Forced evictions of Kurds: A Crime against Humanity and War Crime

01 February 2011

Noory Fakhry writes about forced eviction of Kurds by Turkey

*Student at Lund University in International Human Rights Law

In northern Kurdistan, part of Turkey similar to all other parts of Kurdistan, (Iran and Syria) the fundamental rights of Kurds has been violated by Turkish government. Massive forced evictions of Kurds have been one of the most fundamental human rights violations by Turkey.

The Turkish government has actively committed forced evictions of Kurds with some justifications. Turkish troops demonized thousands of villages and a large number of towns. More than 350,000 people have been evacuated from 3,500 villages. The main destructions of Kurdish villages in this base were in southeast of Turkey during the 1984-2000. But still the government of Turkey is continuing to destructions of villages and forced evictions of Kurds by its military forces via bombardment of Kurdish area that has resulted in widespread displacement, loss of life, and environmental destructions.

One of the justifications for displacements, forced evictions of the Kurds was that the Kurdish villages provided a logistic support for the PKK. Also the “the objection of this doctrine was the destruction of PKK environment, both by contradiction (resettlement of the population) and penetration (deployment of Special Forces, applying the principle of war movement and penetrating the space of PKK…). At the tactical level the resettlement and drafting policies both denied the guerrilla food, shelter… and at strategic level a new settlement forced guerrilla to choose between retreat or engagement in a confrontation with the state in urban entities (a tough environment for guerrilla but favorable to the state)”. But behind all these reasons, one of the most important reasons for forced evictions of Kurds that was pursued from Ottoman Empire has been assimilation of Kurds in Turkish society.

It is worth notice that all the military attacks, destroying Kurdish villages and international incursion has been done by the help of U.S. In fact ‘’as an ally of the U.S. through NATO, Turkey receives U.S. weapons, from dozens of companies, including Hughes, Boeing, Raytheon, and General Dynamics. Despite a horrifying report of violent abuse by Amnesty International, the State Department passed arms deals with Turkey. The war in Turkey represents the greatest use of U.S. weapons in combat anywhere in the world today.

According to Human Rights Watch report: “during [the displacements] Turkish forces order villagers to leave their homes and then burn down their villages. In all of the cases investigated, the Turkish government made no attempt to care for the displaced civilians, again in violation of international law; the villagers were simply ordered out of their homes, told to leave their possessions behind, and then watched as their homes were burned. Following the destruction, the villagers were told to walk to the nearest town and to never return”. Hundreds of Kurds have been killed or injured at the same time.

Another reason of forced evictions of Kurdish villages and several towns by the Turkish government is building Dams in southeastern Turkey with the name of Antolian Development Project without regarding all the international criteria. Serious concerns have been raised over the dam's environmental, human rights and cultural heritage impacts. For example, “eighteen towns and villages, including the town of Yusufeli, would be completely or partially submerged just by the Yusufili dam, displacing 15,000 people from their homes and indirectly affecting up to a further 15,000 people. No resettlement plan has yet been made public and consultation has been minimal. Much cultural heritage would also be affected.” In short, the project is likely to exacerbate Turkey’s already severe internal displacement problems, putting tremendous pressure on nearby cities. The destruction of homes and farms will likewise see the loss of the area’s rich historic and archaeological legacy, including the ancient town of Hasankeyf, and with this the culture and history of the region.

None of the above justifications are legal and in accordance to the international law. Weather the villagers have supported PKK or not? Forced evictions in this base have been inconsistent with the International law because displacements and forced evictions must not be done as a punitive measure.

But also some authors claim that some displacement of people in the villages done by the PKK because they did not support the “liberation project”. But it couldn’t be true; the nature of their policy is defending Kurds, protecting them against the brutality of Turkish government and informing them of their rights, not to intimidate them or forcing them to leave their villages. We can see this fact in one of the Human Rights Watch reports: “In a number of the cases investigated, witnesses told Human Rights Watch that they had been ordered to falsify the actual circumstances of civilian deaths to obscure governmental responsibility. In some cases, civilians were killed by security forces, but the victims were portrayed by the government as slain PKK fighters. In other cases, witnesses or relatives were ordered to inform others that the "PKK had burned the village down" when government forces were in fact responsible, or were ordered to say that "the PKK was responsible" for specific deaths caused by government troops”.

Forced evictions of Kurds during war between PKK and Turkish military are contrary with the Geneva Convention rules. Because according to the circumstances and INGO reports, Kurds in those villages have not been in the direct danger of war and it has not been necessary for imperative military reasons to leave their villages. On the other hand, According to the many evidences the Kurds were attacked deliberately by the military forces while they killed, tortured and intimidated Kurds to leave their villages and finally they burned their houses, without any protection and remedies.

According to Geneva Convention the damages should be proportionate and combatants should not target the non-military objects but Turkish military deliberately targeted villages and its inhabitants. In addition, if in any time of the war they need to leave their villages or towns the people should be allowed to come back to their home as soon as possible. ‘’Vague, blanket justifications for large-scale displacements carried out over a long period of time are not acceptable. Mass displacement of civilians for the purpose of denying a willing social base to the opposing force is unequivocally prohibited’’ The destroying of villages of the Kurds mainly was with the military equipment of NATO and US.

Article 7(1) (b) of the Rome Statute of the international Criminal Court provides that the Systematic or widespread ‘deportation or forcible transfer of population’ is a crime against humanity, which is defined as ‘forced displacement of the persons concerned by expulsion or other coercive acts from the area in which they are lawfully present, without grounds permitted under international law’. Violations of the prohibitions of displacement under international humanitarian law are prosecuted as war crimes. Then turkey has committed war crime and crimes against humanity and its authorities should be prosecuted for committing these crimes. On the other hand according to the Geneva Conventions, the NATO, U.S and EU authorities also have responsibility for military and intelligence supplying of Turkey.

But, unfortunately, not only these issues do not provoke any expression of horror by the international community but also they cooperate with Turkey in gross violations of rights of Kurds and they restrict movements of Kurds for their legitimate right to self-determination and self-defense.