Ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Deputy Chairman Hüseyin Çelik has criticized Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin’s recent statements in which he referred to the victims of a botched airstrike as “extras” for the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), adding that Şahin’s approach to the issue is not “humane.”
Çelik told the Anatolia news agency on Thursday that he does not agree with majority of Şahin’s statements regarding the killing of 34 civilians on the Turkish-Iraqi border by military jets late last year. “We think this approach and style by Mr. Minister is not humane. It is also clear that the style and approach of Mr. Minister does not belong to the AK Party,” Çelik said.
His critical remarks came after Şahin’s controversial remarks during a television program on Wednesday. The interior minister criticized the local people of Uludere during the program, saying the 34 civilians killed in the airstrike were smuggling goods from bordering Iraq when they were attacked.
“It is not possible to get something right from something wrong. If they had been captured alive, they would be put on trial on charges of smuggling, but this incident overshadowed the smuggling issue,” he said.
Şahin also claimed that locals in Uludere and surrounding regions are used by the PKK and the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), an umbrella organization that allegedly encompasses the PKK, which he said makes financial gains through smuggling activities in the region.
In the first comment from the ruling party on Şahin’s remarks, Çelik said it is not correct to label these people as extras for trying to earn a living, even if in an illegal way. He said: “Everyone knows that smugglers in this region go ahead with this job by bribing someone. This has always been the case. It is known that the PKK gets some share from smuggling in northern Iraq -- due to PKK presence there. However, the fact that the PKK lives on smuggling or that it gets some share of it does not make people who try to earn their bread, even if in an illegal way, extras of the PKK. This is how our party thinks from the beginning.”
Noting that his party has always shared the pain of the families of the Uludere victims, Çelik said all government officials, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, have adopted this stance. “I do not approve of Mr. Minister’s remarks on Wednesday. … In fact, the fact that the government decided to pay compensation to the families of these people shows that these people are not terrorists and extras of the PKK. These people are, of course, guilty of smuggling. However, the sentence to be given for smuggling is different,” he added.
On Dec. 28, 2011, Turkish fighter jets bombed a group of smugglers, mistaken for PKK members, on the Turkish-Iraqi border area near Uludere, sparking outrage in Turkey. The Turkish military stated that the warplanes had targeted the group based on intelligence that suggested a group of armed terrorists would be heading towards the Turkish border to stage attacks on the military.
In the meantime, a group of Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputies who are members of a parliamentary sub-commission tasked with investigating the deadly Uludere strike, left a meeting of the sub-commission on Wednesday, arguing that they were not allowed by Ayhan Sefer Üstün, the head of the sub-commission, to talk about the strike.
The members later called a press conference. CHP Deputy Chairman Sezgin Tanrıkulu complained they were not permitted to discuss the Uludere incident during the meeting and asked: “Then where will we talk about it? A massacre occurred in Uludere, and that massacre is a crime committed against humanity. The [AK Party] government is responsible for that.” Tanrıkulu also said the CHP will not cease to follow up on the incident until the shroud of mist surrounding it has been dispersed.
Additionally, a tug of war was kicked off between AK Party and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) deputies of the sub-commission regarding the Uludere incident after the CHP deputies left the meeting. Yusuf Halaçoğlu, an MHP deputy, claimed that the group of smugglers in Uludere had been bombed even though it was known by authorities they were not terrorists. He also accused the AK Party members of the commission of hiding information from the other members.