I think that the majority of us would agree with my hon. Friend, and I thank him for making that point.
Turkey, as I said, is a member of NATO, but it is also a country in a region of great turmoil and its Government are cracking down hard on their opponents. Over the last two years, brutal tactics have been used against protesters during rallies in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. There is also some evidence that arms acquired by Turkey, although not specifically from the UK, may have fallen into ISIS hands. That is an apt illustration of what can happen when weapons have left a supplier country, particularly in an unstable region: they can end up anywhere and with anyone.
Turkey has long been involved in a conflict with separatist Kurds, although there were hopes that negotiations might lead to a permanent end of hostilities. Recently, however, it has undertaken bombing missions across the border in Iraq, and locally built AgustaWestland attack helicopters, purchased for use against the PKK, have been deployed and reportedly used in recent renewed fighting. Since the pro-Kurdish HDP party won seats in the general election in June, Turkey has once again carried out attacks on the Kurdish population living within its borders. Earlier this month, Turkish military and police mounted a relentless assault on the town of Cizre in a counter-terrorism operation against the PKK, killing 21 people. A 10-year-old girl was shot dead by snipers as she left her home, with her hands in the air, in an attempt to get medical help for her father. He was also killed. This month, police shot three children from an armoured vehicle. They had left their houses to buy bread.
Turkey is a priority market of the UK Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organisation. The UK Government have officially invited Turkey to send a delegation to the DSEI exhibition in 2015. We do not know who will be on the delegation, but last time it included the deputy Defence Minister. Turkey is also a welcome guest of the UK Government at other military exhibitions here. Turkish delegations were present at both the 2014 Farnborough air show and this year’s security and policing exhibition. If Turkey buys weapons at the DSEI exhibition, they could be used to support the repression of its political opponents or its attacks on Kurdish people. With such sales, the UK Government are sending the message that the lives and human rights of the Turkish and Kurdish people are of little importance.
Turkey is not only present as an arms buyer; it wants to build its reputation as an arms seller. The Turkish Government’s Defence and Aerospace Industry Exporters Association is present at this week’s arms exhibition in London’s docklands as an international partner. It is currently building new drones, redesigning a battle tank and developing its own fighter jets. The association’s chair has said:
“A country’s development can be associated with the development of its defence industry. We identified our export target as 25 billion USD for year 2023, which is the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Turkish Republic. We desire to take” a
“place at the top 10 of” the “world defence industry.”
During the 2015 Turkish election campaign, the AKP boasted that Turkey would make all its own military equipment, with massive posters on the streets proclaiming, “We’re making our own warplanes” and “We’re making our own tanks”. President Erdogan stated:
“Our goal is to completely rid our defence industry of foreign dependency by 2023.”
Prime Minister Davutoglu said in January 2015:
“Now we have a Turkey that won’t bow to others with its own national defence industry. This is the new Turkey.”
It is disappointing for those of us who have been involved in these matters for many years that the Government appear to have learned so little from their predecessors’ experiences of arming Saddam Hussein, President Suharto and President Gaddafi. It would seem that if a repressive regime has the money, a blind eye can be turned to human rights abuses. Turkey’s presence, and that of other countries that are or should be of concern, at the London arms exhibition this week essentially allows more arms to be provided to volatile and increasingly repressive regimes.
It is time for change—fundamental change. The UK Government need to change their policies and practices, and end their military sales to despotic regimes. That change would prove popular, because 70% of UK adults who were recently polled agreed that the UK Government should not promote the sale of British military equipment to foreign Governments who have a poor record on human rights.