official allies liaising with the US’ leading International Coalition Against ISIS.
Turkey has begun using drones, namely Unmanned Aerial Crafts and Armed Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, to an unprecedented extent in its ‘dirty war’ against the Kurds’ national liberation movement. The Turkish military brandishes these drones to brutally attack Kurds in Turkey’s southeast, in Northern Syria, in Northern Iraq, Shengal and Makhmur refugee camp.
The indiscriminate nature of Turkey’s attacks on Kurdish populations continues to result in an ever-growing number of civilian deaths and casualties, for whom the Turkish government does not even pretend to claim “collateral damage.” This bare-faced slaughter leaves little doubt as to the veracity of the claim that Turkish President Erdogan truly believes “the only good Kurd is a dead Kurd,” as explicitly revealed most recently by James Bolton, the ex-national security advisor to the White House in his newly released exposé.
Since 2016, Turkey has employed drone strikes against the Kurds by the thousands. Again and again, innocent people, civilian inhabitants of the region’s mountains and villages, are killed in these wanton attacks carried out in Syria’s Rojava, Iraq’s Basur, and Turkey’s Bakur. Turkey, furthermore, has no qualms about using such missile-equipped high-tech drones in highly populated metropolitan cities like Suleimaniyah in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Turkey’s drone warfare is a flagrant violation of international law, most obviously of the strict rules on the use of force and self-defense (ius ad bellum), principles and customs of war (ius in bello), and basic human rights (namely the right to life and physical integrity), in that it attacks individuals and groups of people without sufficiently determining their status, or even pretending to try. These crimes are blatant violations of basic human rights and war amendments of international law.
Nevertheless, Turkey continues to receive both defacto and dejure support from almost all EU governments as well as the US-led NATO, with the implied endorsement of Germany, a prominent actor in both organisations, perhaps the most glaring of all. Turkey curries favour with these countries and international bodies by means of intimidation and blackmail. Turkey threatens to lift the blockade on the ‘migration flux’ from Syria and now Afghanistan, thereby presumably inundating the West’s populations with hard-to-be-integrated-asylum seekers, and consequently upsetting the delicate balance of political hegemony in their countries.
Turkey exploits the strategic advantages of its geographical location, access to which causes the bastions of Western liberalism to ignore Turkey’s flagrant human rights abuses. Whereas during the presidential terms of both Bush and Obama, drone warfare in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the name of ‘combatting terrorism’ faced challenging criticism and denunciations from leading international human rights institutions and organisations such as the UN Human Rights High Commissioner and Amnesty International, the brutal drone crimes perpetuated by Erdogan’s Turkey have met with a deafening silence on the part of these same organisations as they obstinately continue to turn a ‘blind eye’ to Turkey’s crimes.
Sophisticated drones operated by the Turkish air force have been killing and wounding civilians in the mountainous areas of the Kurdish provinces since 2016. Turkish officials insist on labelling these innocent civilians as ‘terrorists’ or ‘collaborators of the PKK,’ without any evidence whatsoever. The Kurds have repeatedly asked the US, supposedly their ‘coalition partners’ in the war against ISIS, to block Turkish armed drones from US-controlled air space over northeastern Syria, due to the high number of civilian casualties, yet the US has yet to comply with this request.
In fact, the US has looked on as Turkey invaded numerous North Syria Kurdish cantons, heavily backed by drone power and perpetrating innumerable crimes against humanity in the process, particularly in the 2018 Afrin invasion, and the 2019 Ras el-Ayn (Serêkaniyê) and Tal Abyad (Girê Spî) offensives. And they show no sign of stopping, nor does any world power exhibit any intent of trying to stopp them. And no efforts are being made to stop them, despite, for example, the October agreements sponsored by US Vice President Mike Pence and Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov, which stipulate halting Turkish aggression in the region.
In the US, and actually across all media broadcasting platforms, the horrific videos of Afghan people have emerged showing the situation at Kabul airport in the wake of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, including videos purportedly showing people falling to their deaths after they clung to an aircraft as it took off. The airports are centres of desperation and panic as people struggle to board flights and flee the battered nation. While it was not the first incident of its kind relating to the US abandoning nations to their fates amidst intense attacks by designated enemies, it has been the straw that broke the camel’s back – much along the lines of the Trump Administration’s actions relating to North East Syria when it gave permission to Erdogan to invade Rojava two years ago. But still, in spite of the reality of the Yezidis’ hospital being attacked, and the one of a military council in Tal Tamir being well documented and videotaped, the deadly silence of the international media and organisations to these acts touches the human soul very deeply.
Anyone who watches this video cannot help but see the injustice of this cold-blooded massacre. And to think that it could have been stopped, very simply, by curtailing Turkey’s indiscriminate and unrestrained use of deadly drones.
The Kurds will hold the EU, NATO, the UN and the USA responsible for Turkey’s war crimes, and the contingent crimes against humanity inevitably committed, if these bodies continue to refrain from taking action to stop Turkey’s use of drone warfare. Terrorisation of the Kurdish national liberation front is taking place under the guise of ‘combating terror,’ by claiming every murdered Kurd is a ‘member of the PKK,’ the status of which as a ‘terror organisation’ itself remains a point of contention, as evidenced for example by recent court verdicts in Belgium.
Such blanket labelling has already lost legitimacy in international politics and the jurisdiction apparatus, as Kurdish fighters in the Middle East have gained public sympathy and support as allies in the war against organisations such as Al Qaida and ISIS, which are indisputably and unanimously recognised as ‘terrorists.’
As indispensable actors in the power politics of the greater Middle East region, the Kurds have lost tens of thousands of martyrs, making greater sacrifices than any other group in the Middle East in the ‘war against terror.’ They have consistently acted courageously in the struggle, not only to protect their own soil, but to defend humanity and human rights against the most savage state of our times. In return, the Kurds have the right to demand, at the very least, solidarity from the Western countries they have been allied with.
It is one of the most shameful things in the world to witness them being slaughtered indiscriminately by Turkish drones under the direction of a leader who, the world can no longer deny, believes an ‘existential issue of Kurdish liberty’ acts against the Turkish state’s political survival. The West’s failure to take a position in favour of human rights, the very foundation of Western democracy, and stem these massacres, means that it is unreliable, and can still act most pragmatically for short term interests.
Any state, any organisation, which sits idly by in the face of these massacres being carried out by the Turkish state against the Kurdish people, should not call itself a ‘defender of human rights,’ or ‘of democracy.’ It will most certainly be judged by posterity to be nothing less than a farce, unless immediate action is taken.
The Kurds have proven themselves, time and again, to be brave and reliable allies for universal human rights, which must be the most sustainable model to support. Especially at a time when we see the consequences of the defeated Afghan government and army with the Taliban takeover of the country. So, at least, now is the time to return the favour.
Sinan Önal is a political scientist, currently an envoy of the Kurdistan National Congress who formerly acted as an adviser in policy-building and international affairs to the left-wing alternative and pro-Kurdish parties DTP, BDP, and HDP in Turkey. Mr Önal also represented the pro-Kurdish party in the United States in 2012-2013, and in Germany in 2017-2018.