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December 13, 2012, Thursday

Why has the Turkish commander received a medal?

Imagine that 34 citizens of your country were killed in an air strike an F-16 jet belonging to your air force. Soon after the incident, a fighter jet -- again belonging to your air force -- is downed by a neighboring country engulfed in internal strife, killing two of your pilots.

I Imagine that no light is shed on these tragic events by the government despite a long time having passed since they happened. And imagine that those responsible for these grave incidents have neither been named nor made to stand trial. However, the commander of your air force, who was in a position of primary responsibility at the time of these tragic events, is awarded a medal of honor by your armed forces. The armed forces explain the reason behind the award as routine -- medals of honors are given to commanders after they have served in such a position for a year.

How, as a citizen of that country, would you feel about this situation? Would you be angry or highly frustrated, or would you see no problem behind your air force commander receiving a medal of honor when his command is directly responsible for the tragic incidents that took place?

This chain of events has taken place in Turkey. It has been an almost a year now since the killing of 34 Turkish-Kurdish citizens in the southeastern village of Uludere, who the military said at the time were mistaken for terrorists. In June, a Turkish F-4 jet was downed by Syria in the eastern Mediterranean, killing two pilots.

Yet, the government has not come up with a satisfactory explanation of the causes of both incidents. This is despite the fact that the Uludere bombing was a serious blow to Turkey's efforts to find a peaceful solution to the country's 28-year fight against the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The downing of the F-4 jet brought Turkey to the verge of war with Syria.

There have been serious questions raised by the public over the way both incidents took place. The Diyarbakır Prosecutor's Office, in probing the Uludere air strike, has complained that the Turkish military has so far failed to inform them of who gave the orders for the F-16 strike, which would be key to understanding what happened.

Turkey's intelligence organization has also been blamed for supplying misleading information to the air force, which is primarily involved in both incidents.

The causes of these events have yet to be understood, and so far no one has been brought to justice.

Turkish media outlets, on the other hand, regardless of their ideological stance, either ran a small story on the commander receiving the medal or did not cover the event at all. Similarly, the media did not seem to care much about the repercussions of the Uludere incident or the downing of the F-4 jet, failing to question the military's negligence and the government's indifference in the face of these tragic events.

Not surprisingly, though, the families of those who died in the F-16 air strike have been suffering greatly, and there have been severe effects on Turkey's stability.

The family members of the Uludere victims are still waiting for justice to be done.

Speaking to Today's Zaman on Dec. 11, they said that those responsible for the attack must be brought to justice before they will feel that the state is on their side.

Rather, we learned from the liberal Taraf daily recently that the General Staff awarded Turkish Air Forces (THK) commander Gen. Mehmet Erten a medal of honor on Nov. 28 in recognition of a year of service in this position.

The THK and its commander hold primary responsibility in both the Uludere incident and the downing of the F-4 jet, regardless of whether or not the commander himself gave the order for the F-16 to strike its own citizens. The day after the air strike, Gen. Erten should have resigned, and if he refused, he should have had been forced to resign.

But this did not happen; on the contrary, he received a medal of honor. I am frustrated and angry and will say nothing more than that.

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