Uludere gives lesson on volatility in Turkey's Southeast by Othman Ali*
There is no doubt that the brutalities and heinous crimes committed against the unfortunate young victims of the Uludere incident, whose bad luck pushed them into the hazardous career of smuggling in a very dangerous area instead of being taught in educational institutions, demand an open and thorough national enquiry.
However, one should not rule out that the whole incident might have been caused by a mistake of the army or as a result of poor intelligence. The US, with all its sophisticated weapons systems, has had numerous incidents like this in Afghanistan and Iraq in recent years. It is also quite possible that Ergenekon and other deep state organs, which are still working within the army and the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), might have engineered this incident in order to create confusion and instability, thus hampering the government's attempts to introduce serious reforms with regard to the Kurdish question. It is noteworthy that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government wants to engage the Kurds in the writing of the constitution and address their concerns, for the first time in Turkish history, in a powerful and binding document.
As events have unfolded a few things have caught my attention. One of them was the speed with which the government was ready to acknowledge the mistake which has occurred and the apologies which were issued by the highest government officials. These officials have expressed a readiness to compensate the victims' families. The prime minister's last apology about the 1938 Dersim massacre, in which tens of thousands of Kurds were killed in the course of the Turkish military quelling a local rebellion, and the swift admission of errors in the Uludere case indicate that Turkey under AKP rule is no longer the same country as the one in which numerous massacres were perpetuated against the civilian Kurds.
Apologizing for crimes
Those who committed the past massacres have yet to admit them. One such example is the Republican People's Party (CHP), with whom the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) is flirting and building an alliance. In 2009, when the AKP launched the Kurdish Initiative and the Democratic Society Party (DTP) asked the government to issue an apology for past massacres against Kurds, Deniz Baykal of CHP was dead against such a resolution to be issued. The CHP has not yet revised this stand. In the region in which we live it is not a tradition for governments to apologize to their people about gross crimes which state institutions have committed against citizens. Even Kurdish factions, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) included, are not accustomed to apologizing for the crimes that they have committed against civilian Kurds.
The PKK, for instance, has yet to apologize for the Pınarcık Massacre of June 1987. The PKK attacked the village, which was protected by village guards. It ended up killing a total of 30 people, including 16 children and six women. On numerous other occasions the PKK has, in cold blood, massacred women and children for no crime other than being associated with a male who was either a village guard or had been marked as an enemy of the PKK. These crimes, which have been well-documented by Kurdish groups, constitute nothing less than war crimes. The perpetrators are now top PKK commanders. The US State Department's “Turkey Country Report on Human Rights Practices” published in 1997 has corroborated these accounts:
“PKK terrorists murdered noncombatants, targeting village officials, teachers, and other perceived representatives of the State and committed random murders in their effort to intimidate the populace. The PKK brutally murdered seven primary school teachers in predominantly Kurdish areas and often targeted civilians in an effort to prevent them from collaborating with security…” [http://www.state.gov/www/global/human_rights/1996_hrp_report/turkey.html]
The other striking element of this tragic event was the speed with which the PKK and BDP were ready to manipulate it for political gain. People in Turkey (Kurds and Turks alike), especially the families of the victims, all have the right to voice their concerns and demand that the military and intelligence officials responsible for the crime be tried. However, it is unfortunate to see the BDP trying to use the suffering of the very people whom it claims to represent and protect to score political points.
Deep state agents and BDP playing with fire
Both the agents of the deep state who committed the massacres and the BDP are playing with fire. There is no denying the fact that in recent years the bloody conflict in the Southeast has in no small degree created tension between Kurds and Turks. In the last few years Kurds have been attacked in İstanbul, Mersin and İzmir by crowds of enraged Turks and many observers have warned that the conflict may spread. Some Western news agencies and police reports have mentioned small-scale clashes between Turks and Kurds in İstanbul during recent demonstrations. The BDP should be aware that further escalation of the conflict might inflame nationalist feeling and create hatred between Kurds and Turks. This could lead to disruption of the reform process which the AKP is determined to complete. The failure of these reforms will deny the Kurds the historic opportunity of addressing the Kurdish question in the Constitution.
All parties need to attempt to calm this volatile situation. The government, for its part, needs to take bold and swift initiatives, such as a visit to Uludere by senior officials in order to counsel patience and assure the victims' families that compensation will be swiftly forthcoming. The government may also use this opportunity to launch an inquiry into the deep state's assassination campaign which claimed the lives of hundred of Kurdish intellectuals and businessmen during the 1990s.
Finally, the tragic incident in Uludere demonstrates that the situation is very volatile in southeast Turkey. It should serve as a reminder to the government that it needs to speed up reforms, especially those relating to the Kurds. Despite the many strengths of the AKP government, the Kurdish issue remains a soft spot. If this issue remains unresolved, it might be used and manipulated by other regional powers, Israel in particular, to settle their differences with Turkey.
*Dr. Othman Ali, Ph.D., is the head of the Turkish-Kurdish Studies Center in Arbil, Iraq.