On Dec. 28, 2011, Turkish fighter jets bombed smugglers believed to be terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) members 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 victims were from the villages of Ortasu, Gülyazı and Ortabağ in the district of Uludere. Those who are responsible for the tragedy have so far not been identified.
As the first anniversary of the Uludere incident draws near, family members of Yüksel Ürek, who was 16 when he was killed in the botched operation, spoke to Today's Zaman.
Ürek's father Abdurrahman said: “The state should bring those who ordered the warplanes to take off and complete their bombing [of the civilians], no matter if it took place mistakenly or deliberately. Then, we will say the state is at our side.”
Ürek's family said they have forgotten how to smile or be happy since the death of their son.
Ürek's father also said the Uludere incident is the problem of all of Turkey and that it should be resolved without being made a subject of politics.
Ürek's mother Emine, who visits the grave of her son every Thursday, said she would like to remind those who are preventing justice in the Uludere case that it will eventually be served by God.
The Turkish government and Parliament have been investigating the incident separately, trying to find out how the mistake occurred and who is responsible for the deaths of the villagers in Uludere, while public prosecutors have been conducting their own legal probes into the matter. The government's only act so far has been the Ministry of Interior's removal of a colonel who previously served as the deputy commander of a border regiment in the Uludere district over claims of negligence.
The government has also turned a deaf ear to calls for an official apology for the killing of civilians in Uludere. 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.
Emine Ürek said her husband fought against PKK terrorists for years as a village guard, adding, “We have never been terrorists and we will never become terrorists, and the fact that my son Yüksel was killed because he was mistaken for a terrorist breaks my heart.”
Ortasu mukhtar (neighborhood official) Haşim Encü, who is related to 25 of the Uludere victims, complained that the case takes another step toward being unresolved with each passing day.
“As long as the masterminds of the strike are not revealed, some circles will continue to capitalize on this incident. These circles will continue to politicize this incident in an attempt to make political gains,” Encü said.
He added that although no ground has been covered in the investigation of the Uludere incident so far, he still has the belief that justice will eventually be served.
Encü said Şırnak Governor Vahdettin Özkan has stayed by their side as the representative of the state, and he called on other state authorities to show the same sensitivity.
In the meantime, Hasan Ürek, 19, one of the four survivors of the Uludere attack, told Today's Zaman that he is preparing to file criminal complaints against those who ordered the bombing.
Ürek was seriously injured in the attack. He clung to life, spending 30 days in the intensive care unit. He said he suffered from internal bleeding and continues to have significant loss of hearing in his right ear.
The Uludere survivor said he talked to several lawyers about his plans to file criminal complaints against those behind the Uludere tragedy and the lawyers asked him to bring his medical reports.
“I applied to the hospital and asked for my medical reports. The hospital told me they can give the medical reports only to a prosecutor. I will go to Uludere next week and file a complaint at the prosecutor's office,” he said.
Ürek also said he was recruited as a temporary worker at the Şırnak Special Provincial Office while two other survivors of the attack were recruited as security guards at a school.
“State officials here, Şırnak Governor Vahdettin Özkan in particular, have taken good care of us. They gave us jobs to support our lives. But if these officials were no longer here, I don't think that their replacements would be there to care for us this much,” he said.