Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said steps the government has taken to help victims of the botched Uludere air strike “amount to an apology,” adding that his government has already done what is required of them in this regard.
“It is obvious that that [requested] apology has been realized by steps [our government] has taken,” Erdoğan told reporters upon his arrival from Kazakhstan on Thursday night. He also blasted the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) for, what he called, artificially keeping the issue on the agenda. He also criticized those who “make an effort to exploit” the incident, including Turkish media outlets.
Erdoğan attempted to put an end to a two-day debate over controversial remarks by Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin, whose statement was dismissed by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party). AK Party Deputy Chairman Hüseyin Çelik criticized Şahin's statements, in which he referred to the victims of the Uludere strike as “extras” for the PKK, describing Şahin's approach to the issue as not “humane.”
“We think this approach and style by Mr. Minister is not humane. It is also clear that the style and approach of Mr. Minister is not that of the AK Party,” Çelik told the state-run Anatolia news agency.
His critical remarks came after Şahin's controversial statements during a television program on Wednesday. The interior minister criticized the people of Uludere during the program, saying the 34 civilians killed were smuggling goods from bordering Iraq when they were attacked.
“It is not possible to get something right from [doing] something wrong. If they had been captured alive, they would have been put on trial on charges of smuggling, but this incident overshadowed the smuggling issue,” he said.
Erdoğan also distanced himself from Şahin's remarks and acknowledged that the authorities had made a mistake. But he complained about the ongoing debates, underlining that the region where the air strike happened is used by the PKK and that smuggling activity by the villagers should not be portrayed as legitimate.
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.
Erdoğan told reporters on Thursday night that the opposition is demanding the Turkish government to apologize, but that he and his government have taken steps that are tantamount to an apology. He added that financial compensation has been paid to the families of the victims and that AK Party officials and their wives have also visited the families.
Erdoğan reiterated that a legal investigation of the incident is currently under way and that “there is nothing we can do besides this.”