Turkey commits a massacre but rejects an apology

The victims were without weapons, were dressed in civilian clothes, and they had at least 20 mules. They used a known route. The PKK partisans may have use one or two mules at times, but they never use 20 mules, they do not travel without weapons, and they hardly use this familiar route

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) killed 24 Turkish soldiers in a raid. Turkish forces responded with a series of attacks, and the attacks continue. Turkey has been accused of using forbidden weapons in its attacks on Kurdish partisans. The killing of the 35 young people aged 13–20 years old is the latest the Turkish ground and air forces’ killings[i].

The majority of the people living in the villages on both sides of the border are poor people and living under extremely difficult circumstances. Many of them do not have jobs and live an empty life, while they watch their families suffer from the lack of food and necessities. Thus, the men in those villages have to find a way of life, even if they risk their lives. Smuggling fuel, cigarettes, or other things for little money is better than nothing for some of the people.

Villagers from both sides have close family relationships. Thus, they are visiting each other due to social or economic reasons. These people use the same mountain route, which is familiar to people in the region, and the Turkish authority knows this. 

When the massacre occurred, Turkey´s general staff said “the area attacked on Wednesday night was inside northern Iraq and had no civilian population… the raid was launched following information that suspected militants were planning to attack Turkish security bases.” The Turkish Prime Minister (PM) RacabTayb Erdogan said, “no one could know the identity of those people.”

The victims were without weapons, were dressed in civilian clothes, and they had at least 20 mules. They used a known route. The PKK partisans may have use one or two mules at times, but they never use 20 mules, they do not travel without weapons, and they hardly use this familiar route.

Thus, there is serious doubt about the argument that the Turkish military could not see the different between the PKK gorillas and these villagers. The circumstances around the event create further suspicion about the Turkish attack and the intentions behind it. These people had gone to the other side of the border the day before, and now there were on their way back. As a survivor, Servet Encu said “We were on our way back when the jets began to bomb us.”

According to a group of organizations (TBM, TIHV, IHD, KESK, TTB, CHD, DISK), the airstrike that killed 35 in the southeast was staged with the knowledge that the people crossing the border were smugglers[ii]. Turkey calls the attack a technical mistake, and Erdogan said the incident will be thoroughly investigated. There is serious doubt that the military, which is one-sided in the Turkish-Kurdish conflict, can or will find the truth behind the attacks. It is not in Turkish interest to investigate Turkish military policy and tactics or Turkish hate or racism against the Kurds.

The Turkish-Kurdish conflict is one of the world’s oldest ethnic conflicts, and it goes back to the second half of 19th Century. The Kurdish minority has been oppressed, and the Kurdish question has been denied since the establishment of Turkey in 1923. Turkey has made some small steps toward the acceptance of the Kurdish people in the last two decades. However the denial policy of the Kurdish question still exists. 

The vice president, Bulent Arinc, stated that the government will pay compensations for the 35 victims, but it will not apologize[iii]. In reaction, two Kurdish parliament members attacked the military and Turkish president for the massacre and demanded an apology from the government. Erdogan accused the parliament members of making the issue an ethnic one and classifying the deaths as Kurdish and stated that they take orders from the PKK. He said, “Whoever makes the issue an ethnic one by saying 35 Kurds were killed, they are trampling all kinds of humanitarian values…Those who classify the deaths as Kurdish and Turkish are following the path of the devil…You cannot even go to the toilet unless your armed masters loosen your strings…”

There is no doubt that the primary internal political problem in Turkey is the Kurdish question as Turkey still denies Kurdish cultural and the Kurdish people’s political rights. There has been an internal war between PKK and Turkey that resulted in tens of thousands of deaths since 1984. There is quite a big Kurdish community in southeast Turkey (northern Kurdistan), estimated to around 15 million people. The victims have been Kurds who were killed by Turkish military. There is nothing wrong in this reality, according to Erdogan who refuses the Kurdishness of the victims in the name of citizenship and threatens those who make this ethnic classification. He denies the Turkish-Kurdish conflict and refuses to face the Kurdish question. He still doesn’t like the word Kurd and does not like any mention or reference to the word, even if dozens of them are killed by the state. Erdogan ignores the ethnic cleavage inside the country, and accuses human right activists and Kurdish representatives of supporting terrorism and, consequently, opening the way for punishment. Not surprisingly, turkey has arrested hundreds of human right activists, journalists, and intellectuals in last few months.

Erdogan also does not trust the Kurdish Parliament members and openly accuses them of PKK relations. When the earthquake occurred in the Van province in October 2011, some TV channels publicly wished for more natural destruction of other Kurdish cities. They regard Kurds in the Kurdish territory as supporters of PKK. This shows the distrust and suspicion of the Kurds from the individual Turkish citizens to the highest level of the government. Turkish authority and Turkish ethno-nationalists cannot accept Kurds who demand Kurdish rights and defends Kurdishness. There is still hate and racism against the Kurdish community.

Erdogan´s words, “you cannot even go to the toilet unless your armed masters loosen your strings…” are cruel and demoralizing. This sort of expression is known among criminals and gangs, but when the head of the state uses such words, it shows how deep the leader can sink, which is quite alarming. Erdogan tried to show the Western world that he loves human rights and democracy, and he illustrated by his pressing the Syrian dictator, Bashar Al-asad, to respect the wishes and rights of the Syrian people. The picture that Erdogan is creating is a picture of an impatient and irrational person who can hardly tolerate different opinion.

Turkish leaders acknowledge that the killing was a mistake, but they will not apologize to the families of the victims because they do not think the act was criminal. Turkish leaders may argue that the victims were breaking the law because they were smugglers. Is the killing of 35 innocent young smugglers not a criminal act? Dose Turkey not break international law when it attacks people outside the Turkish border? (By the way, Turkey killed seven Iraqi Kurdish villagers in the Qandil area in the spring of 2011, but Turkey has never taken responsibility for the killing.)

Acknowledgment and compensation are given because the military has done something terrible and wrong. Refusing to apologize is refusing to express guilt and is insulting to the victims’ families. This means that Turkey does not promise to prevent further killings of innocent Kurds. An apology to its own people is not shameful. On the contrary, in this way, the government is trying to gain forgiveness and take the necessary steps toward reconciliation. Refusing to apologize is a rejection of the Kurdish community. The Turkish authority is pushing the Kurds further away, and the Kurds feel like defenseless foreigners in the country.

Furthermore, has Turkey ever asked why these villagers are so poor? Has Erdogan ever asked what these villagers need and how the state can help these people move toward a better life? Is it not Turkey that is responsible for these villagers’ security, economic growth, and welfare? Turkey has marginalized the Kurdish people in all of its political and economic decisions. Turkey has failed to make the life of these people better as it does not have any development programs for the border areas. Instead, Turkey has sanctioned them and put them under harsh observation. The only help that Turkey has given to its people is making them into village guards (knowing as “Jash” among the Kurds) for a small salary and drawing them into the war against their own Kurdish brothers.

Finally, Turkish leaders must find the answers within themselves and accept that Turkey massacred innocent, young Kurdish boys and men. That was a criminal act committed against the country’s own people. Refusing to apologize to the Kurdish people in Turkey is an affront to these people and their rights. Turkey has a responsibility toward the Kurdish community inside Turkey. Turkey has failed to live up to this responsibility.

[i] Turkey admits 35 civilian deaths near Kurdish village: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16352388

[ii] PM Erdoğan slams BDP’s ethnicity-oriented approach to airstrike killings: http://www.todayszaman.com/news-267476-pm-erdogan-slams-bdps-ethnicity-oriented-approach-to-airstrike-killings.html

[iii] Tyrkiet nægter at sige undskyld men betaler erstatning efter massakre: Ressource: http://politiken.dk/udland/ECE1496523/tyrkiet-naegter-at-sige-undskyld-men-betaler-erstatning-efter-massakre/