By Lord Eric Avebury

The publication in “The European” of January 11-17 of photographs showing Turkish soldiers gloating over the bodies and severed heads of Kurdish victims, occasioned loud criticisms from some of the MEPs who voted, less than a month before, to admit Turkey to the European customs union.

Not only was there voluminous evidence of the atrocities which have been committed by the Turkish armed forces in the Kurdish region, over the eleven years of armed struggle, but on many occasions the Turks have escorted parties of journalists to place where they were invited to take pictures of dead bodies, alleged to be those of PKK guerrillas. The bodies are often mutilated, and decapitated is not particularly remarkable. The MEPs should be more concerned with what they do to living.

The war between the Turkish state and the Kurdish armed opposition has claimed the lives of an estimated 20,000 people over the last 11 years. Two and a half million people have been violently uprooted from their homes by the military, to live in the shanty-towns of Diyarbakir, the regional capital, and the poorer quarters of western Turkish cities. Many thousands of civilians have been permanently disabled in the indiscriminate bombardments of their towns and villages. There have been hundreds of unreported Pervomaiskoyes in Kurdistan: three thousand villages, and large areas of bigger towns have been erased from the map.

Just as many people in western Europe turned a blind eye to Hitler’s preparations for Holocaust in the thirties, the democratic world ignores the evidence of incipient genocide of the Kurds in Turkey today. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, and the Turkish Human Rights Organization have published many damning reports. The US State Department, though committed to friendship with Turkey for geopolitical reasons, cannot avoid being severely critical in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, published every year. The UN Rapporteur on Torture devotes more space to Turkey than any other country in the world. The Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions and the UN Working Groups on Disappearances and on Arbitrary Detentions all have long and detailed sections on Turkey in their annual reports.

For most of the time, however, the Turkish authorities manage to keep this material out of the western media. There are no foreign journalists based in the emergency region, and Ankara-based journalists who go there very infrequently jeopardize their right to stay in the country if they write too plainly about what they see. Foreign journalists may even run the risk of prosecution under the Anti-Terror Law, as happened to the Reuters correspondent Aliza Marcus.

Turkish journalists who try to cover the dirty war honestly take even higher risks. Some 15 have been murdered by “unidentified gunmen” or killed in custody. Many have been arrested and tortured, and dozens have been given long sentences of imprisonment for writing about Kurdish issues. The Turkish government made some cosmetic amendments to the Anti-Terror Law, under which many freedom of expression cases were brought, in order to deflect opposition to customs union in the European Parliament. But the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN say this has made little practical difference, and their list of active cases is as long as ever. It was good that “The European” did publish the evidence of Turkish barbarity, and it was useful that Ankara defended itself by pretending that the photographs had been faked. If there was any doubt, let the Turks invite the human rights NGOs, which are denied entry into Turkey, to come and investigate for themselves. Let them lift the ban on Amnesty International and the Parliamentary Human Rights Organization, and let them invite a delegation from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which is playing an important role in every other trouble spot in the region, from Bosnia to Latvia and from Chechnya to Tajikistan.

The United Nations, and the OSCE, have built up an array of treaties and declarations which are supposed to protect the rights of individuals and of minorities. The Geneva Conventions, which are even older, prohibit the killing of civilians in situations of internal armed conflict. The Turks repeatedly demonstrate their contempt for their obligations under these treaties, and for the lives and safety of their Kurdish citizens. Isn’t it time the world indicted the imitators of Mladic and Karadjic in Kurdistan?

January 22, 1996