The Killing Fields: Landmines continue to take lives in Turkey

The Killing Fields: Landmines continue to take lives in Turkey
Update: 10 August 2022 00:32
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Mine threat persists, Turkey does not comply with Ottawa Convention
The explosion in Baskale, Van has brought the landmine threat back to the agenda. Experts point out that Turkey has failed to fulfill its obligations under the Ottawa Convention.

The landmine problem in Turkey and the threat posed by explosive materials around military areas persist. The mines laid in the ground on the borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran in particular and the interior of the country in general, cause deaths and injuries almost every year. Turkey, which is home to a large number of landmines, became a party to the Ottawa Convention in 2004, which came into force on March 1, 1999. The Ottawa Convention aims to prohibit the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines and to destroy them.

The Year is 2022; Mines Continue to Take Lives

As part of the Ottawa Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-Personnel Mines, Turkey has committed to clear all of its landmines, however, it has failed to meet its obligations under the Convention, which results in the loss of lives and injuries every year. The most recent news of a person injured as a result of a mine explosion occurred in the village of Gelenler (Kiratî), Baskale County, Van, on the border with Iran. H.E., 14, who was herding his sheep in his village, was seriously injured when an explosive object, believed to be a landmine, went off. The explosion blew two of his sheep to pieces and severed one of his hands.

There was a military unit in the village where the explosion occurred until the 1990s. The military unit was moved about 25 years ago, but the explosive materials planted around it remained in place. According to the locals, villagers informed the military post after the explosion, but soldiers from the post refused to go to the area, claiming that "The area is mined. We cannot allow soldiers to enter the area" and did not go there. The ambulance didn't go to pick up the wounded either. The villagers entered the dangerous area and took the wounded child to the ambulance waiting in Gelenler village. The child was taken to the hospital in this way. This incident, which took place three days ago on the Van border line, put the threat of mines on the border line back on the table.

Killing Fields on the Border and Inland Areas

Turkey has conducted partial demining on its border with Syria and this year has also conducted a series of clearance operations on its border with Armenia in Kars. There is no clear data on how many mines have been laid, particularly in inland conflict areas such as Diyarbakir, Dersim, Bingol, Mus, Agri, Elazig, and Batman, near military posts and on the borders, and how many of these mines have been cleared. According to the information in the press and the reports of NGOs and international organizations, Turkey has still not fulfilled its mine clearance obligations. Muteber Ogreten, coordinator of the Mayinsiz Bir Türkiye (A Mine-Free Turkey) initiative, which monitors the demining process in Turkey and conducts studies in this field, spoke to +GercekNews about the reality of landmines in Turkey, its obligations under the conventions to which Turkey is a party, and the violations related to the recent mine explosion in Van.

Eight Plus Three Years of Extension Requested

Muteber Ogreten first addressed Turkey's obligations under the Ottawa Convention on Landmines, to which Turkey is a party, and reminded that under the Convention, Turkey committed to clear its landmines by 2014. He noted that Turkey was unable to fulfill this commitment by the deadline and in 2013 asked for an eight-year extension. Ogreten said, "That is, until 2022. When it became apparent that it could not fulfill its commitment by 2022, it reapplied to the Ottawa Convention chair last year for an extension of another three years."

Mines Will Not Have Been Cleared up by 2025; Another Extension Will be Requested

Ogreten recalled that the request for an additional three-year period was not about demining: "During this additional period, i.e. until 2025, they have said that they will conduct a new study. At the end of the three-year study, they will be able to say more precisely how many landmines remain underground, what can be done and how it will be done, and only then will they be able to give a final date, he said. So in 2025, Turkey will announce that they can only meet their obligations under the Ottawa Convention to clear landmines with an extension of time. We don't know what date they will give," he said.

Ogreten pointed out that Turkey has many other obligations under the Ottawa Convention, of which safety of people is one of the most important. Ogreten stressed that areas where mines are laid or suspected should be fenced off and provided with warning signs, but it became apparent in the most recent incident in Van that none of this were in place. Ogreten listed the negligence as follows: 

*The incident shows that the people living in the mined area have not received "mine risk training" and have not been informed about what kind of weapon a mine is and how to protect themselves from it. The villagers know that there was a mine explosion there 20 years ago, but they still enter the area. This should have been prevented. Because this place also proves that a new incident could happen at any time. And in fact, it has already happened.

*So the military unit there knows that it is a suspected minefield. Since they are not sure where there are still mines, they do not enter the entire area for safety reasons. In other words, they do not make any attempt to rescue the child from there because they would have put their lives in danger.

*The second mistake is that the villagers enter the area and take the children out of the area, which, considering the mine risk training, means that the life safety of everyone who enters the area is at risk. In other words: As stated in the mine risk training, specialized people should have entered the area and taken the children out. But that did not happen either. There is no compliance with the protocol from start to finish.

Inland Areas Must be Prioritized

No concrete measures have yet been taken regarding these death camps, but it is known that there are mined areas on the southern and eastern borders, although their exact number is unknown. If these areas are not cleared, new deaths and injuries are inevitable. Commenting on the current situation in Turkey and the status of demining, Ogreten said, "The last time Turkey asked for an extension, it came with a detailed report. In that report, an analysis was made pointing out the deficiencies in the reports they had submitted so far, and Turkey was admonished for them: 'Please pay attention to these deficiencies in your future work.'"

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), of which we are a member and whose Turkish front we represent, has pointed out in its report on this extension request that "if we want to be sure of what we really mean by "mine clearance", the safety of the people must be guaranteed". While there is information about the location and quantity of mines on the borders, there is no information about the mines laid inlands, in the villages, especially in the areas where cattle may graze. And the incidents do not occur at the border crossings, but in the interior, a little further from the border. When this is the case, Turkey should have prioritized mine clearance in the inland areas."

They Have Cleared the Mines in Order to Build a Wall

Ogreten pointed out that the report submitted by Turkey does not refer to demining in the inland areas, where there have been deaths and injuries, but mainly refers to the Syrian border in the east and south as a project of the European Union, and that the main reason is border security. Ogreten pointed out that the areas mentioned for demining are the areas where the walls were built on the Syrian border:

"This is because changes have been made to the border security there. In order to implement those changes, the mines need to be cleared and a new border security needs to be created, like building walls. In order to build walls, those mines need to be cleared to provide access to those places. If Turkey's concern for demining is humanitarian, then the humanitarian aspect should be prioritized and demining should start immediately in the inland areas."