International silence over Turkey’s use of banned chemical weapons against Kurds

October 20, 2022
Sydney protest for Kurds
An emergency rally in Sydney, on October 19, calling on the Australian government to protest the use of chemical weapons by the Turkish regime against Kurdish guerrillas. Photo: Peter Boyle

The People’s Defence Forces (HPG), the armed wing of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), released shocking video footage on October 18, showing the painful death of two young freedom fighters, Baz and Helbest, who were among 17 people recently killed in a chemical weapons attack by Turkey.

The Turkish armed forces blatantly continue to use the banned chemical weapons in their war on the Kurds in northern Iraq/southern Kurdistan.

The footage was from a chemical attack on the Werxelê resistance area in Avaşîn.

Zîlan Mêrdîn, a guerrilla medic who provided first aid to the freedom fighters, described the fighting in the tunnels of Werxelê as “very intense and permanent”.

“Almost every day, at the entrances to the tunnels, the enemy first explodes large bombs with high explosive power, immediately afterwards or at the same time they also use various poisonous gases and irritants. The explosions follow one another directly, so that it is not clear what is actually happening,” she told ANF News.

“Comrade Helbest first had memory loss, then uncontrolled behaviour and laughter, as if she had gone mad. Then she lost consciousness and died.

“She could not control her speech and behaviour. The poison gas she had inhaled had affected her nervous system and the normal physiological functions of her body were suppressed and disrupted.”

Mêrdîn added: “We know that the Turkish state has chemical weapons that cause such effects and that these chemical weapons are called 'nerve gas' and 'capacity-disrupting substances'. They use tabun, soman and sarin as chemical weapons. Although 'capacity-disrupting agents' are not absolutely lethal in open areas, they can be lethal when exposed intensively indoors. As the name of this chemical weapon suggests, it involves destroying people's nervous systems and willpower to incapacitate them.”

Mêrdîn noted similar effects occurred with the guerrilla Baz: “When the comrades reached him and took him out, he couldn't remember anything, he was unconscious. He behaved as if he had gone crazy ... The comrade had severe breathing problems. His respiratory system and central nervous system were badly affected. As can be seen in the footage, he was experiencing excessive sweating and tremors.”

Kurdish organisations have been reporting the Turkish military’s use of banned chemical and other unconventional weapons for many years, despite the fact that Turkey is a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Australian Kurdish journalist Renas Lelikan, who spent time in the mountains between Turkey and Iraq ten years ago reporting on the lives of Kurdish freedom fighters, told Green Left that chemical weapons have been used against the Kurdish liberation movement since 1999.

While he did not directly experience such an attack, chemical weapons were used against Kurdish guerrilla forces while he was in the mountains of Kurdistan.

Footage of Turkish military officers ordering and deploying chemical weapons in the mouths of caves used by guerrillas had been shown on Turkish television news reports.

“NATO would have given the green light for using chemical weapons against Kurds then just as they would have for the latest use of chemical weapons against Kurdish freedom fighters,” Lelikan said.

More recently, a Turkish military officer was live-streamed boasting that they had even deployed small tactical nuclear weapons against the Kurdish freedom fighters since 2021. The video was quickly deleted but Lelikan added that any small so-called “tactical nuclear weapons” could only come from a NATO stockpile and so could not be done without United States approval.

Kurdish organisations have called on the United Nations, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and other international bodies responsible for monitoring the use of unconventional weapons to investigate and act on these war crimes. The International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War has supported calls for an urgent investigation by an independent organisation.

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