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 Turkey: Post-Roboski bombing, the dead are buried, but families still wait for justice

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Turkey: Post-Roboski bombing, the dead are buried, but families still wait for justice  28.7.2012  
By Emiko Jozuka in Roboski 

Felek Encu (far left) and another mother hold up photographs of the dead. Photo credit: Emiko Jozuka See Related Links

Brothers of the victims stand over their graves (far right, Ferhat Encu) Photo credit: Emiko Jozuka
July 28, 2012

ROBOSKI, The Kurdish region of Turkey, — More than half a year after the death of 34 people in a botched airstrike, families of the victims are still searching for answers and justice.

In a remote mountain village close to the Iraqi border, the pain of losing 34 youths in a Turkish military airstrike last December remains unforgotten.

Inside a mud-brick house in Roboski village, Felek Encu sits dressed in black. In her hands is a photograph of her 13-year-old son, who was killed in the bombing as he trekked through snowy mountain passes with a mule laden with food and fuel. His trip could have brought 50 TL (22 euros) to help support the family.

"We didn't have any cars, and it took us two hours to reach the site of the bombings through the snow and the mud. When we arrived, the air was thick with fire, smoke and a poisonous smell. The severed human and animal parts were mingled together, and it was difficult to tell them apart," said Encu.

"Some people were pulled out alive and I kept asking if that was my son. But they told me later that my son had been trapped under a fallen rock, and died."

Of the 38 youths who set out to collect food and fuel from a village across the border in Iraq, only four lived to see the next day. As they passed into a flat highland plain, roughly 2km from their village, two bombs dropped by the Turkish Air Force hit the convoy.

It was a case of mistaken identity. Two days later the government announced the airstrikes had been intended to strike PKK militants believed to have been infiltrating from Iraq.

In a region with few job opportunities, border smuggling is a main source of income for many. The attack was on well-known smuggling routes -- routes that the local military knows about and opts to look the other way -- and it sparked fury, grief and shock in the families of the victims and in Kurdish communities across the country.

An inefficient emergency response and two-day wait for a government announcement fuelled further resentment, as families of the victims and locals were left to collect bodies onto mules and tractors. Many victims froze to death, while others died en-route to hospital.

Rumours the bombings had been deliberate spread quickly as the PKK turned the incident into a propaganda tool.

After a flurry of official visits to Roboski village, including Prime Minister Erdogan's wife Emine, what happened seemed to be brushed aside until a report published by the Wall Street Journal on May 16th claimed that the airstrikes followed intelligence provided by US drones.

The new controversy propelled the case back into the spotlight. Erdogan responded with furor, as he dismissed the WSJ's report and claimed that Turkish drones had acted independently.

To date, little light has been shed on the deaths as a confidential investigation by the government continues and legal action against those responsible hasn't been taken.

For the victims' families, distrust and hatred towards the government simmers amid suspicions the lack of answers is partly due to their Kurdish origin.

BDP Uludere mayor Fahme Yaman said the late public announcements by the government may indicate their desire to cover up the event.

While the bombings have exacerbated mistrust towards the government in Kurdish communities, local AKP officials say the case will be resolved. They dispel suggestions of ethnic discrimination.

"We're all saddened by this incident … We accept that there was a mistake, but with Allah's permission, these mistakes will be clarified. At the moment, people are full of questions as no one knows how this happened. It's not a simple matter," explained Sirnak AKP woman's branch head, Hatice Atan.

"I'm also Kurdish and our PM definitely doesn't discriminate [between Turks and Kurds]. He says we're all siblings. If the PM didn't care, he wouldn't have sent his wife and daughter, or his deputy prime minister, or [Minister of Family and Social Affairs] Fatma Sahin and parliamentarians," she continued

However, public announcements by Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin added to the anger and distrust. He said he wouldn't apologise, but also dismissed those killed as smugglers engaging in illegal activities and being "the PKK terror organisation's extras [actors in a play]."

Since the bombing, family representatives have appeared on numerous television shows and given press interviews to pressure the government to provide answers and issue an official apology. But the pursuit of justice has not been easy.

"Some soldiers threatened families [of the victims] and told them to drop the case. I was taken into custody three times while trying to take this case to international and domestic audiences," said Ferhat Encu, a brother of a victim.

An offer of monetary compensation soon after the bombings also angered the families, who say that their only wish is for the perpetrators to be punished and for a peaceful resolution of the Kurdish issue.

"We were really saddened when a week after [the bombings] an offer of compensation was made while we were still waiting for the perpetrators to be found," said Ferhat Encu. "The district and prefectural governor encouraged us to accept the offer by saying it was our right and by asking what more the government could do for us. But we just want the perpetrators to be found. We will not accept money. It's not our custom to do so."

As the search for answers continues, locals in Sirnak remain divided over who is responsible. While some accused Erdogan and the military, others point to the possible involvement of the deep-state – an influential, anti-democratic group that has infiltrated the Turkish political system.

"In Turkey, power struggles may sometimes arise between certain groups: for example between the government and the military. These people [34 civilians] may have been pawns in this internal struggle, where one person wanted to destroy another's influence, and gain power for themselves," explained Ali Bayram, vice-president of the Sirnak Bar Association.

Back in Roboski, whether an intelligence blunder, or conspiracy, the need for justice and truth continues.

"Do you think Emine Erdogan understands what it feels like to lose a child? If Erdogan can act like the big brother of the Syrian people, why can't he do so in his own country? Is this to be our fate as Kurds? We want peace, enough is enough," Felek Encu said.

"Every day, I look out of the window when the children return from school, but my son doesn't come anymore," she whispered. "I'll look for his rights everywhere, even if they want to kill me. As a mother, I'll never let this drop."

Emiko Jozuka a Japanese freelance journalist based in Van

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