With military operations being waged by Turkey in dozens of countries, drone warfare has become a key part of the regime’s arsenal. Azerbaijan, Southern Kurdistan, Northern Syria, Northern Kurdistan, Yemen and Libya are just some of the areas where Turkish drones have played an active role.
These drone strikes have often targeted civilians, including women’s groups and activists opposed to the regime. In late June, three activists Zehra Berkel, Hebûn Mele Xelîl and Amina Waysî were the victims of an extrajudicial execution by a Turkish armed drone in Kobanê.
Guided missiles launched by drones are responsible for many Turkish war crimes – especially in Western Kurdistan/Northern Syria and Southern Kurdistan/Northern Iraq. For example, in Kuna Masi near Sulaymaniyah, two people died a little later, and another eight people were injured, some of them seriously.
Turkey’s Drone Technology
Turkey has invested a growing amount of time, money and energy into expanding its arsenal of drone technology. In an interview with the Monitor news magazine, Brian Castner from Amnesty International said: “Turkey is rearming militarily. It is active in more and more countries and is conducting flying air strikes”.
Similarly, Simone Wisotzki from the Hessian Foundation for Peace and Conflict Research noted how Turkey’s policy in the areas has become increasingly aggressive.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been keen to boast about Turkey’s ‘domestic production’ of drones. Newly produced drones have often been used by Erdoğan as photo ops to promote his nationalist ideology and reputation as a militaristic leader.
Research by several groups, however, has shown this to be a lie with much of the regime’s drone technology reliant on support from countries like Germany and the UK.
German Arms – Turkish War Crimes
According to research by Monitor magazine the German armaments company TDW and the German government played a decisive role in the development of the drones. An inquiry by the German Die Linke party revealed in 2018 that missile heads used by Turkish military drones were developed by the German weapons manufacturer TDW and sold to Turkey together with their production license. TDW received almost 300,000 euros from Turkey for the plans of the so-called “killer missile system”.
Ammunition for drones and helicopters has been exported from Germany for years. Without these weapons Turkey would not be able to conduct its aggressive war policy. Peace researcher Simone Wisotzki notes that Turkey would not have been able to build up this drone power without the help of Germany: “If Turkey had not had this at its disposal, it would probably have needed another five to ten years to be able to produce and use such technology independently.”
The rockets are manufactured by the de facto state-owned arms company Roketsan, which is closely linked to the Erdoğan family. In a recent response to an inquiry by the Green party, the German government confirmed that deliveries of “components, warheads and technology” for the “LRAT and MRAT anti-tank guided missiles” had been approved.
According to Monitor Magazine: “What sounds technical is translated as: Apparently know-how has been supplied for a whole range of Turkish missiles. This is because MRAT and LRAT are designations for certain types of missiles. In Turkey, they are manufactured under the names OMTAS and UMTAS. The so-called MAM-L was developed on the basis of UMTAS. According to Roketsan the construction is identical except for the propulsion system. It belongs to the standard armament of Turkish drones. All these rockets are probably based on German know-how. The supply of warheads as well as construction plans offered Turkey the possibility to get weapons from its own production faster”
Amnesty’s Brian Caster came to a similar conclusion arguing that, ‘It simply takes time to develop the technology, the materials and all the steps involved. Such technology transfers provide a kind of guidance. Turkey can see how German engineers have solved various problems. It is a kind of shortcut.” It’s clear then that Turkey’s ability to wage its illegal wars across the region is heavily reliant on the support of Western states like Germany.
The German government is thus openly violating its own laws banning the export of weapons or military equipment if it is foreseeable that they will be used in conflicts contrary to international law. The fact that the occupation of Northern Syria is contrary to international law is not disputed even by the academic services of the German Parliament.
However, this does not seem to bother the federal government in any way. The federal government avoids corresponding questions by declaring that that it is examining each individual case; whilst refusing to provide further information on the cases.
The UK’s Complicity
The UK too plays a similar role with the government promoting arms sales to Turkey. A report by the Guardian last year revealed how British arms factories have been linked to Turkey’s illegal drone wars. For more details on other ways in which British arms dealers supply the Turkish regime see our Stop Arming Turkey campaign.
The principle culprit supplying drone technology to Turkey has been EDO-MBM who have a factory in Brighton. In response, local organisers have launched several protests at the facilities in Brighton. Continued protests against arms dealers and institutions who invest in them, will be a vital part of standing in solidarity with all those affected by the dictatorship in Turkey.