Row over Uludere attack dominates political party leaders’ discourse

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli, BDP Co-chairwoman Gültan Kışanak and CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu (L-to-R) (Photo: AA)

May 29, 2012, Tuesday/ 17:01:00

The leaders of the main political parties have remained focused on an ongoing debate over an airstrike that killed 34 civilians on the Turkish-Iraqi border near Uludere last December, with some blaming the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government for the killings and some others pointing to the victims of the attack as real cause of the tragedy.

When addressing AK Party deputies during a parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan admitted, once again, that the Uludere attack was a “mistake” and pledged that whoever is responsible or the attack will definitely pay the price. “The chief of General Staff, I and our relevant friends [Cabinet members] said the Uludere [attack] was a mistake. … Turkey is a state of law. Whoever makes a mistake pays for it,” the prime minister said.

Turkish fighter jets bombed smugglers, who were believed to be members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), on Dec. 28, 2011 on the Turkish-Iraqi border near Uludere in Şırnak province, 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.

The prime minister defended the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) in the wake of growing criticism that the TSK relied upon intelligence coming from US drones. “We will not allow anyone to carry out extrajudicial executions against our security forces,” he said. Erdoğan, in addition, implied that smugglers in eastern Turkey may have links to the terrorist PKK as they do not step on land mines planted in the region by the terrorist group. “If you pay attention, you will see that smugglers do not step on land mines. This is thought provoking. Who may have maps [showing locations of landmines]? Smugglers using those maps do not step on land mines. They move in and out of Turkey with great ease,” he said.

The prime minister also dismissed claims that his government is working to cover up facts relating to the Uludere incident, saying an investigation is under way into the incident and such a cover-up is out of question for the AK Party and its government. In addition, Erdoğan complained that some media outlets remain focused on the Uludere attack even though they did not show the same interest in the mass killing of Turkish soldiers in attacks carried out by the terrorist PKK. “I am asking you now. Thirteen soldiers were killed in Silvan, 26 in Çukurca, seven in Reşadiye, 15 in Aktütün, nine in Ulupınar and 12 in Dağlıca. I am not even mentioning the martyrs killed back in the 1990s. I am wondering why they [some media organizations] do not talk about all those slain soldiers,” said the prime minister.

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli, on the other hand, lent support to Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin in the ongoing Uludere controversy. According to Bahçeli, the minister’s remarks are a “source of relief” for his party.

“Taking on the interior minister instead of the separatist terrorist organization does nothing other than help the cause of the PKK. The move by the minister in question was a relief for us. He is performing his duties with good intentions, although he seems to have made mistakes in terms of style,” Bahçeli stated.

Interior Minister Şahin sparked a controversy last week when he referred to the victims of the botched airstrike as “extras” for the PKK. The interior minister said the 34 civilians killed in the airstrike were smuggling goods from bordering Iraq when they were attacked. His remarks drew widespread criticism and even from some in his own party. AK Party Deputy Chairman Hüseyin Çelik said Şahin’s approach to the issue was not “humane.”

In addition, Gülten Kışanak, co-chairwoman of pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), said on Tuesday at her party’s group meeting that nothing would save Prime Minister Erdoğan from being accountable for what happened at Uludere. Arguing that the AK Party is the worst party in the history of the Turkish Republic, Kışanak said individuals mean nothing for the ruling party, while the state means everything. “We will be after who is responsible for Uludere. Who gave the orders to kill people? The government has been trying to cover up what really happened for the last five months,” she said.

Meanwhile, Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu called on the AK Party government to apologize for the Uludere incident, saying that prime responsibility for the attack lies with the government.

“Who is responsible [for the attack]? It is certainly the government. There is no need to look for others. You [the government] cannot get rid of this [responsibility for Uludere]. There is no statute of limitations on this,” he said.

Kılıçdaroğlu also noted that as long as the government refuses to apologize for the Uludere incident, it will continue to be target of growing criticism. The government has so far turned a deaf ear to calls for an official apology for the killing of the civilians in the incident. Earlier this year, it paid TL 123,000 in compensation to each family for the attack and said the compensation could be interpreted as a form of apology from the state, an act which led to much criticism.

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