As allegations of chemical weapons usage by Turkish forces in Iraq capture headlines, historian Sedat Ulugana told Mesopotamia Agency that Turkey had a history of using these illegal weapons in line with a practice he called a “genocide regime”.
The People’s Defence Forces (HPG) says Turkey has used more than 2,000 prohibited bombs and chemical weapons in cross-border military operations in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq in the past year alone.
The group says 44 Kurdish fighters have lost their lives due to chemical weapons, and has backed its claim with video footage said to show guerrilla fighters exposed to Turkey’s alleged chemical attacks.
According to Ulugana, Turkey’s first use of chemical weapons against the Kurds dates back to the 1930 Zilan Valley massacre in the western Van province, during which Turkish forces killed thousands of civilians in an operation to suppress a Kurdish uprising.
During the operation, the Turkish troops used firebombs and phosphorus munitions, to “completely annihilate” resistance in the area in an operation that the Cumhuriyet broadsheet at the time reported had killed 15,000 people.
Ulugana said correspondence from the time has revealed that Turkey also bought poisonous gas from Germany and other European countries which it would go on to use in the Dersim massacre, which took place six years after the Zilan Massacre.
The Dersim massacre, which claimed tens of thousands of lives, took place during three military operations launched in between 1937 and 1938 against Kurdish rebels led by Seyid Riza.
Ulugana quoted İhsan Çağlayangil, the General Police Director at the time, as admitting in an interview to Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the chair of Republican People Party (CHP) that the Turkish security forces had “poisoned the people of Dersim like rats in the mountain hoods; we poisoned them with toxic gas.”
This early use of chemical weapons against Kurdish populations would be mirrored by Iraq’s former dictator, Saddam Hussein, who killed thousands of civilians with mustard gas and nerve agents in the genocidal Halabja massacre in 1988.
And for Ulugana, Turkey’s recent alleged chemical weapons usage in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq also amounts to a “genocide regime” carried out while international institutions turned a blind eye.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the UN have so far ignored calls for an investigation into the allegations by Kurdish organisations and independent groups including the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.
This, Ulugana said, could prove dangerous as if states remain silent “they will cause a great chemical, nuclear war in the future.”
But the historian added it was much more important to increase solidarity and social struggles with ordinary people rather than waiting for any humanitarian attitude from the European states.