Families of the victims of Uludere and civil society organizations that have Islamic sensitivities have renewed their call for justice as they directly addressed prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to stand for justice over the military attack that killed 34 civilians on the Turkish-Iraqi border near Uludere last December.
At a press conference held in a hotel meeting room on Friday, the scene was sober and people were on the verge of tears sitting in front of a black poster, “Uludere Mothers in İstanbul,” showing the dead wrapped in blankets lying on the snowy ground of the mountains after the attack. Before any speeches were made, a prayer was recited for the victims.
“Even though almost six months have passed since the incident, no steps have been taken to relieve the 'common conscience,' but the issue has been used as a tool in politics by both the government and opposition, and the 'human aspect' of the event has been set aside. This situation stands before us as an obstacle to reaching justice,” said Cüneyt Sarıyaşar, İstanbul branch chairman of the Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed Peoples (MAZLUM-DER), who read a press statement on behalf of the civil society organizations that organized the event.
On Dec. 28, 2011, Turkish fighter jets bombed a group of villagers, 16 of them under 18-years-of-age, mistaken for Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) members, on the Turkish-Iraqi border area near Uludere, carrying goods on mules in between Turkey and Northern Iraq.
As the incident sparked outrage in Turkey, the 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.
“It is said that the dead were ‘smugglers.’ The villagers of Bujeh-Gülyazı and Roboski-Ortasu are not able to do animal husbandry since there are mines on their land; they can neither do farming since the topography of the land is not suitable. Since there are no public and private investments, they cannot be employed. They are left with only two choices -- either be smugglers or village guards,” Sarıyaşar said.
He also added that although the government claims that the area was used by the PKK, it has not been true for years for that route since it is open land, and the villagers have been engaged regularly in transportation of goods in the same area -- even one day before the bombing.
Additionally, he has been critical of the fact that ambulances were not allowed into the area of the incident even though there were survivors who lost their lives as a result of blood loss and severe cold.
About the judicial process, MAZLUM-DER President Ahmet Faruk Ünsal said that if there had been a serious administrative investigation to reveal the people responsible, some people should have been removed from their duties.
“If we do not closely follow this process, we will pay for it in the other world,” he added.
Civil society organizations, including the Akabe Foundation, the Anatolia Platform and the Fatih Raiders, also indicated in the press statement that the government still had not issued an apology, but the prime minister defended the military. The civil society groups also called for the release of people who were arrested on the grounds of “attempted murder” because they slightly injured the district governor who had come to the village right after the attack.
Veli Encü, a relative of a victim, said at the press conference that 173 days after the incident, nobody has appeared in court in relation to the incident, but the people who have been voicing criticism about this have been threatened and even arrested.
“Our belief in justice has been damaged every day with statements coming from the interior minister and the prime minister,” he said. “If asking for justice is a crime, arrest us too.”
Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin, Erdoğan’s trusted man, had said that the villagers in question if caught would have been prosecuted for smuggling, the goods they were smuggling were supplied by the PKK, they were thus simply pawns of the PKK, and there was nothing to apologize for.
Speaking at the fourth ordinary congress of his party in İstanbul recently, Erdoğan claimed that there is an ongoing international smear campaign over the Uludere incident against his Justice and Development Party (AK Party). He described the Uludere incident as a “mistake that saddened everyone.” However, he said the incident took place outside Turkey’s borders and in a terror zone. He also denied claims that efforts have been made to cover up the incident.
Felek Encü, mother of 13-year-old Erhan Encü, who was killed in the incident, asked the prime minister:
“You said that you watched the Heron [unmanned aerial vehicles] images. What did you feel while watching them? Your speeches tore us apart. Has this been your justice while you were calling for children’s rights, while you were calling for animals’ rights? You have been critical of me because I was appearing in the media. Prime minister, you do not understand a mother’s sorrow!”