International arms companies make a killing in Turkey: a case study of the Roboski Massacre

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Lead Photo: Servet Encü in the village where he was born, burnt down by the Turkish military in the 1990s

Today, Turkey continues its brutality in its war against its Kurdish population. The state is imposing new curfews daily in the south-east of the country. Hundreds of citizens have been killed so far, whilst the western mainstream media and politicians remain largely silent about the massacres.

Anti-militarist activists in the UK, however, are taking action against atrocities carried out by states such as Turkey. Last week, activists occupied the roof and blockaded the DPRTE arms fair in Wales, where several companies that sell weapons to Turkey were exhibiting.  More activists are due to stand on trial in April after blockading the gates of the DSEI arms fair in London to try to disrupt the set-up of the fair. In September 2015, DSEI welcomed Turkish officials and military companies, whilst the Turkish government's Defence and Aerospace Industry Exporter's Association was its 'International Partner'. Earlier this month, a protest was held outside the Home Office against the 'Security and Policing' arms fair, which was being held at an air base in Farnborough. The UK government's arms export body had invited a delegation from Turkey to attend.



Photo above: Protesters blockading the gates of the DSEI arms fair in 2015

Photo caption: Protesters against the DPTRE arms fair in Cardiff on March 16th hold a Kurdish Solidarity Banner

There are numerous weapons companies which supply Turkey's police with armoured vehicles, guns, teargas and water cannons, which are used on a daily basis against Kurdish citizens. Read the list of companies here. A list of some of the companies supplying weapons to the Turkish army can be found here.

As Turkey bombards its Kurdish cities with bullets and mortars and terrorises citizens with its tanks, helicopters and surveillance drones, arms companies are literally making a killing. On March 9, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu announced that Turkey has approved $5.9 billion in new 'defence' projects.

Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) unveiled its new Anka Block A unpiloted drone in February. Turkish Deputy Defense Minister Suay Alpay stated: “We are now engaged in a critical anti-terror fight … These assets built by the local industry will augment our fight.”

International arms companies are also making millions from Turkey's desire to arm itself to the teeth. Ten T-129 attack helicopters were delivered to the Turkish military last year. They were produced by British-Italian arms company AgustaWestland (which fully merged with Italian arms giant Finmeccanica this year) and TAI. Seventeen more of these helicopters are due to be delivered this year.

Meanwhile, this month the Pentagon authorised the selling of smart bombs to Turkey, in a deal worth millions of dollars. "The deal came timely as we are deeply engaged in asymmetrical warfare and need smart bombs," a Turkish military official said. US companies ENF and General Dynamics have been awarded the contracts to provide the BLU-109 bombs.

US giant Lockheed Martin, the world's largest arms company, who brag on their website that they have a “long history of partnership with the Republic of Turkey,” is another of the many international arms companies that has a history of profiting from Turkey's aggression against Kurdish populations within Turkey and in neighbouring Iraqi Kurdistan and Rojava (the autonomous, majority Kurdish region in northern Syria). Lockheed provides Turkey with F16 fighter jets, as well as Hellfire missiles, and is producing new F-35 fighter jets for the Turkish military. Lockheed states that their $399 billion F-35 project is the “world's most expensive weapons programme.” Turkish arms companies, who are manufacturing components for the F-35, are also making billions from the contract.

In September 2015, Lockheed announced that it was producing and supplying Turkey with a“next-generation, air-to-surface standoff cruise missile for the F-35 fighter jet,” partnering with Turkish arms company Roketsan. The companies stated that they would provide “live flight testing on Turkish F-16s.”

Meanwhile, Turkish warplanes are continuing their ongoing attacks on Kurdish villages in the Qandil region of Iraqi Kurdistan, where the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) has its main bases. Arms industry website Janes stated that on March 14 “nine Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcons and two McDonald Douglas F-4 2020 Phantom aircraft were involved in the strikes against the PKK's main headquarters area in the Qandil Mountains.” In reality, the fighter jets, accompanied by drones, destroyed Kurdish villagers' houses during the bombardments.

Turkey also continues its provocations and attacks across its border into the majority-Kurdish, autonomous region of Rojava, in northern Syria. Turkey has repeatedly shelled and bombed YPG positions in Rojava. The Turkish goverment has made several threats to launch a ground invasion of Rojava.

Lockheed Martin and the Turkish government's cozy relationship continues, and on the March 15, the two were in talks, discussing the possibility of the arms company providing Turkey with an “urgent” Medium Extended Air Defence System (MEADS).

This month in London, activist Zelda Jeffers was found guilty of criminal damage for demonstrating at Lockheed Martin's offices. Zelda drew attention to the words of Lockheed Martin's Executive Vice President, Bruce Tanner, who had boasted about Lockheed's “indirect benefits” from the violence in Syria.  

You can listen to Tanner on Soundcloud here.

The Roboski Massacre: A case study of the use of Lockheed Martin's F16s  to massacre Kurds in Turkey

On one of our recent visits to Bakur (the Kurdish region that lies within Turkey's borders), we visited Roboski and its surrounding villages. On 28 December 2011, thirty-four people, many of whom were teenagers, were massacred in this region by Turkey's military. The villagers were crossing the mountains on mules to collect sugar and diesel from their relatives in South [Iraqi] Kurdistan. They were killed when two F16 fighter planes bombed them. For Kurds, the Roboski massacre will go down in history as one of the most atrocious crimes by the state against its Kurdish population.

When we visited the Roboski area in 2015, we were shocked by the number of Turkish military bases on the mountains, keeping an ever-present surveillance on the Kurdish civilians. On the roads surrounding the villages, we encountered military checkpoint after checkpoint and were questioned as to why we were there and where we were going.



Photos above: Military bases on the mountaintops overlooking the village of Roboski and the surrounding countryside

We interviewed Servet Encü, a Kurdish man who was born in 1979 and lives in the village of  Şantiye. Servet was one of the few survivors of the Roboski massacre. In 1993, when he was thirteen years old, Turkey's military burnt down his village and its residents were tortured (in the 1990s, Turkey burnt down or forcibly evacuated thousands of Kurdish villages).

Interview with Servet Encü

Corporate Watch: What was life like here before the massacre?

In the 1960s and 1970s we didn’t have a border. It was easy to go to the Iraqi side and exchange sugar, tea and walnuts. In the 1990s, we couldn’t make a living any more because we were forced to leave our village and there were no trees or crops, so we started to do cross-border trade.
 
The military put landmines on the border in the 1990s to try to stop the trade. Between 2006 and 2009, one military officer allowed us to do border trade because we had no money. He retired and after that the highest officer stopped us.

CW: What happened on the day of the Roboski massacre?

It was cold and there was snow that day. The boys played football before they went. We wanted to bring diesel, a few cigarettes and some sugar over the border from South Kurdistan. We wanted to keep the sugar for ourselves and sell the diesel.

People left from Gülyazı, Şantiye and Roboski villages. We left our village at 3pm. The military were dropping bombs from the Gülyazı Koyü military base to scare us off. But bombing happened all the time at that time - it was normal. Thirty-eight of us continued towards the border and thirty-five others turned back.

150 people could have died that day [as 150 people had planned to go]. Some people had heard the sound of drones that afternoon and decided not to go, and I think some people were warned not to go by some responsible people in their villages, but we didn’t hear anything. Others didn't go because they hadn’t sold their diesel from last time and didn’t have enough containers.
 
At around 6pm we went to the Haftanin guerilla camp in South Kurdistan, close to Zahko. We have relatives from South Kurdistan who bring sugar and diesel to the guerilla camp. At 8pm we started to return. We were in two groups. The other group was 500m away from mines, on the South Kurdistan side. At the number 15 border stone, we waited for a phone call because we wanted to know if there were soldiers around. We found out that the military had blocked the roads.

At 8.40pm an F16 came. With F16s you don’t hear them until they’re close. At the time, I was checking on my mule. I was 15 metres away from the rest of the group. Suddenly the military dropped a big bomb. There was a light from the bomb. I was thrown 50 metres away and I fell down. There were human and animal pieces raining from the sky. I screamed. I acted like I had died and still the bombing continued for forty-five minutes. I rolled down the mountain towards the Turkish side and fell into a big hole in the snow. I thought that the bombs were going to kill me or I was going to freeze there.

Forty-five minutes later they attacked and killed the other group. They hadn’t moved from their position after we were bombed because they'd waited there to see if they could help us.




Photos above: Servet's photos of some of the people killed in the massacre

At the same time, the villagers were ringing the military base, asking about the bombing. The military said:“We are just trying to scare them off.” I had a radio and asked if anyone could hear me. One villager from Roboski heard me. I said:“They have killed my friends and I’m the only one alive.” The villager didn’t believe me because they had spoken to the military. The villager rang the military back and said: “You killed them”. After that the military retreated.  

Two or three hours later, people were able to come to help. I heard voices coming but I was in the hole. I screamed to the people to help me. I didn’t have any injuries. They got me out of the hole.  The villagers removed me from the scene of the massacre and brought me down the mountain.

The military didn’t let an ambulance through.  If an ambulance had come then five or six other people could have survived.

A boy who survived the massacre had pieces of a bomb in his face. He was trying to call his relatives but his mouth was full of snow. He was in intensive care for one month and in hospital for one year. Some of the young boys lost their heads, legs and arms. Six or seven people were still alive and they died from freezing. The soldiers didn’t help us.

People put the bodies and body parts into bags. They were hurrying because they didn’t want to be accused of helping terrorists. I was worried that the government would put guns by the bodies and say that the people killed had been terrorists. We were worried about what the government might do or say.

Tractors and mules came for the bodies and brought them down to the sports area, where the boys had played football the day before, in the morning.

The military said: “We are going to take the bodies to Malatya.” There’s an airforce base there. The villagers didn’t accept this. The military said that they were PKK guerillas and that this is what they do with guerillas' bodies. In the end, ambulances took the bodies to Uludere. A medical doctor came for an autopsy.

CW: Can you tell us about the funeral?

The body parts of the humans were mixed with the mules. We washed the bodies. We put them in thirty-four coffins on the December 29. The next day we had a funeral. One day later most of the people in Turkey were celebrating new year.

No government people came to the funeral. The AKP [the ruling party] said that they were coming but the villagers didn’t want them to. We put yellow, green and red [Kurdish] flags on the coffins. Later, the judge called people to court to ask why they had used these flags. We said: “The Kurdish party supported us so we used these colours.”

CW: Did Turkish TV report the massacre?

Someone called a Kurdish TV channel, ROJ TV, and they announced the massacre on the news because on Turkish TV channels you didn't hear anything. For 28 hours the Turkish channels didn’t report anything.

CW: How many people died in your family?

My wife, Sevim, lost two brothers. They were 15 and 21 years old. She lost a total of nine people in her family, and I lost eleven.

CW: You spoke out about the massacre. Were you the only survivor to do this?

The others didn’t talk about the massacre. One was in hospital and they paid the youngest survivor money to so that he wouldn’t talk. The judges called one man and gave him money to become a ranger [or village guard, a paramilitary organisation that works with the Turkish military]. The judges called me and offered me money to become a ranger, too. I said no.

An Inspector came from Ankara and asked me if I wanted money. I said, “I want justice for thirty-four people who died”. The governor of Şırnak invited me to his town. I went with two others – one was a father who had lost his son. The governor asked me if I wanted money. He told me that I had lost my mind and that I needed to be cured in hospital because I said that I wanted justice. I said that I would go to the hospital, but I escaped to South Kurdistan with my family three months after the attack. We stayed there for nine months. Then we moved home using the same border trade route, because I don’t have ID to cross legally.

I could go to prison or I could be the thirty-fifth person who dies. Whatever they do, I will talk about it. Because I survived the Roboski massacre, I want to help bring justice.  

CW: Have you suffered from more state repression since then?

At the beginning of 2014, lots of military trucks came here. They started shooting and one boy was shot and injured. People damaged their trucks and broke their guns. I wasn't there. The military didn’t want people to do any more border trade. They wanted to make a road between the military bases, crossing the massacre point. A couple of days later, the military came and raided houses and they made the excuse that they were searching for missing guns.

They broke my door down and destroyed my picture of the thirty-four people killed in the massacre. I was arrested at 4am. Six family members of those who were massacred were also arrested and we were released at 9pm. I was arrested because I spoke out about the massacre.

On the March 8 2014 somebody came and attacked our house with a Kalashnikov. It was a professional person. We couldn’t find any bullet cases. They had collected them. Luckily, no one was hurt. No one came to help us that night. The military came the next day. They were outside the house with guns.

CW: Have you done any cross-border trade since the massacre?

When we were living in the old village [in the 1990s] we were growing everything. We had our own wheat and fruit. Now I still trade over the border as I have no other income. My grandfather did it, my father did it. We have never killed anyone. Whenever I go past the massacre place now, I remember what happened.

CW: What do you think of the companies who make the weapons that carried out the massacre?

I don’t want them to be sold to the Turkish military. These weapons are killing us. They are killing Kurdish people.

CW: The British government provides licences to sell weapons components to Turkey. Do you think they should do this?

They shouldn’t give permission. If there were no weapons we could have peace. We don’t want war, we want peace. We want support so that we can have peace and so that we can speak our own language. My mother tongue is Kurdish. If I were to tell you not to speak your mother tongue of English, would that be right? The worst that could happen to me has happened. Now I live only for them.

CW: Thanks a lot for talking to us, Servet.

The culpability of the US

The attack was carried out with F16 aircraft, supplied to Turkey by Lockheed Martin. The Wall Street Journal reported at the time that the convoy was spotted by a US Predator drone. The US passed the information on to the Turkish military, who carried out the attack. Although the US Department of Defence have said that it was not their decision to carry out the attack, the US military is clearly partly responsible for the massacre as it enabled the Turkish military to carry out the attack through providing the location of the convoy. The Predator drone is manufactured by US arms company, General Atomics.

Relatives of those killed in the massacre and their supporters hold a demonstration at the cemetery where those killed in the attack are buried every Thursday. They are calling for justice over the killing of their loved ones. You can read about their campaign on http://barisicinaktivite.com (mainly in Turkish).


Photo above: Relatives of those killed and their supporters demonstrating for justice at the cemetery in Roboski

Take action

- Join the demonstration against French arms company Thales' factory in Crawley on 8 April. Thales are an exporter of arms to Turkey.

- There will also be a demonstration organised by Palestine solidarity activists against Elbit in Shenstone in the West Midlands on 8 April. Elbit also supply weapons to Turkey.

- Stop the Arms Fair are planning to pose some tricky questions to the annual general meeting of UK arms company, BAE Systems. Contact research(at)caat.org.uk to request a proxy share if you would like to attend. BAE have repeatedly applied for export licenses for the sale of weapons to Turkey.

To read more about the Roboski massacre see this report on statecrime.org

 

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