Turkish government should have apologized

Turkish government should have apologized

Turkey closed 2011 with a horrible bloodbath: On the night of Dec. 28, 35 Kurdish villagers, who were reportedly smuggling gas and tea from Iraq, were killed by bombs dropped by Turkish warplanes. The military, apparently, had mistaken them for terrorists of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), who uses the same mountain route for attacks against Turkish military posts. The victims, however, were just young men and boys who were trying to make a living in the destitute region.

The first thing to express in the face of this tragedy is sympathy for the dead and condolences for their families. The fact that the victims were involved in smuggling can never be an excuse for their tragic end. In that poorest region of Turkey, smuggling has been a fact of life for decades, as natural trade routes have been cut off by the unnatural border between Turkey and Iraq.

As I understand from local reports and official statements, here is what happened: A group of almost 40 men and boys from the village of Roboski, right near the Iraqi border, passed to Iraq with mules, and then began to ride back with their loads. The unmanned aerial vehicles of the Turkish military spotted the caravan and followed them for a few hours. Based on an alleged “intelligence” that this could be a PKK guerilla group in disguise, the military first fired a flare rocket and then a small canon as a warning. When the group began to run, rather than surrender, the military decided that they were indeed PKK fighters and bombed them to death.

From the first moment on, Kurdish nationalists claimed that this was intentional mass murder. Selahattin Demirtaş, the leader of the pro-PKK Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), defined it as “yet another massacre of Kurds.” Ahmet Türk, another prominent Kurdish politician, even called it “genocide.” Consequently, the local district governor who went to the funeral to offer his condolences was attacked by pro-PKK activists.

However, there seems no clear reason to think that this was an intentional bombing of civilians. Such carnage will do nothing but harm the Turkish government. Moreover, the village in question, Roboski, is not even one of the “pro-PKK villages” in the region. Quite the contrary, it is home to several “village guards,” who receive arms and salary from the Turkish government to fight against the PKK. Moreover, many votes in the village go to the incumbent Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Therefore, unless there is any evidence to the contrary, I am inclined to see this as a tragic mistake in Turkey’s war on terror – not too unlike the ones American forces have done several times in Afghanistan.

However, this neither eases the pain of the families who lost their sons, nor rids the Turkish government of responsibility. That’s why, since the first moment, I have said that the government needs to issue a sincere apology and compensate the victims’ families; that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan should also visit them personally.

So far, only half of these measures have been taken. Both government and military spokesmen voiced “regrets” for the deaths. A few ministers visited the families and Prime Minister Erdoğan called them on the phone. Erdoğan and his deputy Bülent Arınç also made public remarks, expressing sorrow and announcing compensation. Yet still, none has yet uttered the word “apology” – despite the fact that Turkey seeks that passionately from Israel for the killings on the Mavi Marmara.

For me, this is simply disappointing. In fact, the AKP government has done a good job for apologizing for the past crimes of the Turkish state, such as massacres in Dersim in 1937. However, it is one thing to apologize for the misdeeds of former governments, and another thing to apologize for those of your own. The AKP, sadly, does not seem to have the guts for the latter.

For all of Mustafa Akyol’s works, including his recent book, ‘Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty,’ visit his blog, TheWhitePath.com. On Twitter, follow him at @AkyolinEnglish.