PRESS RELEASE: EMBARGO IMMEDIATE

British delegation to Iraqi Kurdistan calls for Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to be charged with war crimes and for immediate investigations into the alleged use of chemical weapons.

A delegation of trade unionists, journalists and politicians that has recently returned from Iraqi Kurdistan is calling for Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to be charged with war crimes and for immediate investigations into the alleged use of chemical weapons.

As the world marks the 34th anniversary of the Halabja chemical weapons attack in which 5,000 Kurds were killed by Saddam Hussein’s forces, they urge the international community to learn the lessons of history and to put an end to Turkey’s 11-month war and military occupation.

The group met with Kurdish human rights organisations, journalists, media organisations, community leaders, politicians from across the spectrum, lawyers, the families of detained political prisoners and those recently released, Anfal survivors, NGOs and Kurdish families affected by the Turkish invasion and occupation. 

Turkey has bombed the UN-administered Makhmour Refugee Camp, a hospital in Shengal in which four health workers were killed and has continued the shelling of civilian areas forcing nearly 2,000 to flee from their homes. 

Most disturbingly it has been accused of using chemical weapons during its bombardment of Iraqi sovereign territory.

The delegation is clear that these are war crimes and must be condemned as such. 

The continued silence of international organisations is no longer tenable and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons must send a fact-finding team to Kurdistan as a matter of urgency to investigate allegations of chemical attacks.

Speaking on behalf of the delegation Steve Sweeney said that the inaction in the face of overwhelming evidence of the use of banned munitions means that western powers including Britain are complicit.

“More than thirty years ago Britain, the US and western companies sold weapons to the Ba’athist regime and even supplied the chemical weapons that were used to gas the Kurds.

“Now the pattern is being repeated as they continue to arm the modern day Saddam Hussein, Turkey’s Reecep Tayyip Erdogan as he continues the attempted genocide of the Kurdish people.

“In 1988 the world ignored the warnings and 5,000 Kurdish men, women and children died in Halabja. We must not allow this to happen again. 

“Britain, Germany, the US and the EU must halt all arms sales to Turkey immediately and stop the normalisation of relations with the brutal regime in Ankara.

“Erdogan must be brought to The Hague and tried as a war criminal. This would represent a step toward justice for the Kurdish people,” he said.

STATEMENT OF BRITISH DELEGATION TO IRAQI KURDISTAN

Turkey, Nato’s second-largest army, has been carrying out an illegal war and occupation in Iraqi Kurdistan for almost one year to global silence in the mainstream media and the political sphere.

Launched on April 23, 2021 – the anniversary of the Armenian genocide – it’s invasion has seen nearly 2,000 Kurdish villagers driven from their homes with airstrikes and artillery fire a daily reality for those living in the mountainous border region.

Turkey’s claims to be “fighting terrorism” by only targeting the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) are a lie. The majority of the victims of Turkish aggression are civilians; farm workers, teachers, health workers, women and children.

Travelling throughout the Kurdistan region of Iraq we met with Kurdish human rights organisations, journalists, media organisations, community leaders, politicians from across the spectrum, lawyers, the families of detained political prisoners and those recently released, Anfal survivors, NGOs and Kurdish families affected by the Turkish invasion and occupation. 

We repeatedly heard of systematic corruption, collusion and oppression with a broken political system dominated by two families that own and control every aspect of life in Iraqi Kurdistan from the media to the allocation of jobs and salaries.

Those that are brave enough to speak out – such as the 81 Badinan activists whose family members we met and  court hearing we attended – are routinely detained and tortured before being jailed on spurious charges in trials which breach both Kurdish and international law. 

We heard disturbing first-hand accounts of the systematic ill-treatment of political prisoners and attended a trial conducted in a manner very unfavourable to the defendants. Journalists and media outlets critical of the government are harassed, threatened and even shut down.

We heard how Turkey has carried out hundreds of alleged chemical attacks targeting civilians and guerrilla fighters, many of whom are warned against speaking out. Medics have been threatened and forced to change their expert reports, allegedly by forces from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), in order to cover-up the crimes of their Turkish allies.

The testimony of scores of villagers, medics, peshmerga forces, human rights organisations and local officials, along with eyewitness accounts lead us to believe that there is a high probability that Turkey has used chemical weapons on civilians. While we are not experts in banned munitions, it is no longer tenable for international organisations to ignore such credible accusations.

Turkey has bombed the Makhmour Refugee Camp – also allegedly using chemical weapons, a hospital in Sinjar in which four health workers were killed and repeatedly targets civilian populations. Its attack on the holiday resort of Kuna Masi just 30 minutes outside Slemani caused Peyman Talib Tahir to lose her leg while her son has shrapnel lodged in his head that cannot be removed. 

We are unequivocal in our condemnation of these actions which clearly amount to war crimes.

We are disappointed but not surprised by the response of the two main political parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the KDP who we met in the regional parliament.

The PUK claims to oppose Turkey’s war are contradicted by its actions, which include the detention of more than 50 anti-war activists in Slemani and the oppression of demonstrations calling for peace. Its response – that demonstrations should be held in Erbil – are no excuse for firing teargas and live bullets at protesters.

The KDP responded to our questions by denying there was a military occupation or that any of the well-documented attacks had taken place. Clearly this is an absurd position given that the Turkish armed forces have admitted the attacks and its defence minister Hulusi Akar came to the region and announced an expansion of military bases last summer.

But we are also disappointed by the failure of the British Consulate in Erbil to speak out about Turkish war crimes and its failure to respond to requests to meet with the delegation during our visit to the region. 

Given Britain’s position as a fellow Nato member state and one of the biggest suppliers of weapons to Turkey – including the parts that fuel its deadly drone war –  it is incumbent on the diplomatic team in Erbil to send a strong and clear message and call on Westminster to halt arms sales immediately. Failing to do so makes Britain complicit. 

Saddam Hussein’s Anfal campaign in the 1980s led to the deaths of 183,000 men, women and children simply for being Kurdish, many of whom were buried alive in mass graves. It is right that this is recognised as a genocide. But the lessons of history have not been learned.

Just as Britain, the US, Germany and other western countries sold arms and gave political support to the Ba’athists then, today they are doing the same with the modern-day Saddam Hussein, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Anfal ended with chemical attacks in Badinan and history is repeating itself todayas the same area is being subjected to chemical attacks once again. The world looked away in 1988 and 5,000 men, women and children were gassed in Halabja. We must not allow it to happen again.

We call for:

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to send a fact-finding team to Kurdistan as a matter of urgency to investigate allegations of chemical attacks.

Nato and the United Nations to take immediate action against Turkey and stop its illegal war and attempted genocide of the Kurdish people.

The British government: to stop all arms sales immediately and review its relationship with Turkey, to halt all cooperation with the Kurdistan Regional Government and to pursue a case for war crimes charges to be brought against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The immediate release of journalist Sherwan Sherwani along with the rest of the Badinan activists and all political prisoners held in Iraqi Kurdistan. 

Full disclosure and details of the 50-year oil deal struck between the Kurdistan Regional Government and Turkey along with all similar agreements.

Solidarity with the Kurdish people and their legitimate right to resist across the labour and progressive movement, including calls to delist the PKK as a terrorist organisation. 

Recognition of the Anfal as a genocide by the United Nations and justice for the victims and survivors, with the perpetrators to be held to account.

Scientific support and expert resources for the documentation of past and current chemical weapons including the identification of Anfal victims.

Signed by:

Steve Sweeney, Morning Star International Editor, Defend Kurdistan Initiative UK and spokesman for the Coalition Against Chemical Weapons in Kurdistan

Andi Kocsondi, National Association of Probation Officers and General Federation of Trade Unions Executive Committee

John Hunt, journalist and writer

Julie Ward, former Labour Member of the European Parliament and patron of Peace in Kurdistan

John McGowan, general secretary of the Social Workers Union and General Federation of Trade Unions Executive Committee

Bert Schouwenburg, Trade Union Advisor and former GMB International Officer

Mylene Sauloy, journalist and filmmaker

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