Concerns raised about obscuring evidence in Uludere killings
Thirty-four people who were killed in an airstrike in Şırnak province due to an intelligence failure were buried following the noon prayer in Şırnak’s Ortasu cemetery. (Photo: Today's Zaman, Kürşat Bayhan)
Almost two weeks after an airstrike by the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) in Uludere, Şırnak province, that killed 34 civilians, suspicions remain over the nature of the operation due to a lack of transparency in the ongoing investigation.
The Uludere Chief Prosecutor's Office, which launched an investigation into the incident, ruled last week that court proceedings would take place behind closed doors, prompting criticism from journalists and some civil society activists who interpreted the move as an effort to cover up the incident. On Dec. 28, Turkish warplanes mistakenly killed 34 villagers who had been involved in regular smuggling in the area during an operation meant to target Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terrorists. The government quickly acknowledged that the victims were smugglers, not terrorists.
The military said in a statement 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.
The General Staff canceled its New Year’s celebrations after the incident. In contrast, many Turkish cities proceeded with planned fireworks displays during the celebrations raising concerns about a permanent rift between Kurds and Turks. On Jan. 3, pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputies staged a sit-in demonstration at the General Assembly of Parliament in protest of the airstrike. The deputies remained in Parliament for about 10 hours.
A Turkish parliamentary commission has tasked a sub-commission with investigating the deadly airstrike by Turkish fighter jets. A colonel previously serving as deputy commander of a military regiment in the Uludere district has been removed from his post by the Interior Ministry.
İhsan Şener, who chairs the sub-commission told Anatola Agency on Jan. 11 that the members of the sub-commission will go to the district soon to conduct an investigation. He reminded that the sub-commission was established with the all parties’ support in the parliament.
Voice of the Public Party’s ( HAS Party) leader Numan Kurtulmuş said that unless there is a strong civil society, the issue will soon be forgotten, “just like the Kurdish issue which is in the trash bin.”
Meanwhile, Şırnak Governor Vahdettin Özkan told an opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) delegation which has conducted its own investigation into the incident that he did not have prior knowledge that an airstrike was planned to take place in the region. By law, the military is required to inform the governor of a province that an operation will be conducted in their jurisdiction. The CHP’s ecently released report to the incident states that there was no doubt that the people on the road were smuggler villagers not terrorists.
The CHP submitted a proposal that requests the state pay compensation to the next of kin of each victim killed in the airstrike. This comes after the government has been severely criticized for not issuing an apology in response to the accidental killings.
In addition, a number of civil society activists held a demonstration last Friday at Galatasaray Square in Taksim demanding the resignations of the chief of General Staff, minister of Defense and minister of the Interior.
The chairperson of the steering committee of the Association for Social Change, Cengiz Alğan, recently returned from Uludere, where a group of people including civil society activists, intellectuals, politicians and artists paid a visit to the villagers.
“There is great poverty in the district. There is nothing to do; no jobs, no fields in which to grow crops. There is great desperation. However, what they want is not financial compensation; they need an apology,” he said.
Alğan said that the overall feeling of the group during the visit was “shame,” because of the way young people, even children, perceived them.
“They hate us, the Turks. They are very angry at the prime minister, who thanked the Turkish military for the operation. They are very angry at the Turks who celebrated the new year when they were mourning. However, we were received politely by the elderly who believed that visitors who come to pay their condolences should be treated with respect,” he said.
Another person who visited the district was independent deputy Levent Tüzel.
“Our concerns have increased following the confidentiality rule of the court,” he said. “We will be closely following up on the issue in Parliament.”
A joint report released on Jan. 5 by the bar associations of Diyarbakır, Şırnak, Mardin, Batman, Bitlis, Hakkari, Ağrı, Bingöl, Kars, Tunceli, Van and Siirt concluded that there is strong evidence that the attack was not accidental.
“Why were the civilians not given a warning? Why did the Turkish soldiers prevent the civilians from crossing the border into Turkey? Why didn’t the Turkish soldiers take part in carrying the corpses to the village? Why were there no medical units available even though there were deaths due to lack of medical care? Who gave the order for this operation?” the report asked.