According to media claims, Özel made these statements during his meeting with Grand Unity Party (BBP) leader Mustafa Destici on Monday.
“There were also armed terrorists among the 34 people [killed in Uludere]. The arms were removed when we reached them. All the facts will be revealed soon,” Özel allegedly told Destici.
On Dec. 28, Turkish fighter jets bombed a group of smugglers, who were believed to be members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), 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.
Ferhat Encü, who lost his brother, Serhat, along with many other relatives, in the attack, said the statements of the army chief are a reflection of a guilty conscience.
“The statements of the chief of General Staff indicate the massacre was carried out under his orders. These confessions are a reflection of a guilty conscience. In the first statement he made after the massacre, the army chief tried to legitimize this brutality. His statements hurt us but we are not surprised,” Encü said in remarks that appeared in the Birgün daily on Friday.
Regarding Özel's claims that the weapons at the site of the attack were removed by the time security forces arrived, he said: “There are four people who survived the massacre. With the Heron images and the survivors' accounts, we are able to prove that the allegations about weapons are not true. They should also prove it if they claim there were weapons there.”
Human Rights Association (İHD) President Öztürk Türkdoğan was also critical of Özel's statements and said Özel aims to influence the ongoing investigation into the Uludere incident.
The Uludere Chief Prosecutor's Office has been carrying out an investigation into the incident. In addition, a new sub-commission formed within the Human Rights Inquiry Committee of Parliament is also carrying out a civilian investigation into the incident.
Speaking to Birgün, Türkdoğan said Özel's statements are filled with contradictions. “He claims the weapons were removed when the security forces reached the area, so why did the military members not get the bodies of the victims and bring them with them?” he asked.
Mehmet Encü, the father of 13-year-old Erkan, another Uludere victim, told the Taraf daily on Friday that he was one of the first people who reached the site of the attack and collected the body parts of his son.
“I do not understand what weapons the paşa was talking about. There were no weapons there. We collected the body parts of our children there, not weapons. It has been six months since the killing of our children. After such a long time, it is unusual that he [Özel] is making such a statement. Is this the way the state responds to calls from the families for the masterminds of the attack to be revealed? Are they legitimatizing the massacre by showing our sons as members of the PKK?” said Encü.
Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputy Sırrı Sakık told Taraf that Özel's statements are unacceptable and that the general is trying to cover up the Uludere incident.
“[Özel's] is a very inappropriate statement. It is evident that Özel is trying to make Roboski [the Kurdish name for Uludere], be forgotten,” Sakık said.
The government has so far turned a deaf ear to calls for an official apology for the killing of the civilians in the incident. 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, an act that led to much criticism.
Only a colonel who previously served as the deputy commander of a military regiment in the Uludere district has been removed from his post by the Interior Ministry over claims of negligence. This has been the only move by the government so far.