Uludere test case for Turkey’s Kurdish problem

Uludere test case for Turkey’s Kurdish problem

Any Turkish journalist would admit that Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin is like a gold mine when it comes to striking quotes and sensational headlines. Whenever he speaks he makes the news of the day; that is good for the media business. 

But what Şahin talks about, I mean the content of those quotes, is not necessarily good news for the politicians of Turkey. Until now only opposition politicians were criticizing the interior minister for being arrogant, harsh and from time to time disrespectful to people in his attitude. Yesterday, for the first time a strong reaction came from within the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) against one of its own members of the government.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was Şahin’s statements about the Uludere blunder, where 34 villagers smuggling daily goods from Iraq were hit and killed by Turkish jets on December 28, 2011, mistaken for militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) on their way to carry out attacks in Turkey.

In an interview with the news channel NTV, Şahin said on May 23 that it was the Air Force generals who decided to hit the convoy after assessing the visual intelligence gathered from Israeli-made unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) of the Turkish Armed Forces. That was a day after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told reporters – asking questions about a Wall Street Journal report claiming that Turks acted on incomplete American intelligence – that the intelligence was Turkish, the soldiers did whatever was necessary, they were acting on the government’s authorization and if there was anything wrong it was up to the courts to discover it and punish parties accordingly.

The opposition naturally snapped on those words and accused him to try to put the blame on the soldiers and avoid political responsibility.

Yet the reason for the strong reaction from within the ruling party was not that part of Şahin’s words. In the same interview he also said the smugglers were tools in the PKK’s revenue plans and if they had not been killed by mistake they would have been put on trial anyway.

Being unequivocally clear, the AK Parti’s influential spokesman Hüseyin Çelik (a former minister of education and of Kurdish origin himself) reacted strongly yesterday saying Şahin’s “inhumane” words did not and could not represent the AK Parti and its government. He has been followed by some other politicians from the AK Parti, in addition to a stream of reactions from opposition parties calling on Şahin to resign immediately.

What is important here is the almost homogeneous reaction from the political parties against the minister’s words, which “could make those who have been hurt [by the Uludere attack] sad.” This is important when there are concerns expressed that Turkey might go back to a situation like in the ‘90s; to some observers the recent PKK attacks, especially on the local officials of the AK Parti in the mostly Kurdish populated southeast, are to agitate the government to rely more on the security policies rather than taking political, social and economical steps.

If Turkish politics could make use of the Uludere case in order not to fall into that trap, then Turkey can pass this important test regarding the future of the Kurdish problem. All eyes are on Erdoğan’s next steps for that.