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Protest in front of OPCW leaves one year behind

Xosnav Ata, who lost his nieces in the chemical attacks of the Turkish state in Kurdistan, has been carrying out a vigil in front of OPCW for 359 days to urge the organization to investigate Turkish chemical attacks against Kurdish guerrilla troops.

The fact that the Organisation for the Prohibition of the Use of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has no interest in reports on Turkish use of chemical weapons in Kurdistan has been known for some time. However, it is also no secret that this is a violation of its obligations. To bring this to public attention, Xosnav Ata launched a “Justice Vigil” in front of the OPCW headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands on August 5. Every day between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., the Kurdish activist from Germany appears in front of the building to remind those responsible of the reasons for the creation of the OPCW and to demand their action against Turkey’s use of toxic weapons in Kurdistan.

“The Turkish state killed my niece with chemicals. Why won’t you investigate?” is written on a purple cardboard sign held by Ata. It refers to the guerrilla fighter Binevş Agal (Gülperin Ata), who died at the end of May while resisting the Turkish invasion at Kuro Jahro in the Zap region of southern Kurdistan (northern Iraq). The People’s Defense Forces (HPG) had said about the circumstances of the death that the Turkish army had fired chemical warfare agents over several days against guerrilla positions where Binevş Agal was in action. Another of Ata’s nieces was martyred in Dersim last December.

For months, the HPG has been reporting daily documented chemical weapons attacks by the military of the Turkish state. In recent years, the Turkish state has been attacking guerrilla areas with chemical weapons and various unconventional bombs in an unprecedented manner.

According to the annual balance sheet of the war in the guerrilla-held Medya Defence Zones, published by the Central Headquarters of the People’s Defence Forces on April 23, the Turkish army carried out 3,730 attacks with chemical and other unconventional bombs on guerrilla areas in the past twelve months.

People’s Defense Center (HSM) Headquarters Commander Murat Karayılan drew attention to the prohibited weapons used by the Turkish army in his comments to ANF on 12 July and said: “For almost two and a half years, this area has been bombarded hundreds of thousands of times in an unprecedented way, and all kinds of chemicals have been tested. Thermobaric bombs were used. Phosphorus bombs were dropped and the last tactical nuclear bomb, which is in the inventory of NATO member countries and can only be used with NATO’s approval, was used against our forces in Zap, Avaşîn and Metina.”

But the OPCW, of which the Turkish state has been a member since 1997, prefers to remain silent. Despite all the reports by the HPG on the use of chemical weapons, calls by Kurdish institutions, research results by relevant organisations and individuals, as well as mass protests by the Kurdish diaspora community, the OPCW is not willing to become active regarding the accusations against Ankara. Even attempts by Kurdish delegations to hold talks with the organisation’s officials have been repeatedly refused. And even the receipt of a dossier with concrete documents and evidence of the use of chemical weapons was out of the question for the OPCW. Turkey can break the international law of war with impunity.

In a statement marking the 359th day of the vigil, Xoşnav Ata announced ending his action, but vowed to continue his struggle. The press briefing was attended by representatives of Kurdish institutions, including KCK (Kurdistan Communities Union) Executive Council Member  Zübeyir Aydar and the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) European representative, Abdulkarim Omar.

Abdulkarim Omar: We are faced with the same threat today

AANES European Representative Abdulkarim Omar said, “As the Kurdish people, we have been repeatedly subjected to attacks with chemical weapons, used by the Iraqi state in Halabja and by the Turkish state in southern Kurdistan (northern Iraq) and in Serêkaniyê in Rojava. We are faced with the same threat today. We call upon the international community, the UN, EU and human rights organisations to condemn these attacks and to take measures to make sure that they are not repeated.”

Zübeyir Aydar: Our struggle against injustice and chemical weapons will continue

Zübeyir Aydar in the name of the KNK noted that attacks with chemical weapons constitute a war crime and crime against humanity. “We are victims of these attacks. Chemical weapons have been used everywhere in Kurdistan. The Turkish state is employing chemical weapons against our fighters and guerrillas for all the world to see.”

Noting that chemical weapons were used in the Dersim genocide 86 years ago, Aydar said: “They continue such attacks at present. Everyone should see this truth. We are the victims of attacks with banned weapons. We want to have our voice heard by the entire world. OPCW was established to prevent the use of chemical weapons, which are, however, being used against us today. We will continue our actions. Just like Saddam was brought to justice, we will make sure that Erdoğan and his companies will also face the very same aftermath.  Those who have committed injustice will be brought to justice. Our struggle against injustice and chemical weapons will continue to the very end.”

The statement released by Xoşnav Ata includes the following:

“Today is the 359th day since I started my vigil in front of the OPCW. The OPCW is the international Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and based in The Hague. So it is an organization of importance for every European country, and those of the world. Since 5th August of last year, I’ve been standing there every weekday, to draw public attention to the use of illegal and banned chemical weapons by the Turkish army. For many years, pictures and videos have been published of chemically burned bodies and suffocating people testifying to the war crimes committed by the Turkish military.

My own nieces, two young Kurdish women, were murdered by those chemical weapons used by the Turkish military. Their dead bodies are part of the evidence.

There are mountains of credible evidence compelling the OPCW to hold an investigation, including hundreds of eyewitnesses and thousands of pieces of evidence. Moreover, the Nobel Prize holding NGO International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) itself has endorsed the idea of a full investigation based on their own reports and findings.

The OPCW, however, claims they can only investigate the use of chemical weapons at the request of a UN- member state. Essentially saying that over 40 million Kurds have no right to be protected against chemical weapons, since they do not have a state.

So what does that make you think?

I announce today, after a year, that I will herewith end my vigil. It’s not meant as an end to my efforts. I made that decision after I got to know the true face of the OPCW, and I realized that its silence not only violates the rights of the Kurdish people to be protected against chemical weapons, but also violates the values and achievements of European peoples. I hereby hand over the task to you.

Because the way that the OPCW handles and ignores the use of illegal chemical weapons by a state, heralds a dangerous reality where the values claimed to be protected by Europe and the United Nations are not applied. If Kurds can be gassed to death today, then this double standard of the OPCW will come biting citizens of the world as well. Look back at the events of the First and Second World Wars, with poisonous gasses drifting over the trenches and obliterating European cities.

If the OPCW had listened to the calls for an investigation, and done their duty, then my nieces and all other victims would have been alive. The silence of the OPCW, representatives of the European Union and United Nations, is a sign of declining democracy and a future of peace.

In the same way, it is up to you to realize the gravity of this silence and confront the representatives of your countries for your own interests. You can bring the case to the UN via the representatives of your state.

As for the Kurds, the silence of OPCW and the UN means that the very right of existence is denied to them. That the OPCW denies an investigation based on an excuse that burdens the United Nations as the culprit, shows that there is no other way to end the chemical terror other than public awareness.

Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds of Halabja as well in the 1980s, and in that case, justice took decades. Hopefully, the responsible institutions and parties that claim to represent democracy and western values, will not decide to be complicit in this crime against humanity that the Turkish state carries out against the Kurds in this 21st century, this time…”

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