The AKP’s biggest blunder

The AKP’s biggest blunder

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.