Evidence shows Turkish use of chemical weapons against Kurdish fighters

Published 13 August 2010

German medical experts have confirmed the authenticity of photographs showing eight dead Kurdish PKK fighters — and that the photos prove that they were killed by “chemical substances”; Turkey has been suspected for a while now of using chemical weapons against Kurdish militants, and German politicians across the political spectrum, as well as human rights organizations, have called on Turkey to explain the findings; Turkey denies the charges, calling them “PKK propaganda”

German experts have confirmed the authenticity of photographs that purport to show Kurdish PKK fighters killed by chemical weapons. The evidence puts increasing pressure on the Turkish government, which has long been suspected of using such weapons against Kurdish rebels.

Der Spiegel’s Daniel Steinvorth and Yassin Musharbash write that it would be difficult to exaggerate the horror the photos show — burned, maimed, and scorched body parts. Turkish-Kurdish human rights activists believe the people in the photos are eight members of the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), who are thought to have been killed in September 2009.

Steinvorth and Musharbash write that in March, the activists gave the photos to a German human rights delegation comprising Turkey experts, journalists, and politicians from the German far-left Left Party, as Spiegel reported at the end of July. Hans Baumann, a German expert on photo forgeries, has confirmed the authenticity of the photos, and a forensics report released by the Hamburg University Hospital has backed the initial suspicion, saying that it is highly probable that the eight Kurds died “due to the use of chemical substances” (“durch den Einsatz chemischer Substanzen”).

German politicians are now pressing Turkey for an explanation. “The latest findings are so spectacular that the Turkish side urgently needs to explain things,” Claudia Roth, the co-chair of Germany’s Green Party, said. “It is impossible to understand why an autopsy of the PKK fighters was ordered but the results kept under seal.”

Ruprecht Polenz, a member of the German parliament with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union and the chairman of the Bundestag’s Foreign Relations Committee, agrees. “Turkey needs to urgently look into these accusations,” he told Spiegel

Gisela Penteker, a Turkey expert with the international medical organization International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, says Turkey has been suspected of using chemical weapons for years. “Local people have said that again and again,” she explained. She added that finding proof is difficult, however, because bodies were often released so late that it was hardly possible to carry out a thorough autopsy.

The Turkish army has refused to comment on the issue. Steinvorth and Yassin Musharbash note that, similarly, the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been persistently silent (schweigt beharrlich) or tried to portray the accusations of war crimes as “PKK propaganda.”

The Turkish Foreign Ministry has rejected the accusations, according to the Berlin daily newspaper Die Tageszeitung, which reported on the case yesterday (Thursday). The newspaper quotes the Turkish Foreign Ministry to say that Turkey is a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention, and its armed forces do not possess any biological or chemical weapons.

Die Tageszeitung reports, however, that it has obtained additional, disturbing pictures in the meantime, supposedly autopsy photographs of six other killed Kurds. These images, too, have now been submitted to the Hamburg-based experts.