Turkey is directly borrowing from the Israeli government’s playbook. The Turkish Foreign Ministry claimed that the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) is using civilians as “human shields.” The allegation is quoted in reports by AP and AFP.
The leftist, secular, feminist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is affiliated with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ). The groups have fought ISIS for months, freeing the city Kobanî from ISIS control and subsequently liberating parts of northern Syria and Iraq.
For decades, the PKK has led a militant resistance movement against violent Turkish state oppression of the Kurdish minority. In recent months, the PKK and YPG-YPJ have established themselves as the greatest threat to ISIS. The Kurdish rebel groups—in which women fight side-by-side with men, as equals—are, by far, the most progressive force in the region.
The Erdoğan government claims the PKK is using the town Zargel as a base for logistical and coordination purposes. Like the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), Turkey uses this as an excuse to justify bombing the village. Also like the Israeli military, the Turkish military claims it is exerting great effort to prevent civilian casualties in the airstrikes.
An Iraqi PKK member, however, explained that Turkish airstrikes destroyed at least six homes in the town on 1 August, killing at least eight civilians and wounding 12 more.
Massoud Barzani, the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, does not buy Turkey’s claims. He excoriated Turkey’s attack on the village, saying it has led to the deaths of innocent civilians.
“We condemn this bombardment that led to the martyrdom of people from the Kurdistan region and call on Turkey not to bombard civilians again,” Barzani said.
Under pressure from NATO, of which Turkey is a member, the Erdoğan government reluctantly agreed to bomb ISIS, yet only on the condition that it could also bomb Kurdish resistance fighters.
On 25 July, Turkey began its offensive. In the first week, Turkey bombed the Kurds eight times, reportedly killing 260 and wounding 400 PKK members.
The number of ISIS militants killed in the bombing campaign is not yet clear, yet it is nowhere even remotely close to 260.
Turkish Support for ISIS
This political congruence has led some to argue that Turkey is, in effect, whether wittingly or not, acting as ISIS’ unofficial air force, bombing the Kurds that have been recapturing territory from the extremist self-proclaimed “caliphate.”
As I noted in a previous article, substantial evidence suggests Turkey has supported ISIS for some time.
In the 36 hours from 24-25 July when Turkey announced its bombing campaign, the government reportedly detained 3,600% more Kurdish fighters who fight ISIS than suspected ISIS members.
David L. Phillips, Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights, published a detailed research paper reviewing the evidence that Turkey has
- given military equipment to ISIS;
- provided transport and logistical assistance to ISIS fighters;
- helped train ISIS fighters;
- offered medical care to ISIS fighters;
- supported ISIS financially through purchase of oil;
- assisted ISIS recruitment;
- sent forces to fight alongside ISIS; and
- helped ISIS attack the leftist, democratic, feminist, secular Kurdish resistance in Kobanî.
For years, in fact, the US government has helped Turkey target, repress, and kill Kurdish rebels.
AP’s report very much reads like it could have come out of the pro-Israel Jerusalem Post; one would only need to exchange the words “Turkey” and “PKK” for “Israel” and “Hamas.”
The IDF often claims that the Palestinian militant group Hamas uses civilians in Gaza as “human shields.” Israel has imposed an illegal siege on the tiny Gaza strip for over eight years, which it military occupied for decades before.
In reality, it is in fact Israel that has consistently employed human shields.
A 2013 UN report found that Israel systematically used Palestinians as human shields.
The Israeli High Court found that, over five years, the Israeli military used over 1,200 human shields. (The High Court ruled this to be illegal, yet the Israeli Defense Minister protested, defending the illegal practice on the grounds that Palestinians are rarely killed when used as human shields).
Numerous other investigations have found that the IDF regularly employs human shields.
According to monitoring groups, civilians have been wounded and killed in Turkey’s attacks on the Kurds. Like Israel, Turkey appears to be in fact projecting its own crimes onto those whom it bombs.