Dilemmas of the Uludere Verdict

Dilemmas of the Uludere Verdict

Last week, the Turkish General Staff’s Military Prosecutor’s Office announced its verdict of the non-prosecution of the “Uludere massacre.” This is the incident when 34 Turkish citizens assumed to be Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) members were bombed by military jets in the southeastern town, Uludere, on the Turkish-Iraqi border in December 2011. It sparked huge outrage among the public since the supposedly PKK members turned out to be civilian smugglers. This is why the military court’s decision has drawn severe criticism. What is worse in the court’s decision, however, is it concludes military officers have made an “inevitable” mistake while performing their duty. The fact this decision has been made while the peace process is still in progress and the government’s silence towards it make the situation even worse.

There are two dilemmas in this picture. The first is the military court has been the primary judicial authority of such a critical and over-sensitive case. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) has fiercely argued for the abolishment of the military court, defending the civilianization of the justice system. This has been also the top priority item of the new Constitution the AKP has been committed to drafting. Hence the government’s failure to issue judicial changes and the judgment of the case by the military court pose a dilemma.

The government’s silence is also in sharp contrast with its approach toward the Kurdish question. The AKP government has been trying to end the decades-long bloody war in Turkey by starting peace talks with the PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan. Prime Minister Erdoğan even said “the Kurdish question is his own question.” He was the one who made Öcalan’s letter calling for a ceasefire to be read at the Newroz (the traditional spring festival) celebration in Diyarbakır. When the records of the secret talks held with PKK members in Oslo were leaked to the press, he still stood behind the peace talks. These have been feats of bravery. Now Prime Minister Erdoğan needs to display the very same bravery by saying “Uludere is his own question.”

If he doesn’t, this would greatly harm not only the ongoing peace process, but also relations with the Kurds in the region. It would look ironic to act as the big brother of northern Iraq while unable to fulfill the demands of and embrace its own Kurds.

And a last word for the opposition: The Kurdish question needs to be embraced by all parties. Tony Blair’s, the former British prime minister who led the North Irish peace process, initiative was not only absorbed by the government. The opposition parties also embraced the process, reflecting a post-nationalist ethos. This bipartisanship enabled the British government to act without electoral concerns. When the BDP (Peace and Democracy Party) members who were just released from jail were taking the oath last week, the MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) members left the Turkish Parliament.

This act itself is as depressing as the Uludere verdict and disappointing for the peace process.
What is “inevitable” in this whole picture is only the urgent need to come to terms with the “Uludere reality.”