The activists are circulating gruesome pictures of some of the 24 rebels, from the PKK guerrilla group, killed in the Kazan Valley in air raids that began on October 19. Blackened and dismembered, the corpses lie in a morgue in a nearby town with weeping relatives nearby.Source: Daily Telegraph
Their allegations have forced their way into the open in Turkey, which is usually fiercely nationalist when it comes to accusations of abuse by the Kurds, whose campaign for autonomy is a long-running sore. The prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, made a public denial of them as a "slander" while on his recent trip to the G20 summit in Cannes.
The activists say the only explanation for the type of burns exhibited is that some chemical agent was used. Their claims has now been raised by MPs from the legal pro-Kurdish party, the BDP, and taken up by the Turkish Human Rights Association (IHD).
"One of our branches in the area has acted to investigate whether chemical weapons were used or not," a spokesman said from IHD headquarters in Ankara. He said chemical samples had been taken from plants in the area, as well as from clothes from the bodies of 13 of those killed.
The PKK has led a long struggle for recognition for the Kurdish people, who have no state of their own but also inhabit large areas of Syria, Iran and Iraq. In Turkey alone more than 40,000 people have died.
The moderate Islamist government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has granted Kurds more rights, particularly over the use of language, but the PKK have resumed their campaign, including suicide bombing, in recent months.
The government attack in October followed a series of coordinated raids by the PKK which killed more than 20 soldiers. Retaliation, including over the border into the Kurdish Autonomous Region of Iraq, began immediately.
According to a local news website, IHD investigators, who were admitted to the region only after intervention by the local governor, found body parts scattered across the valley.
"The statements of both the relatives and eyewitnesses imply the use of chemical weapons. The bodies were completely burned," the local IHD branch chairman, Ismail Akbulut, said. "This allegation definitely has to be investigated." He said villagers had been told not to drink local water for two to three days.
It would not be the first time the Turkish authorities had been accused of resorting to chemical weapons – a particularly sensitive issue because of the massacre of thousands of Kurds with mustard gas by the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein in the late 1980s.
Last year, the German magazine Der Spiegel said experts at Hamburg University Hospital shown photographs of similarly scorched and burned bodies from a strike in September 2009 also attributed the deaths to the "highly probable" use of "chemical substances".
Ruwaydah Mustafah, a London-based activist and editor of the KurdishRights.org website, said that the Turkish authorities had ordered an autopsy on that occasion but had never released any results. "That's what makes us very curious and very worried," she said.
She said such allegations tended not to be widely taken up for fear of being seen to support the PKK, which is condemned as a terrorist organisation by most western governments. "I don't support the PKK but everyone has a right to die in a dignified way," she said.
The PKK attacks have also been followed a series of arrests of Kurdish intellectuals and BDP members across the country.
Mr Erdogan was asked about the claims by reporters travelling with him to Cannes. "This is slander," he said. "The operations in the Kazan Valley were carried out by our Air Force. The [bodies of] PKK members who were killed in the caves are currently in the Forensic Medicine Institute in Malatya, where everything is proceeding according to the law, down to the DNA tests."
A spokesman for the Turkish foreign ministry also said: "We reject these claims."
Video from: KurdishRights.org