Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan responded strongly to the chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun, Syria, on April 4 that killed at least 92 people, many of them children. “In a world where children are being massacred, everyone has the right to feel safe,” Turkish media reported him as saying. “Everyone must reassess the position they are in.”
President Erdoğan should take his own advice and reassess Turkey’s decision to host the main weapons supplier to the Syrian military – Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state-owned arms firm – at an international arms show being held in Istanbul this week “under the auspices of the Presidency of the Republic of Turkey.”
Rosoboronexport is listed as one of the exhibitors at the arms show, despite the fact that Syrian military has used Russian weaponry in attacks that killed and maimed children, razed hospitals, and destroyed schools. Videos show Russian-made aircraft dropping bombs on a school complex in the village of Hass on a clear morning last October, killing schoolchildren and teachers. Russia’s defense ministry denied the attack ever took place.
Joint Syrian-Russian military operations have also repeatedly used cluster munitions, despite their widespread ban, and there has been an increased use of incendiary weapons in Syria since the Russian government began conducting military operations there in September 2015.
Last year was the deadliest yet for children in the Syria conflict, says the UN. This shameful record is the result of impunity, exacerbated by Russia vetoing Security Council resolutions that could have helped stem the abuses by warring sides.
Yet instead of showing concern about Syrian forces using their weapons to unlawfully kill civilians, Rosoboronexport executives have indicated that they see the war in Syria as good for business. One said that the war is “good testimony for Russian armaments”; another pronounced, “following the results of this operation [in Syria], the interest in Su-34 bombers has increased.”
Rosoboronexport arms executives presumably hope to ink more contracts this week in Turkey – a country that hosts more Syrian refugee children than any other. President Erdoğan has met with many survivors, including the father of children killed in the Khan Sheikhoun chemical weapons attack, a girl who survived the relentless bombardment of Aleppo last autumn, and others.
He and Turkey’s government could take a stand for those children by stopping Rosoboronexport from advertising weapons on Turkish soil.