by Fréderike Geerdink
In a podcast interview with Medya News, the representative of the Community Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in the Kurdistan Region called on the international community to stop military support to Turkey because war crimes are being committed with these weapons. “Turkey has armed drones, but would not be able to carry out operations and war crimes without the arms of Canada, the UK, Germany and other states.” He and his CPT colleagues fear that another massacre like the one in which nine Arab tourists were killed last month, is imminent.
The CPT is the only independent civil society organisation active in the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, and the only international one with a very visible presence at locations in the region where human rights violations take place: in the mountain villages alongside the Turkish border, and in Kurdistan’s courts. The CPT (also active in Greece, Palestine and Colombia), says Kamaran Osman, “advocates for people who are impacted by the war between Turkey and the PKK and defends the rights of peaceful activists and journalists in jail”.
The CPT has been active in the Kurdistan Region since 2006. They have been increasingly engaged with local communities in the mountains since the peace process between the Turkish state and the PKK unravelled after two years in the summer of 2015. Since then, CPT has documented 129 civilian deaths in Turkish operations, and counted 64 new military bases in the mountains since 2017. What can they do for the people and communities affected? Osman: “We go to villages that are targeted and we talk to the people, so they feel supported. We collect data, spread the stories of the villagers, and advocate for their rights.”
The CPT fiercely spoke out against the massacre at the holiday resort where tourists were killed on 20 July. They had been visiting the affected village, Parakhe, many times already since when in June 2020, Turkey built two big military bases in close vicinity. “The shelling started immediately to pressure the people to leave. There are eleven villages in the area and ten of them were emptied but the people of Parakhe refused to leave. They stayed as a non-violent resistance and became a big obstacle for Turkey to advance its military operations on the ground.”
He noticed Turkey stepping up its pressure by knocking the villagers’ doors and telling them to leave: “If they wouldn’t leave, the army would consider them to be PKK members. Still, the people stayed.” On 15 June, shelling inside the village started, injuring a father and a son. CPT visited them in hospital. Osman: “When we asked if they wanted to return to Parakhe, they said they would definitely go back after their medical treatment. And they did, and opened new places for tourists. Tourists from the South of Iraq came to visit, and then unfortunately Turkey targeted them.”
But the story of Parakhe is also the story of Hurure, a mountain village some 100 km further to the east, Kamaran Osman warned. “Hurure is surrounded by four military bases, and it is the only village in the area of which the inhabitants refuse to leave despite Turkey’s pressure. We are very worried that a same kind of massacre can happen there.”
Osman and the whole CPT hopes that if such an event happens, the government of the Kurdistan Region, the government in Baghdad and the international community will speak out again, like they did for the nine victims last month. But previous deaths, Kurdish deaths, have hardly triggered reaction. Not even the government of the Kurdistan Region spoke out, to Osman’s disappointment: “Maybe they can not stop Turkey’s operations and protecting Iraq’s sovereignty is Baghdad’s task, but they can at least advocate for their people.”
What particularly bothers him, is that the Kurdistan authorities often don’t give accurate death certificates of civilians casualties of Turkey’s aggression. “When people die in a bombing, the certificate says ‘explosion’ as cause of death”, Osman said. “When they are targeted in their car, they write ‘car accident’, or they say people die of a stroke of heart attack.”
The Kurdistan Regional Government has become more authoritarian in the last couple of years, which makes the work of CPT both more important and more difficult. They are protected because of their status as an international NGO, but their work on the ground, connecting with village heads for access, isn’t getting easier. The increased authoritarianism is also shown by the number of political prisoners, both activists and journalist, often those who protest against or report about Turkish operations and the bad economic circumstances in Kurdistan.
In its good contacts with foreign representatives, CPT always calls on them to pressure the KRG to release political prisoners. Osman: “There is space for that because the Kurdistan Region is well connected and has good relations with foreign representatives. The authorities must be pressured.”