These villagers, who had been killed by bombardment from Turkish jets, had been smuggling goods across the border to make extra money. Almost every day, they would cross the border to buy items such as diesel fuel and cigarettes to sell cheaply back over the other side. This was a way of life for those villagers, who participated in smuggling due to necessity; blood had been spilt and the economy had died in the region, due to 30 years of conflict with the PKK. Their agricultural lands had been taken over by the state, and mines opened. With no land left to farm, the villagers either migrated to the cities, took salaries from the state to fight against the PKK, or they resorted to smuggling goods across the border. And thus, the human aspect to this whole tragedy is one of the destructive consequences of war. Five months have passed since the deaths of these 34 Turkish citizens. Unfortunately, during the immediate aftermath, neither the state nor the elected government dealt well with what happened. The villagers from Uludere were not supported, and the first statements -- which came after a few days of apparent hesitation -- lacked empathy.
In fact, in his first public statement, Prime Minister Erdoğan actually thanked the commanders involved in the incident for their “sensitivities”. Rather, they ought to have been forcibly removed from their positions. He made promises that the investigation into the incident would not be lost in the corridors of power in Ankara. However, almost no progress has been made into this investigation over the past five months. Documents were either sent late or not at all from the military’s General Staff headquarters to the prosecutor’s office in Diyarbakır. The words spoken by Uludere villagers when they paid a visit to the Turkish Parliament saddened us all. Since bringing back the dead is impossible, all that these villagers want is justice, with those responsible held accountable. And perhaps from then on, the state will not be able to kill its own citizens so easily and with no accountability for what happened.
What has made the tragedy in Uludere even more critical is that it is centres on Turkey’s greatest unsolved problem: the Kurdish problem. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to the realization that it would not be able to tackle this problem employing former state strategies from the past. It chose the path of dialogue instead.
In 2009, we had renewed hope that a solution might lie on the horizon when the government started up its Kurdish initiative. The fact that the PKK refused to pass up on violence, that the government seemed unable to analyze the problem sufficiently, and that people seemed to believe that results would be immediate if a pragmatic program were followed, meant that the whole effort quickly fell apart. The biggest mistakes made by the AK Party were a lack of seriousness in approaching the problem, too much time-wasting, plus a lack of deep-seated reforms to tear Kurdish citizens away from the PKK.
And although the promise of native language education for Kurdish citizens studying in schools was held up as a factor in talks with the PKK, it achieved nothing but chaos. And from this chaos, both those in the deep state who strongly opposed the end of clashes with the PKK and those allied with this same deep state in the ranks of the PKK benefit. And I believe that it was this cooperation, indecision and confusion on the part of the state that exploded in a painful way when the incidents took place in Uludere.
An article last week in the Wall Street Journal also had an explosive effect on us. The news was based on information from officials in the US administration. According to the assertions, American Predator planes flying over the border region on the day of the Uludere disaster – ie, December 28, 2011 -- detected a group of 38 people crossing the border but were unable to determine whether or not they were PKK members. This information was passed on to the Turkish military authorities. Those in the Predator planes made an offer to make a closer fly-by to determine whether the group was in fact PKK. But in response to this offer, they were told, “No, this is not necessary.” And so the Predator planes headed off in another direction. According to normal procedures, there was no reason for American military strategists to get further involved.
This news had a strong effect on the Turkish public when it came out. Within the framework of such a painful incident as the Uludere tragedy, this detail only managed to shed more light on the levels of neglect and criminality that had gone on.
Lack of standards
There are three serious problems that emerge from the Wall Street Journal piece: the lack of standards for targeting in Turkey’s military attacks, the fact that Turkish military officials rejected the offer made by the Predator group to make an extra fly-by to determine the identity of those on the ground, and the fact that the military sees everyone as connected to the PKK, and thus guilty.
When we examine the technical details of what occurred in Uludere, it is not possible to think that such an enormous mistake could occur as the result of neglect. I believe that Turkey fell into a huge trap with what happened in Uludere, because there were just too many elements and factors of neglect involved that made falling into this trap so easy.
First and foremost of course, when you are unable to solve quickly such an enormous problem, and when such a war continues for so many years, it is inevitable that there will need to be a giant change in mindset when it comes to distinguishing the PKK from normal Kurdish citizens.
But there is another terrible aspect to this whole incident, one that stretches back to the MIT crisis.
After the Wall Street Journal article came out, the AK Party’s Ihsan Şener -- head of the Uludere Commission in Parliament -- was quoted as saying, “There was some intelligence that came in prior to the event. Wireless communications were picked up in the 10 days preceding the incident, as well as conversations involving the PKK’s Fehman Hüseyin. It was also known that one or two days before the incident, two PKK members crossed over the border in the region. Apparently, these two were working for both sides, for the MIT and for the PKK. So all of this worked to create the impression that a huge PKK attack was being prepared, which is what led to the orders to strike …”
To tell the truth, my own perceptions from all this information, and from the course taken over the past five months, is this:
Most likely, there was intelligence that came in from double agents that PKK heavyweight Fehman Hussein had entered Turkey through Uludere in disguise. But in fact, this intelligence was really a trap. This information was actually incorrect intelligence that deep state sources wanting to see the PKK-Kurdish war carry on were able to successfully pass on as correct information. Thus, the images from the Predators flying over and other intelligence analysis strengthened the belief that the group on that fateful day included PKK member Fehman Hüseyin. And so it was at this point that the chain of command -- imbued with excitement over striking at the PKK, filled with confidence at its own actions, and lacking in concern about human lives -- made their decision to strike. While the images that came in from the planes may have been viewed at first with some doubt in Ankara, the incorrect intelligence passed on by the double agents turned any doubts into “orders to bomb.”
It is clear that the mere explanation of what happened in Uludere will cause indignation among the public. But what has happened has happened, and the only true path is to act transparently, and do what is now necessary. Those responsible for what occurred, whether civilian or military, need to be punished. If there is an effort to avoid this justice, why should Kurdish citizens trust anyone anymore, and why should they give any support to the government’s Kurdish initiative?
Uludere was a very important incident. The government must act and behave in accordance with this. And if it does not, problems greater than it might anticipate will not take long to unfold.