Crime Scene Kurdistan


German-Turkish military and economic cooperation has a long history. In the late nineteenth century, the German Reich maintained strong ties with the Ottoman Empire and exported munitions to it. German banks provided funding, and Germany firms provided engineering for the Berlin-Baghdad Railway, construction of which began in 1903 and was highly profitable.  

In 1924 the Turkish republic was established without guaranteeing the rights of Kurds, leading the Turkish government to try to repress Kurdish identity and deny the Kurdish minority basic human rights commensurate with those enjoyed by minorities in most modern countries. Since the early 1980s, the Kurds of southeastern Anatolia have been waging an armed rebellion, led by the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers Party. The Turkish government, in return, has waged an economic, political, and military war on the Kurdish people.  

In the repression of the Kurds German-Turkish cooperation continues, not only in Turkey but in Germany as well. Germany’s support for the Turkish government is second only to that of the United States, yet the German media are silent on the issue (as are U.S. media).  After the first Mesopotamian Social Forum in Diyarbakir in 2009 an association of activists from different parts of Germany came together to work to break this veil of silence. Campaign TATORT Kurdistan (Crime Scene Kurdistan) seeks to raise awareness of the historic plight of the Kurds, document the role of German firms and government in the Turkish-Kurdish conflict, and organize protests in Germany. 

TATORT concentrates on exposing three major issues: German-Turkish military cooperation, German involvement in Turkish infrastructure projects damaging the environment, and the criminalization of Kurdish political activities and repression of activists in Germany. Turkish officers, it points out, are trained in counterinsurgency in the Federal Republic.  Germany, which is the world’s third-largest arms exporter, sends armaments to Turkey, which is its largest customer. In the 1980s, German chemical firms helped provide poison gas agents to Saddam Hussein, who used them for attacks on the restive Kurdish population, including the well-known chemical attack on Halabja in 1988.  No chemical company executives have to date been held responsible, and no compensation has been paid to the families of the victims or the survivors. 

TATORT also documents and protests German firms’ participation in Turkish infrastructure projects.  Kurdistan is of great geostrategic significance, located as it is at the gateway to the raw-mineral-rich regions of the Near East and Caucasus. Several years ago a consortium of European firms called Nabucco, seeking to reduce European dependence on Russian natural gas, proposed to construct a natural gas pipeline to run from the Caspian Sea to Austria; it would pass through Kurdistan. The German firm RWE participated in the consortium.  TATORT opposed that participation and the project; RWE, for various reasons, subsequently sold its stake, and the Nabucco project is currently on the ropes, long delayed, truncated, and without German backing.  

Since the 1980s, Turkey has been implementing the so-called Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP), which is slated to build a total of 22 dams with 19 hydropower works, many of which carry destructive social and ecological consequences. About half the facilities have already been built; German construction firms like Philip Holzmann, Züblin, Lahmeyer International, and Bilfinger Berger have profited immensely, TATORT has reported.  A few years ago an international resistance was mounted against the still-outstanding dams, like Ilisu in Hasankeyf and Munzur in Dersim. Those protests, including those of TATORT, were so effective that in 2009 Germany withdrew its loan guarantees to the dam projects. 

TATORT’s third area of concentration is repression.  The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by the United Nations, the United States, NATO, and the European Union. That has led to extreme persecution of Kurds in Turkey and the criminalization of politically active Kurds in Europe as well. Turkey’s human rights record vis-à-vis the Kurds has long been dismal, as has been documented by Amnesty International, UNCHR, and the Turkish human rights organization IHD.  

But the German government too represses Kurdish political activists and organizations. In 1993 it banned the PKK, and as a result, Kurds living in Germany who participate in Kurdish causes face a constant threat of repression.   The government has repeatedly forced Kurdish media like the network Roj TV and the newspaper Ozgur Politka to cease operations.  Often even the routine participation of Kurdish associations in legal demonstrations or visiting Kurdish community centers is characterized as terrorist activity  Germany has rejected petitions for naturalization based on a persons’ alleged terrorist activities, so that many Kurds keep their distance from political activities, lest they jeopardize their legal immigrant status. TATORT fights this persecution. It calls for support for the March 2013 peace process and for lifting all bans on the PKK. 

In 2011 TATORT Kurdistan founded the campaign Democracy Behind Bars to publicize the mass arrests of Kurdish politicians and activists in Turkey in the so-called KCK operation.

For more information, please visit the TATORT Kurdistan website,  on which this report is based. 

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