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September 20, 2012, Thursday

Bingöl: 20 years ago, 20 years later

Two decades ago, soldiers who had just been discharged from mandatory military service were ambushed on the Bingöl-Elazığ road. The vehicles carrying the soldiers in civilian clothing were stopped on the road; 40 of them were also kidnapped.

These soldiers were executed; only those who played dead or escaped saved their lives; but 33 soldiers were killed.

However, the government would have convened a meeting to discuss general amnesty on that day. Turgut Özal convinced Abdullah Öcalan to agree on a truce, using Jalal Talabani as a mediator. This move raised hopes for peace.

On April 15, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) declared a cease-fire, but two days later, on April 17, Özal died; his death still remains a mystery. A court recently ruled for the exhumation of his body in an ongoing investigation into his death. And 35 days after his death, a massacre was committed in Bingöl to make sure that no single shred of hope for peace would remain.

When it comes to the Kurdish question, Turkey rapidly returned to a state of terror and violence after this massacre. The most important peace initiative on this issue became unfruitful. No serious investigation has been carried out to resolve what really happened.

Military authorities argued that everything was normal; no investigation was initiated against them. President Abdullah Gül has assigned the state inspection agency to investigate Özal’s death; a court has ruled for the exhumation of Özal’s body. Undoubtedly, this is an important development. But the people wish the same prudence and sensitivity was demonstrated to ensure that the massacre of the 33 soldiers is also properly investigated. Twenty years after the original massacre, a similar massacre was committed on the Muş-Bingöl highway. This time, the number of unarmed soldiers in civilian outfits was 200. Ten died in an attack which also left behind 70 wounded.

If the attackers had been able to carry a few more rockets to the site, none of the 200 soldiers would have come out alive. It is possible to raise hundreds of questions on this matter, including how the terrorists took heavy arms to the site in daytime over flat land. But I am afraid that, as usual, none of these questions will be answered and the incident will remain forgotten.

Some commentators hold that because it enjoys popular support, the PKK is quickly able to mobilize. The PKK is not new; it has attracted the support of the people; otherwise, how could it keep fighting for so many years? Some supply the PKK with vehicles to carry rockets and other heavy arms; this is fine…

But how could the PKK have known that 200 soldiers would be transported that day?

Who gave it this information? One of the locals living there? If this is the case, then this is even more concerning. If the people living in a province where eight police officers were killed only a few days ago knew that 200 soldiers were going to be transferred to their battalion, then this shows that there is a serious problem and irresponsibility involved. To be honest, I don’t really believe in the possibility of that.

I think the Ergenekon formation still maintains its existence, at least in that part of the country, because this formation, whose foundation was laid in the 1990s, still maintains itself. And when the Ergenekon trial and arrests began, the PKK became a beacon of hope for such circles.

The PKK did not fail in responding to this hope with the “revolutionary people’s war” strategy that it employed after the Silvan attack. Those who had placed their expectations on this hope were not disappointed. Turkey became a country that wakes up to the news of death each morning. As such, I think it would be more intelligent to search for a formation that betrays, instead of individuals who betray, in both this case as well as others. This is because no “traitor” will be willing to be party to an attack in which 200 soldiers would lose their lives by themselves.

When the Uludere-Roboski massacre took place, I thought of nothing before Ergenekon. I think the same thing of the Bingöl massacre. The government took important steps in order to put an end to the system of military tutelage. There is still a great deal to do, but the fact that a chief of General Staff is being tried and that another chief of General Staff is acting as a witness in a case are historic events.

Military tutelage has for the most part maintained its existence in the Kurdish lands. Turkey is maintaining its battle against the PKK with an army that is more or less becoming normalized. In operations which took place with a few battalions, sometimes even villages that are located in the area are emptied out, but none of the civilians are hurt in any way. The power and activities of JİTEM, which was established under the Gendarmerie General Command and has signed its names to thousands of unsolved murders, have been stopped and the village guard (“koruculuk”) system -- which was a center of criminal activity in the 1990s -- has been placed under control.

Despite this, we know nothing about the structure of Ergenekon past the Euphrates.

We are unable to ask about the “inner” face-off of the second Bingöl. I am afraid experiencing a third or fourth Bingöl will be inevitable for us.

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