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 Turkey must investigate this massacre to build Kurdish trust

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Turkey must investigate this massacre to build Kurdish trust  20.1.2012  
By Fazel Hawramy, The Guardian








Locals gather in front of the bodies of people who were killed in a warplane attack in the Ortasu village of Uludere, in the Sirnak province [Turkey Kurdistan], on December 29, 2011. Turkish warplanes killed 23 Kurdish villagers in an air strike near the Iraqi Kurdistan border when smugglers were apparently mistaken for PKK militants, Photo: Getty Images.  See Related Links
The bombing of innocent villagers by the Turkish army demands justice. Relations with the Kurds depend on it

January 20, 2012


A group of Kurdish schoolchildren and young villagers were transporting cheap fuel into Turkey from Iraq on 28 December. Some time after 9.30pm, as the group reached the border area, four Turkish F-16 fighter jets launched an attack and within an hour, 34 members of the group, including 17 children, were dead.

The Turkish army initially hailed the raid as a success, claiming that it had killed fighters from the Kurdistan Workers' party (PKK) – a group that has waged an armed rebellion against the state since 1984. But it soon transpired that the victims were civilians, some as young as 12. The army and the national intelligence organisation blamed each other for the faulty intelligence that led to the attack.

The head of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy party (BDP), Selahattin Demirtaş, echoed the outrage felt by many in Turkey when he called the incident a "massacre of youths" and asked the government to apologise to the victims' families.

Under political pressure, the government agreed to launch an investigation. But many Kurds remain sceptical that the government in Turkey is able or willing to carry out a transparent and independent investigation.

On the anniversary of the murder of Hrant Dink – a prominent Turkish-Armenian journalist killed by Turkish nationalists – the pressure group Human Rights Watch has declared the state investigation and subsequent trial of the alleged actors behind his murder a "travesty of justice". As a result, many in Turkey believe that the state is incapable of investigating its own conduct. In the name of fighting terror, the Turkish armed forces have committed countless human rights abuses in the Kurdish region over many decades without proper investigation.

An examination launched in 1994 into the killing of 45 civilians in a military airstrike in the same area that the recent massacre took place in Şırnak province has yet to make any conclusions as to why so many civilians died.

When the state minister for human rights, Azimet Köylüoğlu, criticised the Turkish army for carrying out "acts of terrorism" in the Dersim area by burning Kurdish villages in 1994, he was banned by the army from visiting the area.

The following year, Aliza Marcus, a Reuters journalist, was charged with "provoking enmity and hatred by displaying racism or regionalism" for an article titled "Kurdish villages, the target of the army". She was eventually acquitted but could not report from Turkey afterwards.

This painful history has created a deep sense of distrust among Turkey's Kurdish population towards the state and the army. However, the government of prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has made some progress in dealing with the Kurdish population since coming to power in 2002. For instance, Erdoğan apologised to the Kurdish people of Dersim on behalf of the state for the military expedition in 1937 which killed more than 13,000 people.

In a report this month, the human rights commissioner of the Council of Europe recognised the progress made but also noted that the "systematic problems concerning the administration of justice" in Turkey mean that "the protection of the state often takes precedence over the protection of human rights".

This extends to the government's treatment of the media whose journalists face continued implicit threats, harassment or imprisonment if they publish articles to hold politicians to account. At present,www.ekurd.net there are almost 100 journalists in prison, and Turkey is considered a dangerous place for journalists. This is another reason it is so difficult for journalists to effectively cover incidents such as December's bombing.

By contrast, journalists who demonstrate support for the government's narrative, particularly with regard to the conflict in the Kurdish region, face fewer problems. In October last year, the heads of four Turkish news agencies made a pledge to the government to censor the news from the Kurdish region in the name of fighting terror.

When a high-circulation national newspaper such as Hurriyet still displays a message next to the title on its front page saying "Turkey belongs to Turks" (Türkiye Türklerindir), it is difficult to believe that such a newspaper will do justice to stories related to Kurds, Armenians and others who are not ethnic Turks but still citizens of the state.

Through taming the power of the army over the last few years and gaining control of the judiciary, Erdoğan now has the tools to investigate December's massacre in a comprehensive and transparent way, and thereby win the trust of Turkey's Kurdish population.

If the government fails to investigate this incident thoroughly and if those who ordered the airstrikes are not brought to account, the incident has the potential to derail the important progress that the government of Erdoğan has made on the so-called Kurdish question.

Copyright ©, respective author or news agency, guardian.co.uk

 


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