The AKP’s biggest blunder corrected?

The AKP’s biggest blunder corrected?

About seven months ago, I wrote a column titled, “The AKP’s biggest blunder.” The focus of my criticism was the way Turkey’s governing party dealt with the infamous Uludere incident of Dec. 28, 2011, when 33 Kurdish villagers were mistakenly killed by bombs on the Iraqi border. Apparently, the military had perceived the convoy, which was smuggling gas from Iraq into Turkey, to be a group of PKK terrorists and decided to strike. But they were only local youngsters who were trying to make ends meet.

The “blunder” here, in my view, was the Justice and Development Party [AKP] government did not do enough to compensate and apologize for this terrible tragedy. Yes, financial compensation was offered to the families of the victims and some prominences, including Emine Erdoğan, the wife of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, visited the village to offer condolences. But an official apology never came and the officials responsible for the bombing were never disclosed.

Worst of all, however, was the statements of Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin, who had already made a name for himself as a crude hawk. As I wrote on June 2, 2012:

“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.”

Since then, the no-need-to-apologize line of Şahin has become the icon of the AKP government’s “shift to militarism” against the PKK, as most Turkish liberals called it. I, for my part, was convinced that this shift was an understandable escalation in the face of the PKK’s continued attacks on Turkish targets.

But I also agreed that the language of the interior minister was unacceptable and intolerable.

That is why I was happy to receive the news the other night that Şahin was removed from his job by Erdoğan in a cabinet revision that replaced three other ministers as well. The new interior minister is Muammer Güler, a former governor of Istanbul and a member of Parliament from Mardin, a diverse city with Turkish, Kurdish and Arab communities. I hope he will be much better than his predecessor.

The dismissal of Şahin was much belated, but apparently so for a reason: The AKP government was in a belligerent mood against the PKK in the past two years, until the very beginning of 2013. But now there is a new peace process taking steam and both sides of the conflict are trying to act in a more restrained manner. In that sense, Şahin’s departure might be a good omen for the softening of the AKP strategy vis-à-vis the PKK.

Yet this is not enough, especially for the Uludere incident. The families of the 33 victims, of millions of others who share their sorrow, still expect the results of the “investigation” on what happened, which has, unbelievably, been going on for more than a year. The bombings were most probably a mistake — and not a sadistic act to “kill more Kurds,” as Kurdish nationalists claim. However, those who are responsible still must be announced, dismissed and punished and the Turkish government, as it rightfully demands from Israel for the killing of civilians on the Mavi Marmara, should officially apologize.