The US must apologize, but we are not required to
“I need to remind you here of the apology declaration the United States [made] because of our martyrs in Pakistan. Because there was a very clear, a very open incident there,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in a press conference held in Islamabad the other day.
The people the prime minister embraced, referring to them as “our martyrs,” were the 24 Pakistani troops who died in the Salala region in two separate attacks on two police stations by the U.S. Air Force, crossing the Afghanistan border 2.5 kilometers into Pakistan, on Nov. 26, 2011.
Since last November this incident has held bilateral relations between the U.S. and Pakistan hostage. Pakistan has retaliated severely for this incident by closing two land corridors used for shipments to Afghanistan. This step has seriously hampered U.S. and NATO activities in Afghanistan.
Prime Minister Erdoğan made this evaluation the other day: “When it comes to the NATO supply route, this is Pakistan’s own judgment. As a NATO country, it would be best to solve this through mutual agreement.”
A question for consciences
Behind the crisis between the U.S. and Pakistan lies an issue of “apology,” which the Turkish public is familiar with due to the Uludere disaster.
Pakistan expects an official apology from the U.S. administration. The Obama administration, on the other hand, although it has expressed its “regret” over the incident, does not intend to pronounce the word “apology.”
Prime Minister Erdoğan strongly emphasized the other day his partiality to Pakistan in this U.S.-Pakistan conflict, and indicated that he clearly expects an apology from Washington to be forthcoming. When the prime minister adopted this stance, the question turned immediately to the Turkish agenda. If the U.S. Air Force’s killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers “by mistake” warrants an apology, then doesn’t Turkey’s killing 34 of its citizens “by mistake” 34 of its citizens, many of them children, also require an apology?
This question is on everyone’s conscience waiting for an answer.
Interior minister on a different wavelength
Again in Islamabad, Prime Minister Erdoğan accepted for the first time that a “mistake” had been made in Uludere, and said “we have announced the apology.” Even though there is no record of an official authority apologizing, when looked at from optimistic point of view, these words from the prime minister can be evaluated as a partial apology, at least. There is no doubt, however, that after the recent strong proclamation Erdoğan made on behalf of the Pakistani soldiers, demands to upgrade these indirect expressions to a clear apology will find extra strong support.
While the prime minister was saying the word “apology” on Wednesday, Interior Minister Naim Şahin told NTV’s Ankara representative Nilgün Balkaç: “This does not yet seem to be an incident that has the features that would prompt an apology. When looked at from a broader angle, there is no need for an apology.” His words created a conflicting picture.
There are several other points that need clarification in the Interior Ministry’s statements. For example, the answer to the question, “Who orders a strike?” has come out as, “Commanders in Ankara, in the Air Force, who were analyzing the incident and the images made the decision.” As far as is known, the Air Force only participated in the Uludere in the capacity of an “operator.”
Another problematic aspect of Şahin’s statements is his definition of the 34 people killed as “extras” in a smuggling incident run by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), saying that there might have been some PKK militants who would accompany the convoy and then retreat. He also said, “It is definitely the PKK terror organization that handed these people the smuggled goods. It is the PKK that makes these people go round and round on that route with their mules, like horses turning a water wheel, for just 50 Turkish Liras, 100 liras.”
Mistakes in metaphors should be tolerated, as one of our sayings advocates, and this is an outstanding example of such a situation. I wonder if there is another proverb that advises more respectful language be used when making metaphors about the deceased?
Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet, in which this piece was published on May 24. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.