There were so many signs that something was really changing in Turkey. The destruction of villages, kidnappings and systematic torture, which many Kurds had been suffering from, all came to an end.
Restrictions on the use of the Kurdish language were relaxed, private Kurdish courses and publications were allowed, and even a state television channel, TRT 6, started to broadcast in Kurdish. Even though the Ergenekon cases mainly targeted coup plotters, Kurds saw that the founders of deep state gangs, like JİTEM -- an illegal extension of the gendarmerie, which was responsible for so many atrocities in southeast Turkey -- were put behind bars. There were even some cases in which JITEM operatives, like Col. Cemal Temizöz, were put on trial.
Not only these, but this government also tried to make a deal with the leaders of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to find a way to reach a final solution. I know that all these steps created hope in even the most pessimistic Kurds that the Kurdish question could finally be solved.
There was, however, an incident at the end of 2011, which has changed the entire mood gradually and steadily. As you know, Turkish air forces killed 34 Kurdish villagers along the Iraqi border allegedly due to incorrect “intelligence” that said that these people were Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) members disguised as smugglers.
The incident was quite tragic and painful. And, it changed the government’s image in a tragic way because the current government demonstrated all the well-known classical reflexes of Turkish state traditions. The prime minister did not apologize to the villagers; the judicial investigation turned into a kind of cover-up; the government basically hoped that the people would forget this incident. But things did not develop in that way; instead, the government’s image started to change in people’s minds.
Last Monday the daily newspaper Taraf published an interview with a prominent devout Muslim intellectual, Rıdvan Kaya. And the main focus of this interview was how the Uludere massacre and ensuing reaction of the government changed the government’s image. The interview shows that not only in the minds of Kurds but also in devout Muslims’ minds the image of this government is changing. I found the interview quite interesting and would like to share with you the parts I highlighted. Here is the interview:
“If you spend time in any environment where religious people are, you will see that they are disturbed by the attitudes of the prime minister and particularly that of the interior minister. Everyone will say that such attitudes are unacceptable… When the incident was first heard of, the Freedom Association (Özgür-Der), the Association of Human Rights and Solidarity (MAZLUM-DER) and other Islamic associations and charities in the region, condemned the Uludere incident as a massacre and immediately went to Uludere to prepare a report. We [as such associations] said, “Unless those responsible are held accountable before the law, it is the government who’ll be held responsible.” Months have passed, and we are still waiting for those responsible to be held accountable.
“It is very difficult to understand that in Uludere 34 people were blatantly victims of a murder that remains unsolved during the leadership of this very government during which murders of the past are being seriously investigated; there are no longer murders taking place where the perpetrators are not found; when the Van garrison commander who was responsible for the execution of two PKK members has just been arrested!... It is truly very difficult to explain the weakness of the government, which has done things deserving of congratulations in the past, in the case of Uludere! “Actually, the basic clash in Turkey is between nationalism and Islamic identity. However, Islamic identity was so crushed during the era of the Republic that nationalism became the general identity of society. Religious segments of society softened up the nationalism, which they initially rejected, embracing it through certain symbols later on. Nevertheless, today, an average pious person can easily define himself as a Turkish nationalist. In terms of our Islamic understanding, this is the most fundamental problem in Turkey; the most fundamental identity split.
“There are continuous back and forths that take place regarding Uludere; of course, there is a sacred understanding of the state and nationalism. Islamically speaking, there is no way that this can be justified… For us, the frame work is set; the Prophet Muhammad has a very clear statement on this matter: ‘A person who remains silent before injustices is a Satan that has no tongue.’ If there is an injustice or unfairness -- and this is very evident in the case of Uludere -- remaining silent in the face of this will seriously damage Muslim identity and hurt it. There is only one attitude that can be adopted by Muslims on this matter. And that is not accepting what happened on that day -- punishing it! Any discourse, inadvertent or not, trying to excuse the Uludere incident, are in fundamental conflict with Muslim identity. Whether there is ill intent or not -- a massacre took place in Uludere.
“…Our Creator explains that the unjust killing of a single person is like the killing of the whole of humanity. Tyranny, not remaining silent in the case of injustice and thus objecting are [topics] mentioned in many place throughout the Holy Quran. And the Prophet of Allah has many hadith on this matter. For example, Prophet Muhammad said, ‘The most valuable form of jihad is speaking the truth against an oppressive sultan.’ We are encouraged to speak the truth before authorities. And Islam is the call unto justice in any case. That is why we should criticize the silence on Uludere.
“Erdoğan’s denial of this incident in arrogant and clear terms could not help but bring to minds the following. People in the past asked how the Kurdish problem emerged, and of course they gave the following answer: In this country, the Kurdish problem emerged with the denial of Kurdish identity. Actually, in the last few years, the policy of denial by the state has lessened noticeably, and it was expected that the whole process would enter a more positive phase when the Uludere incident reignited a denialist discourse. The attitude of the government in Uludere fed the belief that the Kurdish problem would not be resolved; in short, the belief that the Kurdish problem could be solved was lost.”