Turkey: Evidence shows Kurdish raid may
have been intentional
By Thomas Seibert - The National UAE
Family members cry over the coffins of victims of a
botched Turkish air strike that killed 35 Kurdish
civilians last month. Photo: AP
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
December 29, 2011. Turkish warplanes killed 23
Kurdish villagers in an air strike near the Iraqi
Kurdistan border, Photo: EPA
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ISTANBUL, — When the bombing started,
Haci Encu and his fellow smugglers ducked for cover.
Mr Encu, 19, and about 40 other Kurds from villages
on the Turkish side of the border with Iraq, had set
out with their mules to smuggle cigarettes and
petrol from Iraq into the Turkish province of Sirnak,
just like many times before. Such smuggling has a
long tradition in this poor region of Turkey, and
civilian or military authorities rarely interfere.
But on the evening of December 28, it was different.
Mr Encu and others said they heard the unmanned
drones, followed by the roar of warplanes and the
sound of heavy explosions. Mr Encu and two other
smugglers found shelter in a little river bed, but
others were not so lucky.
"Right on the border, about 20 people were
annihilated in the first wave of the air attack," Mr
Encu told a delegation of non-governmental groups
investigating the incident, according to a report of
the probe published this week. Mr Encu is a member
of a Kurdish clan that lost 26 people in the air
raid. All in all, 35 civilians
died in the
bombardment. The government and the military in
Ankara said the attack was ordered because the
smugglers were mistaken for Kurdish rebels.
But a week after the air raid, opponents and
supporters of the government said there is evidence
that the attack was intentional. In interviews with
The National this week, representatives of both the
Kurdish community and Turkey's ruling party
expressed concern that political motives may have
been behind the raid.
The attack in the district of Uludere, one of the
worst incidents involving civilian deaths in almost
30 years of conflict between the Turkish state and
the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK),www.ekurd.net
has heightened tensions between Kurds and Turks. As
the government in Ankara and members of the Party
for Peace and Democracy (BDP), Turkey's main Kurdish
party, traded accusations, villagers attacked a
local official in Uludere who visited the families
of the victims to pay his respects.
Prosecutors in Sirnak province and authorities in
Ankara have started investigations, and the
government has announced it will compensate bereaved
families. But it remains unclear who ordered the air
strike and why.
However, officials in Sirnak province yesterday
demanded the suspension of a military officer in the
region because he may have been involved in the
airstrike. In a statement quoted by Turkish media,
the office of the governor of Sirnak said that Col
Huseyin Onur Guney, deputy commander of a military
unit in the region, should be suspended. The
statement said the colonel was the officer in charge
on the day of the attack.
But the government in Ankara says it is not to
"There was definitely no intention" to kill
civilians, said Bulent Arinc, a deputy prime
minister and government spokesman, after a cabinet
meeting on Monday.
Efforts by the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan,
the prime minister, to reassure the public and
Turkey's estimated 12 million Kurds have failed to
Suspicions are based on the fact that the air strike
took place even though authorities in Uludere were
well aware that there was smuggling going on in the
region. "Everyone knew it," Nusirevan Elci, the
president of the bar association in Sirnak province
said in a telephone interview this week. "Most
people here are saying that the smugglers were
killed intentionally." Selahattin Demirtas, the BDP
leader, has called the Uludere incident "a clear
massacre against civilians". The BDP accuses the
Erdogan government of repressing Turkey's Kurds.
Mehmet Emin Dindar, a member of Mr Erdogan's Justice
and Development Party (AKP) representing Sirnak
province, confirmed that smuggling was known to be a
source of income for poor villagers. "I wouldn't
even call it smuggling," Mr Dindar said by
telephone. "I would call it tax-free trade."
Fears that the villagers may have become the victims
of an intentional attack rather than of a tragic
mistake were boosted by statements of survivors.
Servet Encu, another member of the Encu clan who was
one of the smugglers, told the delegation of NGOs
that troops stopped the smugglers near the border on
the evening of December 28.
"Soldiers have stopped us before, but they always
let us pass after a while," Servet Encu told the
"This time, they blocked our way completely and did
not allow us to go on. When the bombing started, the
soldiers got into their vehicles and left."
Hasim Encu, the mayor of one of the border
villagers, told a delegation of opposition
politicians that the air strike had been
"intentional and preordained". Mr Erdogan knew
details of the incident that had not been made
public yet, he said according to news reports.
Mr Dindar, the AKP politician, also said he
suspected that the raid was politically motivated
sabotage. But unlike the BDP, he pointed the finger
at government opponents within the armed forces bent
on undermining efforts by Ankara to solve the
Kurdish conflict. "Look at the Arinc speech," he
said, referring to recent remarks by the deputy
prime minister, in which he promised to widen
Kurdish rights. "That made some people nervous," Mr
Neither Mr Dindar, Mr Elci nor the BDP offered
concrete evidence for their theories. But Turkey has
seen suspected cases of deadly provocations in the
Kurdish conflict before. In one incident, an army
sergeant is among suspects on trial in the city of
Van, charged with killing a man in a bomb attack on
a bookshop in nearby Hakkari province in 2005.
Prosecutors claim the suspects attacked the bookshop
to increase tensions in the predominantly Kurdish
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