The PKK terrorist organization continues to abuse the rights of children in the southeast by using them as fighters, brainwashing them and coaxing them to attain a heroic position in its war.
Many civilians are fed up with the PKK's vandalizing policies that disregard life, property and cultural heritage through digging ditches, erecting barricades and declaring autonomy, and children are also subject to PKK policies.
A photo from Hakkari's Yüksekova district of children wearing Civil Defense Union (YPS) masks, the PKK's newly established youth-wing for children under18, was widely published in the media on Wednesday. Holding toy Kalashnikovs and playing a game digging in the snow to make emplacements, the photo was used in the pro-PKK Dicle News Agency (DİHA), under the headline "YPS-Zarok [Child] announcement from the children of the resistance." Over the reaction it received, DİHA later removed the report from its site. Regarding the report, İlhami Işık, a Kurdish writer known for his views on the Kurdish issue, thinks that using children as a propaganda tool comes from a "diseased mentality." "They are even using children in their propaganda and show it off with pride. This is totally inexplicable," he said, adding there is an animalized morality behind such a thing.
Speaking to Daily Sabah, Bahadır Gültekin, media correspondent of Amnesty International's Istanbul branch, said such action that aims to recruit children under 15 is defined as a war crime. He said:
"Amnesty International is categorically against the recruitment and use of child soldiers in armed conflicts. Under international law, the participation of children under 18 in armed conflict is generally prohibited and the recruitment and use of children under 15 is a war crime."
Galip İlhaner, the head of the NGO Give Our Children Back Foundation (ÇOGEV-DER), based in the province of Van in eastern Turkey, said the PKK terrorist organization has no problem with exploiting women or children for propaganda purposes, and it forces Kurdish children away from their families for this purpose. İlhaner said, "Those who are above a certain age try to keep their distance from the PKK. The organization wants to close this gap. It is easier to abduct or deceive children using various methods," and added that the terrorist organization forces these children to become involved in criminal and terrorist activities. These youth are inducted into the PKK's so-called Civil Protection Units (YPS).
Indicating that the use of children as "cannon fodder" was a long-standing strategy for the YPS, İlhaner argues that the PKK terrorist organization wants to demonize Turkey in the international platform, using the deaths of these youth to make black propaganda, which portray's Turkey as a state that kills children.
Itır Erhart, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Communication of Bilgi University, said: "Since they do not have any means to defend themselves against danger, they become easy targets. They suffer physical and emotional wounds. Sometimes they are also forced into becoming child soldiers. Since we cannot talk about 'agency' or 'political participation' when talking about children, recruiting and using them in conflict is child exploitation. The images I saw of YPS-Zarok are very distressing. Children should be protected at all costs from being forced into armed conflict."
Along with using children for its propaganda, the PKK also deprives children of education by targeting schools in Diyarbakır and Şırnak. On Friday, children playing in the yard of Nuriye Eser Elementary School in the Bağlar district of Diyarbakır were wounded in a PKK bombing.Furthermore, the double-story Sema Cıngıllıoğlu Primary School in the Dicle neighborhood of Şırnak caught fire from Molotov cocktails thrown by a group of PKK terrorists on Jan. 6.
Terrorists also targeted public places, Quran educational facilities and other locations populated by children last year. On Dec. 8, two schools in the Sur district were burned with hand-made explosives. On Sept. 14, a Quran educational facility was shot at in Cizre, leading to the evacuation of the building. On Oct. 8, Hasan Yılmaz, 9, was killed and three children aged 6 to 10 were injured in the Diyarbakır neighborhood of Silvan when a mortar planted by the PKK exploded.
On Aug. 20, the BBC published a story called "In pictures: PKK fighters prepare for battle with IS [DAESH]." Ankara, which believes that Western media applies double standards regarding the PKK, called the publication "unacceptable," describing it as "written and visual propaganda" for the PKK through depicting it as "an innocent organization" fighting against DAESH.
* Merve Baran contributed this report from Istanbul