The Uludere tragedy -- in which 34 civilians were allegedly mistaken for terrorists and killed by a military airstrike in Şırnak’s Uludere district, due to false intelligence on Dec. 28, 2011 -- was certain to come with a cost for Turkey.
Indeed, the last 30 years have been a nightmare for Kurdish citizens in Turkey. We now know how the apparatus, which we refer to as the deep state, committed crimes in the southeast in the 1990s. It is said that at least 4,000 murders can be attributed to this deep state while some claim that the real number is 17,000. A network which made use of the state’s facilities and used the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) issue as a justification for their actions, killed innocent Kurdish citizens using horrific methods. The Kurds living in the region were targeted not only by the deep state, but also by the PKK.
Today, we have more latitude to discuss these murders committed by the state, and some lawsuits have even been launched against them, such as the case against Col. Cemal Temizöz, currently being heard at a court in Diyarbakır. Yet, we are miles away from being able to discuss the executions performed by the PKK. In other words, Kurdish citizens have lived under violence from both sides. There are many cases in which, more than one person was killed from a household, and other cases where sisters and brothers were killed while fighting on opposite sides.
There are also many soldiers who died in this process, their numbers nearing 5,000. So, in total, about 5,000 citizens of Turkey have died in this longstanding problem. This number is higher than the death toll Turkey suffered during the Independence War. Adding to this are the people who served their compulsory military service in the region and those who were wounded and became permanently disabled during the process. There are millions of traumatized people living in this country because of this conflict. In other words, this issue has hurt Turkey greatly.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) treated the solution of the Kurdish issue as a priority task, as it was noted in its party program when it came to power on Nov. 3, 2002, despite extensive efforts to prevent it. They made the right choice. Already, during the time of late president Turgut Özal, the Kurdish issue arrived on the agenda as a priority issue, which was seen as cancer for Turkey. It was known that Turkey would not become a big country if it failed to make its Kurdish citizens happy and the Kurdish issue would increasingly become more complicated and conducive to the division of the country. Özal died a suspicious death. The general conviction in Turkey is that Özal was assassinated --an unproven case-- by the deep state because he was determined to settle the Kurdish issue. Indeed, an investigation conducted by the State Audit Council (DDK) states that Özal’s death is suspicious and recommends that a probe should be re-launched into Özal’s death, including the examination of Özal’s body.
In this sense, when he made up his decision to settle the Kurdish issue, saying “mothers should not cry,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was aware of how risky and dangerous this business might be. And it is for this reason he received great appreciation and support from the sorrowful people affected by the issue. Of course, he secured greater support from the Kurdish citizens who suffered the bulk of the tragedy and whose rights were breached by Kemalist neo-nationalists (ulusalcı). At that time, everyone has swept aside the old war-mongering discourse and the nationalist populist rhetoric lost its old allure. Everyone knew the ongoing fight was further exacerbating the problem and this was something favored by the deep state. The deep state, i.e., Ergenekon --a clandestine organization nested within the state trying to overthrow or manipulate the democratically elected government -- wanted this fight because by continuously intimidating the general public, it could boost the military’s clout and power, thereby keeping the tutelage firmly in place. Under the shadow of the war, the country’s resources were being siphoned by the tutelary oligarchy, and Parliament was continually weakened and the army could overthrow the government at any time. Today, we know from the indictments at the Ergenekon trials that pro-coup soldiers tried to dissuade the PKK from withdrawing its militants from Turkish territories by visiting the jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan and telling him, “If you withdraw, the state will not take you seriously; do not send you armed men outside the country, but continue to fight.” And the general public knows it as well. It is an artificial and immoral war, and poor children from both sides continue to die.
The prime minister’s will to solve this issue failed due to a number of factors. The PKK distanced itself away from the negotiation process by launching a terrorist attack first in Silvan on July 14 and then in Çukurca. I think the deep powers that didn’t want the war to end played a role in this. Yet the government could pursue a more cautious and well-designed strategy despite everything and calculate these traps and prevent this negotiation process from failing. The reforms geared towards helping the Kurdish people were deficient and insufficient. No one can deny the fact that Kurds should have equal rights irrespective of the PKK issue. And in this context, not only Kurds should be granted the right to education in the Kurdish language, but also the inequality of welfare and security between regions should be eliminated.
The Uludere tragedy came just when the initiative process effectively came to a standstill. A total of 34 citizens were shelled by their own country. No one can say that the prime minister wasn’t saddened by this incident. But, the government exhibited a serious state of malfunctioning and inclemency immediately after this tragedy. It reacted to the great human tragedy in Syria with a moral responsibility that should set the model for the whole world, but its timidity by which it has treated the Uludere scandal created great disappointed and concern not only for Kurds, but also in all citizens. This was because in the speech he delivered in Diyarbakır in 2005, the prime minister promised Kurdish citizens that he would launch a big initiative, and also announced that the state had abandoned its old hostile attitude towards Kurds.
Some five months have passed since the Uludere tragedy, but the justice demanded by the general public has yet to be administered. The evidential documents about the tragedy were not sent to the parliamentary commission that is investigating the matter. Most important, the language used was very problematic. No public apology was made to the relatives of the victims. Some even said the monetary compensation given to the families should be considered an apology, which further hurt the relatives of the victims. Here, it seems Erdoğan is trying to protect some military and intelligence organizations that he trusts. Yet, it was the wrong path as the state’s priority is to protect the lives of its citizens.
Participants in an ‘international conspiracy’
Speaking to his party’s parliamentary group last week, Erdoğan portrayed those who seek justice for the Uludere tragedy as part of an international conspiracy, which is proof of how hard pressed he is. But it is both unethical and impossible to get rid of this malaise by accusing everyone who seeks justice and shows solidarity with the villagers of Uludere as being members of the PKK. Here is a very serious problem.
It is for this reason that he made another error in order to change the agenda, by creating a new problem that is not on the country’s agenda, i.e., the abortion issue, now a problem that must be dealt with. Abortion is a matter that can keep the religious groups occupied for a long time. This is the case everywhere around the globe because it is a very difficult-to-deal-with problem that is very intimate and that makes people feel guilty, but that is also part of life. It is problematic at least in terms of intention and timing, as it serves to provide religious groups with something else to become busy with, even though they are already conscientiously concerned about the Uludere tragedy. Moreover, it is a fact that a ban on abortion, imposed by the state would increase the number of resulting deaths. I think it is wrong to remove this matter from the intimate sphere that is between individuals and God and treat it as an issue of general law that will comprise non-religious people as well. Furthermore, demanding a fatwa about this matter from the Religious Affairs Directorate means mixing politics with faith, which will have a destructive effect. I have never observed confusion about abortion among religious people in Turkey. And I have never heard voters demanding an abortion ban from political parties. At a time when society has developed such a robust common sense about such an important matter, it is not wise to turn it into a long standing issue, especially since the only reason for it is to change the political agenda.
In sum, for years, we have been criticizing the AK Party for failing to use the facilities and opportunities available to it in an efficient and swift manner to reform the state. Although it should not take the matter of reforming a century-old state lightly, the government has acted lazily despite all of its advantages. The Uludere tragedy is the result of this laziness, and it cannot be fixed with a simple u-turn. the Uludere tragedy may cause the major coup trials such as the case against the Balyoz (Sledgehammer) coup plan to end prematurely. This is what the current course of affairs implies.