There were a few reasons for this: Above all, the number of casualties was huge. Thirty-four people were murdered by bombs thrown from the warplanes of their own army. Turkey is a democratic state. It is not possible to cover up such a huge disaster in a democratic state. Had Turkey not had special circumstances unique to its process of democratization, I would say that this is the kind of huge scandal that could have lead to the resignation of the civilian government. However, it is apparent that Turkey is in a process of transition and the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which serves as the main actor in this process, is still under the threat of the deep state. In other words, the infected deep state tissue within the former state structure, briefly known as Ergenekon, is still alive and influential. There are Ergenekon extensions in the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which emerged as a result of the Kurdish issue. This has been evidenced by the previous incidents and peace attempts where the state was about to close a deal with the organization. Despite these opportunities, the Ergenekon extensions and elements sabotaged the peace process. Even if not proved yet, it is widely believed that former President Turgut Özal was assassinated because of his attempts to resolve the Kurdish issue.
The Uludere incident took place after the PKK left the negotiating table and killed 13 soldiers on July 14, 2011. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had taken a great risk and started talks with the organization; and some progress had actually been made. However, because of a lack of serious planning and initiatives, the process eventually failed. The government committed a grave mistake and took a number of reforms and rights that should have been automatically recognized to the Kurdish citizens to the negotiating table with the PKK. These included the right to learn and teach in their native language. If you ask any Kurdish citizen as to what is the Kurdish question, they will say it is the right to use their native language. The recognition of this right would have resolved many issues and overcome many barriers in terms of the Kurdish issue. The PKK has been influential over the Kurdish people because of the failure to recognize Kurdish as a language in education. Negotiation over the Kurdish language with the PKK gave the impression that the organization was so influential and strong but it also raised distrust with the state. If the state were sincere, why use a simple right in its negotiations with the PKK?
AK Party underestimated PKK’s power
I think that the AK Party underestimated the PKK’s power and influence whereas it overestimated the Kurdish issue. What I am trying to say is that the Kurdish issue has become a relatively easy problem to address thanks to the progress in the field of reforms and outreach over the last decade. The guardianship mentality, which was a great obstacle to the Kurdish demands for rights, has been defeated. This problem has been perceived as part of the reforms and requirements that would be fulfilled under the EU membership bid. The people realized that the Kurdish issue was a human rights problem and that unless the Kurds were happy nobody in Turkey would have peace because the cancerous deep state remained as it was. For this reason, voters extended support for the AK Party despite all the propaganda. The Sept. 12, 2010 referendum attracted huge popular support; this meant that the Kurdish initiative has been endorsed by the people. For the AK Party, which received 50 percent of the votes, success in the Kurdish outreach was not remote. The surveys and research showed that the people extended support to the demands of the Kurdish people including recognition of Kurdish as the native language.
To this end, if the AK Party had drafted a proper strategy and fulfilled the reforms that the Kurdish people had asked for, the support in society for the PKK would have declined and the PKK would have been more eager to lay down arms.
The AK Party underestimated the PKK issue. It failed to appreciate that the current PKK is not the PKK of the 1990s and 2000s. It has gone through a huge process of transformation over time; the power of the organization has been divided between three centers, Europe, Qandil and Imralı. The decision-making process has become complicated in the organization. Despite efforts to remain unified under the leadership of Abdullah Öcalan, the organization has become a source of controversy. There were multiple spheres of authorities in even the Qandil part of the organization, and there were disagreements between them over negotiations with the state. With the start of uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in Syria and the deterioration of the relations between Turkey and Syria, the hawkish figures seized the initiative in the organization. Turkey realized that Öcalan was not the undisputed leader of the PKK with the Silvan attack. The organization undermined Öcalan’s authority with the Silvan attack. With the attack, it actually announced that it did not recognize the authority of Öcalan, who was about to conclude a deal with the state. And Uludere was a grave mistake after all this. Turkey fell into the trap of the PKK in Uludere.
However, the government repeats the mistakes it committed at the beginning of the Uludere incident as well. Instead of acting compassionately towards the Kurdish people, it remains distant to their pain and this empowers the organization. Even though the prime minister argues that an apology has been offered, everybody knows that it is not true. Compensation does not replace an apology; and the failure to deliver justice over the last five months detaches the Kurdish people from the state. The recent remarks by the interior minister increase the trauma. These remarks constantly suggest that the Kurds are second-class citizens and give the impression that the PKK and the Kurdish people are treated as one and the same.
Looking for a new strategy
The AK Party needs a whole new strategy in respect to the Kurdish citizens. Otherwise, all constructive steps taken during the outreach process will have to be aborted and therefore useless. It is necessary to rely on a more constructive and humane approach to the Uludere incident. Those who are responsible for Uludere should be identified and brought to justice. In addition, the major problems of the Kurds including education in their native language should be resolved immediately. The demands of the Kurdish people should be distinguished from the PKK issue.
I wish the Uludere incident had never taken place; but it is up to make it the start of a process of reconciliation and unification rather than of detachment and separation.