Tag Archives: PKK

After Roboski Massacre of December 28, 2011, KAHRC Urges the US to Immediately Suspend Sales of US Arms to Turkey

Kurdish American Human Rights Campaign Media Statement
For Immediate Release
Date: January, 31, 2011
Contact: contact@kahrc.org

On the night of December 28, 2011, 34 Kurdish civilians were killed in a Turkish aerial bombardment near Roboski village of Uludere district in Sirnak province, southeastern Turkey/north Kurdistan. 17 of the victims were children, and most came from the same family. This massacre, a gruesome one even by the dark standards of Turkey’s dirty war against the Kurds, elicited widespread condemnation both within Turkey and internationally.

The Turkish government called the bombing ‘an administrative accident,’ but questions remain as to whether or not Ankara really tried to avoid civilian deaths. Citing leaked documents from the Turkish army and intelligence agencies, Turkish journalist Mehmet Baransu argues that the decision to bomb was made despite officials’ suspicion that those being targeted were smugglers, rather than PKK (Kurdish Worker’s Party) members.  This suspicion was apparently overridden based on an October 14, 2011 intelligence report that PKK members may try to infiltrate Turkey disguised as smugglers.[1]  When the dust cleared, it emerged that all of those killed were in fact impoverished villagers engaged in small-scale smuggling between Iraq and Turkey in order to eke out an existence in the deprived Kurdish countryside. They were bombed while returning into Turkey from northern Iraq.

Major Turkish human rights organizations immediately sent a delegation to investigate the bombing. Villagers and the only 3 survivors of the Roboski massacre told the delegation that soldiers in the area were always aware of the smuggling activities in the region, and that soldiers would always let them cross the border without incident.  Moreover, soldiers would often warn village leaders before a military operation began in order to ensure that smugglers would not be caught in the crossfire.  On the night of the Roboski massacre, however, soldiers apparently held up the smugglers near the border without explanation, and no warning about the impending bombing was given.  The human rights delegation thus characterized the Roboski tragedy as a “massacre” and “extrajudicial killing.”[2]

The official bar associations of 12 provinces in eastern and southeastern Turkey also sent a joint investigative delegation to Roboski.  Reaching the same broad conclusions as the human rights delegation, the bar associations wrote that “in light of [the information included in the report], there is strong evidence to suggest that this massacre was carried out in a ‘premeditated’ way.”[3]

All of these concerns raise serious questions about the Roboski bombing.  Did the Turkish army exhaust all means to ensure that those targeted in the bombing were not civilians?  Were all steps taken to avoid civilian casualties?  If not, why not? How can Washington reconcile its stated commitment to upholding human rights in the world while awarding Turkey with substantial arms and equipment?

The Roboski incident is only the tip of the iceberg: Unfortunately, the Roboski incident was only the latest in a series of similar tragedies. By the Turkish government’s own conservative estimates, 1,200 people have died since the resumption of fighting with the PKK in 2003, including 123 civilians.[4]  Moreover, according to an independent report by Human Rights Watch, joint Turkish-Iranian bombings of Iraqi Kurdistan “killed more than a dozen civilians and displaced thousands between mid-July and November 2011, including in areas that did not appear to have military targets.”  On August 20, 2011, seven members of the same extended family were murdered in a Turkish bombing of northern Iraq.[5] In response to international calls for an independent investigation into the incident, punishment of those responsible, and compensation for the victims’ families, the Turkish military claimed that not only were there no civilians targeted, but, the Turkish Foreign Ministry insisted that the dead civilians “were made up for PKK propaganda.”[6]

US weapons have been used to kill civilians: But the story of these bombings does not end in the Middle East; weapons that have killed civilians in the course of  Turkey’s military campaign against the PKK both inside Turkey and in northern Iraq are largely of US origin. Not surprisingly, there are strong indications that Washington may be connected to the Roboski atrocity as well. Since 2007, the U.S. has supplied Turkey with intelligence about Kurdish rebel movements based in northern Iraq from unmanned aerial drones that are controlled by U.S. personnel in Nevada;[7] according to a secret diplomatic cable revealed by Wikileaks, the U.S. uses diverse technology such as the MQ-1 Predator, RC-135 Rivet Joint, EP-3 aircraft, RQ-4 Global Hawk, and U-2 imagery for this purpose.[8]

A December 29, 2011 press statement from the Turkish Presidency of General Staff noted that the Roboski bombing was carried out based on footage supplied by an ‘unmanned aerial vehicle’ (drone) without stating the type or origin of the drone.[9]  Meanwhile, the Turkish media has reported that U.S.-controlled drones are being used to gather information inside Turkish territory as part of Turkish-US cooperation against the PKK. However, these drones do not provide real-time data for Turkish authorities. Rather, data from the drones’ flights are sent to the US before reaching Turkish officials.[10] Drones take detailed images of objects, and thus military officers should have clearly detected the fact that those who were attacked in the Roboski incidence were unarmed. Furthermore, the Turkish human rights delegation which took the fact-finding mission have observed that many corps were burned and charred, which suggested that the bomb may have contained chemical substances. These factors raise serious questions: Why did the Turkish military officials still executed the air strikes targeting the unarmed people with such high explosive bombs and artillery with burning capacity? Even assuming that the Turkish authority ‘mistakenly’ identified the targets as members of the PKK, can such extrajudicial execution be legally and ethically justifiable?

Moreover, the Turkish officials have claimed that the Roboski incident happened in the Sinat-Haftanin area where the Turkish intelligence believe that some of the PKK members operate. Nevertheless, the human rights delegation has found that the air strikes occurred rather far from the Sinat-Hafanin area and at the relatively flat, zero point of the Iraq-Turkish border with observation towers which gave a clear sight of the area where the incident occurred. After the aerial bombardment, local law enforcement officials did not allow health personal or ambulances to go to the site to assist the victims. As a result, some of the victims may have died due to massive blood loss and hypothermia. Corpses were even taken to autopsy by the victims’ families while no military or government officials attempted to help the victims even though, as villagers told the delegation, they were clearly observing the situation from their military helicopters. Despite all these discrepancies and contradictions in statements and acts of the Turkish government officials, they still insist, without any transparent and independent investigation, that there was no deliberative attack, and it was merely an operation accident resulted from ‘lack of intelligence.’

US sponsorship of Turkish human rights violations is not new: According to investigative journalist Kevin McKiernan, 75% ($15 billion worth) of the weapons Turkey used to crush the Kurdish uprising in the 1980s and 1990s were supplied by the US, including F-16s, Black Hawk helicopters, Abrams tanks, and Bradley Fighting Vehicles. These weapons were manufactured by US corporations, such as McDonnell Douglas, General Dynamics, Hughes, Boeing, Raytheon, and Bell Textron.

Turkey has an estimated 2,800 armed personnel carriers (APCs) manufactured by the Food Machinery Corporation. The APCs were intended to be used by Turkey’s police units for its “anti-terror” campaign. However, both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have reported that the “anti-terror” units have tortured children, sexually assaulted prisoners, used electric shock torture, and carried out beatings.  “Infants, children, and the elderly” were included among 280 victims of the “anti-terror” units.[11] Despite the evidence, the US State Department continued the burgeoning arms relationship with the Turkish government, allowing further exports of APCs to Turkey.

There was also U.S. backed military assistance to Turkey. A law was passed by congress in 1991 which authorized the Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) program. Under this program, a US special operations team had been sent to train the Turkish Mountain Commandos whose “chief function is to fight Kurdish guerrillas.”[12] However, the very same unit had been responsible for atrocities against Kurdish civilians and the razing of Kurdish villages.[13]

Furthermore, Turkey has benefited from the International Military Education and Training Program funded through the US foreign aid budget. According to Bill Hartung of the World Policy Institute, since the PKK’s armed struggle began in 1984 to 1997, about 2,500 Turkish officers received training on how to use US weapons. Hartung estimates that US taxpayers have paid “tens of millions of dollars” to train Turkish forces which indiscriminately attacked the Kurds.

During the G.W. Bush presidency, the US transferred over $5.1 billion worth of weaponry to Turkey, while supplying well over $1.4 billion in security assistance funding as the table below indicates. Turkey’s armed forces then had US-supplied equipment, including over 200 F-16 combat aircraft, more than 3,500 M-48 and M-60 tanks, 2,800 M-113 armored personnel carriers, and three dozen Cobra attack helicopters.[14] In two-year period between 2006-2007, the dollar value of the US weapons transfers and weapons orders for Turkey was $3.0 billion, which ranked Turkey as the second largest recipient after Pakistan with $3.7 billion,[15] while both domestic and international human rights organizations continued to alarm Turkey’s serious human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings and torture. Moreover, although Bush administration officials have periodically criticized Turkey for its military activities inside Iraq, it has never threatened to cut off military aid or arms sales to stop these attacks.

Major U.S. Security Assistance Programs to Turkey FY 2002 through FY 2012 (dollars in thousands)

Programs FY 2002-06 FY 2007 FY 2008 FY 2009 FY 2010 a FY 2011 b FY 2012 c
Economic Support Fund

$1,210,000

$7,500

Foreign Military Financing

$148,928

$14,232

$6,817

$1,000

International Military Education and Training (IMET)

 $17,283

 $3,500

 $2,879

 $3,208

 $4,992

 $4,000

 $4,000

International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE)

 —

 —

 $298

 $300

 —

 $500

 $500

Nonproliferation, Antiterrorism Demining and Related Programs (NADR)

 $5,348

 $2,059

 $2,443

 $3,410

 $3,195

 $1,425

 $1,100

Total

$1,381,559

$19,791

$12,159

$15,418

$8,187

$5,925

$5,600

TOTAL during G.W. Bush Presidency (FY 2002 – 09)

 $1,428,927

Source: US Department of State, Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations, Summary Tables of FY 2002 through FY 2012 editions.
a. FY 2010 figures are enduring actual.
b. FY 2011 figures are requested.
c. FY 2012 figures are enduring requested.

Neither the Obama administration is willing to halt arms sales to Turkey despite gross human rights violations committed by the Turkish authorities with US weapons, although the overall US security assistance funding to Turkey has decreased. Just eleven days after the Roboski incidence, Turkey defense officials announced to purchase two F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin and its plan to purchase 15 helicopters from Bell Helicopter. This is the initial purchase which is part of Turkey’s plan to eventually buy 100 F-35 planes.[16]

KAHRC calls on the US to Immediately Suspend Arms Sales to Turkey: The record is clear: Turkey has  long been using US-supplied military hardware to commit grave human rights violations against the Kurds in the name of ‘fight against terrorism’ while none of those responsible have been brought to justice. For this reason, we call on the US to immediately cease arms transfers to Turkey and use its influence to bring about a political solution to the Turkish-Kurdish conflict. Turkey must end its military operations and accept the Kurdish political movement’s long-standing proposal for a negotiated solution to the conflict within Turkey’s existing borders.

Resources

[2] Turkish NGO’s Insan Haklari Dernegi (Human Rights Association) and Mazlum-Der published a report about the Roboski massacre. See Roboski Katliamı Raporu, dated January 03, 2012, available in Turkish at http://www.tihv.org.tr/index.php?oba_20120103; English translation was published on January 10, 2012 at http://www.ihd.org.tr/english/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=727:report20120103eng&catid=14:joint-press-releases&Itemid=30

[3] See Şırnak İli Uludere (Qıleban) ilçesi Gülyazı (Bujeh) Ortasu (Roboski) Katliamı İnceleme ve Araştırma Raporu, dated January 05, 2012, available at http://www.diyarbakirbarosu.org.tr/i/basin_a%C3%A7iklamasi.

[4] U.S. Arms Recipients 2006/2007, Euracia. New America Foundation. See  http://newamerica.net/publications/policy/u_s_arms_recipients_2006_07_eurasia

[5] Human Rights Watch, “Iraqi Kurdistan: Cross-Border Attacks Should Spare Iraqi Civilians” (September 2, 2011) http://www.hrw.org/news/2011/09/02/iraqi-kurdistan-cross-border-attacks-should-spare-iraqi-civilians; and “Iran/Turkey: Recent Attacks on Civilians in Iraqi Kurdistan” (December 2011) http://www.hrw.org/news/2011/12/20/iranturkey-recent-attacks-civilians-iraqi-kurdistan;  See also: Amnesty International, “Turkey/Iraq Investigation Needed Into Killing of Civilians in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq”(August 26, 2011)

[6] Hurriyet Daily News (August 26, 2011) http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/default.aspx?pageid=438&n=turkishiraqitiesstrainedoverclaimsofciviliandeaths-2011-08-26

[11] McKiernan, Kevin. “Turkey’s war,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March/April 1999. http://www.kevinmckiernan.com/article_turkey.html

[12] Ibid; Also see Johnson, Chalmers (2000) Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, p. 72-74. Holt Paperbacks.

[13] Carpenter, Ted Galen. (1999) ‘U.S. Policy toward Turkey: A Study in Double Standards’, The HR-Net Forum, January 1999 http://www.hri.org/forum/intpol/carpenter.html. Carpenter cites the following as his source: Dana Priest, ‘Free of Oversight, U.S. Military Trains Foreign Troops’, Washington Post, July 12, 1998, p. A1. See also: Human Rights Watch Arms Project (1995) Weapons Transfers and Violations of the Laws of War in Turkey. New York, Human Rights Watch. http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/publisher,HRW,,TUR,3ae6a7ea4,0.html

[14] “U.S. Arms Recipients 2006/2007, Euracia.” New America Foundation. See  http://newamerica.net/publications/policy/u_s_arms_recipients_2006_07_eurasia

[15] “U.S. Weapon at War 2008: Beyond Bush Legacy” by William Hartung and Frida Berrigan, New America Foundation. See http://newamerica.net/publications/policy/u_s_weapons_war_2008_0

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