Factsheet: Turkish use of chemical weapons in South Kurdistan

The Kurdish Center for Public Relations - Civaka Azad has published a comprehensive factsheet on the Turkish invasion of South Kurdistan using chemical warfare agents.

Since June 23, 2021, the Turkish army has been conducting a cross-border military operation against positions held by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in southern Kurdistan (northern Iraq). The offensive, dubbed "Operation Claw Lightning," has since resulted in numerous casualties on both sides. In addition, civilian settlements had to be evacuated as a result of widespread airstrikes by the Turkish army, and numerous civilians lost their lives.

The Turkish army's cross-border military offensives deep into Iraqi state territory have a long history. Since 1991, Turkey has established dozens of military bases in the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq. More than 10,000 troops are permanently stationed in the neighboring country. In the course of the latest operation, additional Turkish military stations were established.

Turkey also invokes the right to self-defense for this current ground and air invasion. However, according to a report by the Bundestag's Scientific Services from 2020, this justification is not tenable. Rather, the report expresses doubts that the Turkish army's attacks in northern Iraq are compatible with international law.

Effects of the operations on the civilian population

Few independent and non-governmental organizations report directly from the ground, which is why there is hardly any independent research from the areas directly affected by the Turkish attacks. One of the few exceptions is the Southern Kurdistan-based non-governmental organization Christian Peacemaker Teams - Iraqi Kurdistan (CPT-IK). CPT-IK has been monitoring the impact on the civilian population since the beginning of the Turkish military offensive. The NGO published its first report on the issue on June 3, 2021, titled "No Return: The Civilian Impact of Turkey's Operation Claw Lightning." The human rights organization reported massive clashes between the Turkish military and the PKK in the region. Many of the Turkish airstrikes and artillery attacks directly hit civilians, the report said: “While Turkey claims to target the PKK in Operation Claw-Lightning, the reality is that civilians living in the border regions are most critically impacted by Turkey’s bombings. These bombardments have devastated the region where hundreds of families live. Thousands of dunams of land and approximately 1,300 beehives have been destroyed, all of which are crucial resources for families. Turkey’s bombings not only threaten the livelihood of families, but also their lives. Four civilians have so far been injured by Turkey’s bombardments, and more than 1,500 civilians from 22 villages have evacuated their villages to escape Turkey’s assault. CPT fears that these families may never have the ability to return to their homes, as Turkey has built nearby military bases armed with artillery that now threaten the lives of civilians.”

Use of chemical weapons

In addition to the widespread bombardment of civilian settlement areas, the Turkish army is also accused of using chemical weapons in the course of the current military offensive. These accusations on the part of the PKK have been corroborated by video recordings. (A list of links to the video recordings documenting the use of chemical weapons by the Turkish army can be found in the end of the factsheet).

The Turkish army has reportedly been using chemical warfare agents in the cave and tunnel complexes of the People's Defense Forces (HPG) since the beginning of its offensive. Due to the precautions taken by the HPG fighters before the offensive began, the guerrilla forces initially suffered few casualties from the use of chemical weapons. However, according to the guerrillas, since the second half of September the Turkish army has been using a new chemical warfare agent which, when detonated, first produces a large shock wave and then releases a chemical that burns the human body within a very short time. According to survivors' reports, the other chemical agents used are, in one case, a greenish gas that leaves a sweet taste in the mouth and, in another case, a whitish-gray gas that smells like bleach.

According to the HPG press office, the Turkish army has carried out a total of 138 attacks with chemical weapons in the last five months, in which several fighters lost their lives. According to the report, chemical weapons attacks killed six guerrillas in Girê Sor in the Avaşîn region on September 3, five guerrillas on October 5, and four guerrillas at the Werxelê mountain massif in the Avaşîn region on October 10. On September 4, the village of Hiror was attacked with chemical weapons, injuring members of a local family. The CPT-IK confirmed that the family members' injuries were caused by chemical weapons.

Chemical Weapons Banned Internationally - No Consequences for Turkey

Already with the Geneva Protocol of 1925, the use of asphyxiating, poisonous or similar gases as well as bacteriological agents in war was prohibited by an international treaty. At that time, Turkey was among the 36 initial signatories of the international treaty. In addition, Turkey is a signatory to the United Nations Chemical Weapons Convention. This treaty prohibits the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons and requires the destruction of existing chemical weapons stockpiles. Within the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), an independent structure was created specifically to monitor compliance with and implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention. However, despite the incriminating findings against the Turkish army, no steps have yet been taken by the OPCW or by other international actors.

Demands from Kurdish actors

Numerous Kurdish MPs, media workers, intellectuals, women's rights activists and human rights activists from South Kurdistan have called on the OPWC to send teams of experts to the region to investigate allegations of chemical weapons use. The Kurdistan National Congress (KNK) has in its latest statement called on the international community not to remain silent about the use of banned chemical weapons in South Kurdistan. The UN, the USA, the EU or Russia should not turn a blind eye to Turkey's crimes because of their economic interests. Furthermore, Kurdish actors and associations call on the international community to impose an arms embargo and further sanctions against the Turkish government due to the use of chemical warfare agents.

Video footage of the use of chemical weapons

The online portal Medyanews published a video with English subtitles showing the tunnel facilities of the guerrillas. The footage was taken by the guerrillas in August and shows how visibility in the tunnel drops to half a meter due to the dense, green-colored gas: https://medyanews.net/new-footage-of-green-smoke-again-raise-suspicions-of-turkeys-use-of-chemical-warfare/

This video shows a guerrilla attack on Turkish troops in the Werxele area of the Avaşîn region on September 11, 2021. In the video, numerous pieces of equipment can be seen in the positions of the Turkish soldiers, indicating the use of chemicals: https://gerilatv.com/calakiya-qada-berxwedane-ya-werxele-avasin-11e-ilona-2021_975dc19c8.html

This video was recorded on September 2, 2021 and shows the use of chemical weapons against a guerrilla tunnel position in the Werxele area of the Avaşîn region. A Turkish soldier wearing a gas mask is seen approaching the tunnel: https://anfenglishmobile.com/features/turkish-army-continues-to-use-chemical-weapons-against-guerrillas-55339

This video documents smoke rising from a guerrilla tunnel position in the Werxele area of the Avaşîn region after an attack with chemical weapons: https://anfenglishmobile.com/kurdistan/footage-shows-use-of-chemical-gas-by-the-turkish-army-in-avasin-54684