Turkish PM sorry over deadly strike on
December 30, 2011
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo:
Members of the Kurdish community in France rip a
picture of Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan on
December 30, 2011 in Marseille, France, during a
protest against an air strike by Turkish air force
on civilian Kurds that killed 35 Kurdish villagers.
Photo: Getty Images
People mount bodies onto mules after Turkey's air
force attacked suspected Kurdish rebel targets
across the border in Iraq, killing at least 35
civilian Kurds, many of them believed to be
smugglers mistaken for guerrillas, near the Turkish
village of Ortasu in Sirnak, Turkey, Thursday, Dec.
29. 2011. The Turkish military confirmed the
Wednesday night raids, but said its jets struck an
area of northern Iraq that is frequently used by
Kurdish rebels to enter Turkey, after drones
detected a group approaching Turkey's border. Photo:
AP / AP
GULYAZI, The Kurdish region of Turkey, —
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
expressed regret Friday for the killing of 35
Kurdish civilians in an air strike as mourners
vented their fury and rebels called for an uprising.
As locals buried their dead, Erdogan admitted that
the victims of Wednesday night's attack near the
Iraqi border were smugglers and not separatist
rebels as the army had originally claimed.
The military also offered its condolences on Friday
in a rare gesture that appeared to acknowledge its
error, but neither it nor Erdogan were able to
assuage the sense of grief among locals.
Speaking to journalists in Istanbul, Erdogan voiced
his regret for what he called an "unfortunate and
"Images transmitted by drones showed a group of 40
people in the area, it was impossible to say who
they were," he said. "Afterwards it was determined
they were smugglers transporting cigarettes and fuel
In his first reaction to the strike by Turkish air
force F-16s, Erdogan said that "no state
deliberately bombs its own people."
He said that separatist rebels of the Kurdistan
Workers Party (PKK) had used the same route and
methods to bring weapons into Turkey to mount
and called for critics to await the result of an
The acknowledgement that the strike had been an
error was given short shrift by the PKK itself, a
group regarded as a terrorist organisation both by
the Ankara government and the West.
"This massacre was no accident ... It was organised
and planned," Bahoz Erdal from the PKK's armed wing
said in a statement.
"We urge the people of Kurdistan... to react after
this massacre and seek a settling of accounts
through uprisings," Erdal added.
The PKK uses the term "uprising" for sweeping civil
disobedience as well as clashes with the police.
In November Turkey bombed the Sulaimaniyah and Erbil
provinces of Iraq's autonomous northern Kurdish
region, wounding a civilian, Kurdish officials said.
Since August 17, Turkish jets repeatedly carried out
air strikes against the Kurdish PKK separatist
group's bases in
Iraqi Kurdistan region,
under justification of chasing elements of the
anti-Ankara PKK, forcing large numbers of Kurdish
citizens of those areas to desert their home
villages, including an air raid that
Kurdish civilians in a village north
of Kurdistan’s Sulaimaniyah city on August 21, 2011.
In the village of Gulyazi, home to many of the
victims, locals were also unmoved by the expressions
of condolences as the funerals took place.
"This was no mistake," said one young woman, who
lost her cousin in the bombing. "They intentionally
killed people, who were trying to earn a crust," she
sobbed as she walked behind the coffin.
The bodies were transferred from a mosque in the
nearby town of Uludere after early morning prayers,
and driven to Gulyazi in a long convoy of ambulances
and cars, before being buried.
"I want to tell the chief of the general staff that
my son is a martyr. He was just 13, and he did not
have any kind of weapon," cried the father of
13-year-old Vedat Encu, as his son's body was
There were similar outpourings of grief and anger in
"Damn you, Erdogan ... One day you too will know our
pain," shouted one group of protesters who had
gathered in the town centre.
Turkey's military command said it carried out the
air strike after a spy drone spotted a group moving
toward its sensitive southeastern border under cover
of darkness late Wednesday, in an area known to be
used by militants.
The main pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP)
said the planes had bombed villagers from Kurdish
majority southeastern Turkey who were smuggling
sugar and fuel across the border on mules and
While branding the bombing "a massacre of
civilians", BDP leader Selahattin Demirtas called on
the Kurdish population to respond "by democratic
The bombing sparked protests in other parts of
Turkey, with a protest on Thursday called by the BDP
drawing 2,000 people to Instabul's Taksim Square.
Afterwards, several hundred youths shouting pro-PKK
slogans threw stones at riot police, who responded
with water cannon and tear gas.
Police also clashed with protesters in Diyarbakir
and Sirnak, two mainly Kurdish towns in the
southeast, firing tear gas and water cannon in
response to demonstrators who threw stones and
petrol bombs, local security officials said.
Clashes between Kurdish rebels and the army have
escalated in recent months.
The Turkish military launched an operation on
militant bases inside northern Iraq in October after
a PKK attack killed 24 soldiers in the border town
of Cukurca, the army's biggest loss since 1993.
Since it was established in 1984, the PKK has been
fighting the Turkish state, which still denies the
constitutional existence of Kurds, to establish a
Kurdish state in the south east of the country, sparking a conflict that has claimed some 45,000
But now its aim is the creation an autonomous
and more cultural rights for ethnic Kurds who
constitute the greatest minority in Turkey, numbering more than 20 million. A large Turkey's
Kurdish community openly sympathise with the Kurdish PKK rebels.
PKK's demands included releasing PKK detainees,
lifting the ban on education in Kurdish, paving the
way for an autonomous democrat Kurdish system within
Turkey, reducing pressure on the detained PKK leader
Abdullah Öcalan, stopping military action against
the Kurdish party and recomposing the Turkish
Turkey refuses to recognize its Kurdish population
as a distinct minority. It has allowed some cultural
rights such as limited broadcasts in the Kurdish
language and private Kurdish language courses with
the prodding of the European Union, but Kurdish
politicians say the measures fall short of their
The PKK is considered as 'terrorist' organization by
Ankara, U.S., the PKK continues to be on the
blacklist list in EU despite court ruling which
overturned a decision
to place the Kurdish rebel group PKK and its
political wing on the European Union's terror list.
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