MUSTAFA AKYOL > The AKP’s biggest blunder

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It has been almost a decade since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power. Since then, it has not only proved to be quite reformist, but also disproved many myths about Islam and politics. The pious Muslims who formed the successive AKP governments did not establish a “shariah state,” as the secularists obsessively feared. Instead they opted for pursuing accession to the European Union, realized liberal reforms, and boosted economic growth.

However, as time went by, the AKP’s reformism began to wane. Their initial enthusiasm for progress was gradually replaced by an emphasis on “stability.” And their rhetoric of humility became increasingly overshadowed by bursts of arrogance.

That’s why I agree with the liberal critics of the AKP who think that the party’s third term in power --- which is Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s self-declared “term of mastery” --- is actually its worst. And nothing underlines this regression more than the big blunder in the tragic episode of Uludere.

Uludere (or Roboski, its original Kurdish name) is a small village near the Iraqi border. On Dec. 28, a group of some 40 villagers, mostly young men and boys, passed over to the Iraqi side to buy cheap oil to bring back home and sell for profit. This sort of modest “smuggling” is one of the few sources of income in that destitute part of Turkey, and state authorities often tolerate it, especially for “pro-state” villages such as Uludere.

But as the Uludere convoy picked up its load, put it on mules, and crossed the Turkish border in the mountainous terrain, it was spotted by the unmanned drones the Turkish armed forces use to monitor terrorist activity. Somehow, those who evaluated the visuals decided that the villagers were not smugglers but a group of guerillas from the PKK (the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party). It then took only minutes for a Turkish jet to bomb the convoy. Thirty-four innocent souls were killed instantly and terribly. Some were as young as 12.

Since the first day following the attack, various conspiracy theories began emerging, as it is always the case in Turkey, to explain what really happened. The PKK and its supporters said that the fascist Turkish state slaughtered the Kurdish villagers intentionally, just for the fun of it. Some liberals or conservatives argued that “the deep state” must have been involved, with the intention of fuelling the fire in the east. I, however, have seen no reason to look for any explanation other than that this was a tragic mistake.

The way the government has dealt with the matter has been perhaps a bigger mistake, though. Five months have passed, but those who were responsible for the decision to bomb the group have not been yet disclosed. There have been official expressions of “regret” or “sorrow,” but no “apology.” And I have wondered, “If apology is not a must in cases of civilian death, why are we asking for an apology from Israel for the deaths on the Mavi Marmara?”

Last week things got even worse, when Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin (a most unlikeable man) declared “there is no need to apologize for Uludere,” because the victims were smugglers who might have been connected with the PKK. One prominent figure in the party, Hüseyin Çelik, rightly criticized these “inhumane” remarks, but Erdoğan gave no hint of disagreeing with Şahin.

And, alas, Ali Akel, a veteran journalist for Yeni Şafak, a pro-AKP daily, lost his job suddenly this week after writing a piece that criticized Erdoğan heavily for failing to give a sincere apology for Uludere.

This is a doomed trajectory. The AKP will either come to its senses and try to heal the wound of Uludere, or otherwise this will not just be a black stain on its “white” color [“ak” means “white”], it may even be the beginning of its fall.


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Hasan Kutlay

6/5/2012 2:38:56 PM

Turkey needs a real social democrat party (combination of equality with liberty, being multicultural, tolerant, soft-spoking) like the ones in Western-Europe. I hope such party comes after AKP. CHP is not a social democrat party.


6/5/2012 12:10:30 PM

There is a major problem regarding political fronts in Turkey: The leftists still have a sympathy towards violence and the military. On the other hand, the right camp (the AKP also) clings to authoritarian state rhetorics as a result of gaining "power".

Kevin Snapp

6/5/2012 3:27:17 AM

Either PM Erdoğan doesn't know what he is doing in avoiding Uludere, or he does. Neither bodes well.


6/4/2012 11:01:51 AM

@KC yes of course anyone complaining about the AKP must be part of an international conspiracy :-)

MR Somalia

6/3/2012 12:49:34 PM

Any lost of human life is regrettable but this was an error on the military's behave and the risks of using unmanned machines. Turkey sure needs to improve its role in the region and in particular the way it deals with Kurdish people and other ethnic groups but AKP did remarkable job. The Kurdish issue is a complex that involves 4 countries; its not just Turk-Kurd relations. If Turkey allows them more autonomous rule what does that mean for Turkiye in terms of relations with neighbours?

MR Somalia

6/3/2012 12:42:07 PM

AKP is perhaps the best political party in the world in the modern history. They overturned Turkey in just over a decade. Thanks to AKP and Erdogan, Turkey became a land of opportunities and a booming country with a GDP growing at an annual average rate of 5 percent for almost a decade. Thanks to AKP, Turkey went from $200b economy to a over a $1trillion powerhouse in just ten years. Anyone complaining about AKP has sinister motives. A Somali for AKP.

Blue Dotterel

6/3/2012 11:26:30 AM

Uludere and Syria. Indeed Syria will be the worst error as it demonstrates that Erdogan is just another Damad Ferid, beholden to foreign interests. In this way he will likely commit Turkey to wars that should never be, and that will lead to the destruction of the Turkish state.

sam stevens

6/2/2012 10:32:21 PM

Compare the attitude of this to the demand for apologies from Israel for the flotilla incident !


6/2/2012 6:23:50 PM

Uludere biggest blunder? A military matter, criminals plying their trade in the middle of a war zone in the middle of the night mistakenly hit. How can this be a governments responsibility? Of all the disasterous actions, from 3 children promotion, to abortion discussion, rape children, Ergenekon show, indefinitely jailed opponents, tapes and videos, forced drink bans, dictating dress codes, grooming pious generations, religion classes in schools, 4+4+4 etc., you think Uludere is their undoing?

rich bind

6/2/2012 5:52:14 PM

Erdogan has read the tea leaves. His Islamic government has taken note of a Turkish population that is more conservative and more religious than when it came to power. As they say, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutly.
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