A mindset problem in Uludere

During his trip to Pakistan, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made important statements »»

During his trip to Pakistan, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made important statements to journalists on Uludere. The most significant part of his statements was that he was informed about the murder of 34 people in Uludere in an F-16 warplane bombing after the incident took place. We have heard CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu argue that Erdoğan himself initiated the operation; this was a serious argument in the Uludere discussion.

By this statement, the prime minister implied that the army was authorized to launch such an operation and suggested for the first time that he was not involved in the decision-making process of the Uludere operation. Considering that this is the prime minister’s statement, it is not possible to argue that he instructed the army to start the operation. Of course, this does not necessarily mean that the government is not responsible just because it was not involved in the decision-making process. A government would be held liable for this incident in any civilized country in the world.

Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Diyarbakır Deputy Galip Ensarioğlu made a statement which refers to the government’s responsibility; in this statement, he said:

“If we are governing this country, of course, we are responsible. In the past, in the case of certain mistakes, the incident was covered up just because otherwise the morale of the army could have been broken. But this is not the case anymore. The prime minister and the government have made their stance clear since the beginning. The prime minister pledged to illuminate this case. To me, the incident was intentional. And if it was out of neglect, it is even graver. The responsibility is ours; the government is responsible. The responsible figures will be held accountable no matter what.”

These are nice remarks but in the remaining parts of the prime minister’s statement on Uludere that I quoted above, there are some pieces that are not consistent with Ensarioğlu’s mindset. The prime minister also said in his statement:

“Our armed forces have done their job in good faith. There might have been some mistakes. We publicized the mistake; and we offered an apology. And there were some statements on payment of compensation as well. But some are exploiting this matter. We said there was some mistake. For God’s sake, if compensation is an issue, we are ready to pay it. The amount of compensation that we made already exceeds the amount specified under the law. Should we make an explanation that the terror organization asks for? I saw motion in the video that I took a look at; I saw it myself. There is a group of 30-40 people. It is not possible to discern who they are from that altitude. Our armed forces took the necessary steps. This area is a terror zone. It is not a residential area. In such a delicate area, the military cannot make a distinction between Ahmet and Mehmet.”

The actual issue here is this: Since the first day of the Uludere incident, the government has adopted a stance that disappointed Kurdish citizens. In contrast to what has been asserted, the government did not publicly offer an official apology to the families of the victims. It made some superficial and vague statements. This state of ambivalence was as detrimental as the Uludere disaster, creating a perception that the government does not care about the deaths of Kurdish people. The payment of compensation made without a formal apology was taken as insult by the Kurds. What they wanted was justice, not money. The villagers in Uludere made it clear that they would not accept money without the fulfillment of justice and a formal apology. After five months, two of the affected families moved to northern Iraq in protest of the government’s reluctance to address the matter.

But what is even graver is the effort of the prime minister to suggest that the military’s mistake was a minor one. And he saw the Heron images -- as if he is an expert and despite the reports suggesting otherwise -- and concluded that the military could not have possibly made a distinction between innocent people and terrorists. This discourse and logic is hurtful and wrong. Because the intelligence work was not performed properly, these people were identified as PKK militants. Besides, even if they had been PKK militants, the operations should have been held back because of the possibility that there might have been some civilians among them. Unlike what was implied in the prime minister’s argument, the spot where these people were killed was a route frequently used by smugglers.

Despite that fact that he is aware of all this, the prime minister still tries to protect the military officers who committed a grave mistake. The effort to justify the mistake may be attributed to the tendency to protect military officers who are now loyal to his authority after a decade-long struggle with the coup makers within the army. Because of this, in addition to political responsibility, he also assumes responsibility for the mistake committed by the military. This is a strategic mistake that will become an obstacle to resolve the issue and will be detrimental to the prime minister’s popularity.