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February 25, 2013, Monday

Uludere and making peace

It was almost 14 months ago -- on Dec. 28, 2011, that 34 Turkish Kurdish villagers, said to have been mistaken for terrorists, were killed by a bombardment carried out by two F-16 fighters in the predominantly Kurdish southeastern township of Uludere, near the Turkish-Iraqi border.

Around 40 Turkish Kurdish smugglers, mostly teenagers as young as 13, were on a routine tour smuggling cigarettes, diesel oil and the like into Turkey, packed on mules, when they were bombarded by the F-16s.

Though smuggling is illegal, the Turkish state turns a blind eye to this activity as a way to offset its inadequacy to provide jobs, in particular to those living in the war-stricken southeastern region.

Since this grave incident occurred, however, the Turkish government has failed to pursue a transparent policy to come up with a satisfactory explanation for the exact reasons behind the bombardment of the citizens by F-16s that belong to their state.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a man who has initiated a courageous step to end the 29-year-old terrorism problem through non-military means as a peace process continues to this end, paradoxically neither apologized for the incident nor fired any of the commanders responsible for the bombardment. This all despite the fact that even an apology itself could have eased the anger and sorrow of the relatives of those killed.

However, a court case concerning the Uludere incident in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır continues, while a prosecutor investigating the incident complained several months ago that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) had failed to submit to the court information that would shed light on, for example, who gave the orders for the bombardment that resulted in the deaths of the civilians.

Similarly, a parliamentary commission investigating the incident has yet to come up with a report that will satisfy the public over what really happened in Uludere. Instead, deputies from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), who form a majority in the commission, have appeared to have been engaged in tactics to not shed light on the incident, while members of the commission from the opposition parties -- and in particular from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) -- have been pressing for not covering up the incident.

At long last, the parliamentary commission on Uludere will meet on Thursday, Feb. 28, to discuss a draft report on the incident. This commission is expected to share the results of the report with the public in the middle of next month. According to the news reports, however, quoting some excerpts from the draft report on the Uludere incident, the commission is not expected to give an answer to the critical questions -- such as who gave the orders to bomb the citizens, who evaluated the footage of the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) flying over the terrain and is said to have mistakenly assessed that the smugglers were instead a group of Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants, and what kind of other intelligence prompted the dispatch of the F-16s for the bombardment.

The Uludere bombing and the failure of the government to unearth the reasons behind this fatal incident still have a real potential to undermine the ongoing peace talks between the state and Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed PKK. This is because, unlike the latest provocative acts to undermine the peace talks such as the killing of three senior women from the PKK in Paris in early January or violent protests staged against pro-Kurdish deputies last week in the Black Sea town of Sinop, Uludere can have a real effect on sabotaging the fragile current peace process. Why? Because there is clear evidence that the F-16s bombed innocent civilians.

As part of the ongoing process to resolve the Kurdish question as well as the terrorism problem through peaceful means, a group of Kurdish deputies met with Öcalan over the weekend at the prison where he is serving a life sentence. Öcalan called talks with Turkish officials a historic step and urged all sides involved to show care and sensitivity.

The Turkish government now demands that the PKK release 16 prisoners, including a government employee, that it kidnapped a long time ago, as a sign of good will. It is, however, not acceptable that the state will on the one hand not even apologize for the killing of 34 Turkish Kurds, let alone fire commanders responsible for the incident, while on the other it will ask the PKK to make a gesture by releasing those captives.

Previous articles of the columnist