Turkey: For Ankara, Fallout from Lethal Drone Strike Continues
After a Turkish military attack last December left 34 Kurds from a village called Uludere -- mistakenly thought to be Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants -- dead, Ankara hoped to put the matter to rest by paying the victims' families compensation and promising an investigation into the incident. But in recent days a raging debate over the incident and its aftermath has been reignited in Turkey.
As mentioned in a previous post, the renewed discussion about the Uludere (Roboski in Kurdish) incident was set off by a recent Wall Street Journal article, which focused on how intelligence provided by American unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV's) might have factored into the attack, in which Turkish warplanes and artillery targeted a group of smugglers coming across the border from Iraq. But the response of officials from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to the WSJ article, which implied that the Turkish military made have not done enough to follow up on the original intelligence provided by the American drones, has only deepened the debate.
Defending the military's actions in the botched attack, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the the armed forces did what they needed to do and followed up on the American intelligence with their own drone surveillance. From the Hurriyet Daily News:
"That region is a terror region,” he told reporters accompanying him on a trip to Pakistan.
Erdoğan said he personally watched video footage of the incident recorded by a Turkish military drone. “I saw movement in the CD I watched; [it was] a convoy of 30-40 people on their way,” Erdoğan said. “It is impossible to see from that height. It is not a region in which civilians reside. In such an area, the Armed Forces cannot know if it is Ahmet or Mehmet.”
Erdogan's remarks paled in comparison to those made by the Idris Sahin, the staunchly nationalist Interior Minister, who said in a television interview that the 34 smugglers killed in the attack were merely "extras" in a ploy created by the PKK. “When you look at the broader context, there are no grounds for an apology. Those youths should not have been there. They would have stood trial if they had survived,” the minister said.
As an indication of how insensitive Sahin's words were, some of the most severe criticism of what he said came from his own party. “We don’t think that the minister’s approach and tone are humane," AKP deputy chair Huseyin Celik said in Ankara. "It’s obvious that his approach and tone do not belong to the AK Party and the AK Party government.” Erdogan, who is currently on a trip that has taken him to Pakistan and Kazakhstan, told reporters in Astan that he also did not "approve" of what Sahin said. At the same time, Erdogan said that he is ending the debate over the Uludere incident "for good."
That will likely not be the case. Considering the allegations raised by the WSJ article and the government's mostly tone deaf response to them, it would appear that the debate over the Uludere incident is only beginning. For a government that has promised a new approach to the Kurdish issue, properly resolving the Uludere case is going to present a major test for that vow.