4 January 2012Following a deadly attack in Uludere, where Turkish warplanes mistakenly killed 35 civilian Kurds, the government has pledged a full investigation and says it will pay compensation. So far, however, it has declined to issue an official apology.
"If there is a crime, there should be a punishment. No one should doubt it," said Mehmet Metiner, a Kurdish intellectual and MP from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). He told SES Türkiye that the government is investigating the accident "very carefully".
According to a statement issued by the General Staff, the military carried out the airstrike based on intelligence reports that indicated the PKK was active in the cross border region in Iraq. It also received imaging from an unmanned drone that showed a group moving towards the border.
The deaths have driven a wedge between Kurds and the state at a time when political parties are working on drafting a new constitution. Many hope the new document will meet some of the longstanding cultural and political demands of Turkey's Kurdish population.
"At a time when we [were going to] open the democratization package, this incident has occurred which is extremely thought-provoking," Metiner said.
Although the government's much-heralded "Kurdish opening" has faltered during the two years since its announcement, the AKP is determined to follow through with its promises, he added.
Some activists -- such as Hevallo Azad, a Kurdish rights defender and blogger from Diyarbakir -- say the airstrikes and subsequent outbreak of demonstrations across the country highlight the deep mistrust between the government and the ethnic Kurd minority.
Azad says there is a widespread view held by Kurds that the attack was deliberate and had a psychological aspect to it.
"It is seen as part of the AKP's wider total war of annihilation of the Kurdish movement in Turkey," he told SES Türkiye
The airstrike victims, he added, were impoverished people who "made this dangerous journey buying cheap goods to sell at marginally better prices to try and alleviate their and their families' poverty."
Due to a lack of regular jobs, many in the region live from smuggling in and out of Iraq and Iran.
"This fact is known to everyone, including the Turkish Armed Forces," says Ekrem Eddy Guzeldere, an analyst at the Istanbul office of the European Stability Initiative.
Tulin Daloglu, Ankara-based writer and analyst, notes that the people who live along the border feel forced into doing illegal business because of lack of opportunity.
"They have limited options for making a living and winter conditions hit hard. Farming or raising livestock does not bring enough money to feed families. The border trade is illegal and many turn to it to survive," she told SES Türkiye.
Cross-border operations and airstrikes into northern Iraq have long been opposed by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party and others in the peace camp calling for end to fighting by both the military and PKK.
The government has been stepping up the military dimension of its struggle with the PKK in order to better position itself for future negotiations. The government anticipates the new constitution and reforms expanding Kurdish cultural and political freedoms will reduce the relevance of the armed struggle of the PKK.
However, last week's deaths reveal the government may have miscalculated and has pushed itself into a more difficult position as a result of its overreliance on the military option to quell Kurdish nationalism.
For Sinan Ulgen, chairman of the Istanbul-based Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies, the incident has scored the PKK a huge propaganda victory.
"The extremists want to paint this incident as the Turkish government killing its own people, just like what is happening across the border in Syria. Whereas the government wants to clarify it is a clear operational mistake and certainly not part of a policy of killing Kurdish civilians," he told SES Türkiye.
The weak response of the government has compounded the problem, opening the door for the issue to be manipulated by Kurdish politicians and the PKK, says Ziya Meral, a London-based Turkey analyst.
The Turkish government waited for almost a day to comment on the issue, he noted.
Meral adds this is clearly not a willing act of the state, which continues active military operations against the PKK without any need for explanation or cover up.
Paul Kubicek, a Turkey analyst at Oakland University, argues events like these "play into the PKK's hands, making it harder and harder for the government to pursue diplomacy and convince Kurdish citizens of Turkey that the government is on 'their' side."
"It may be prudent for the government to rethink its strategy and try other tactics to secure the border," he adds.
Professor Michael Gunter from Tennessee Technological University, who has written nine books about the Kurdish people, says it may be that the recent Turkish-PKK fighting is more about jockeying for position before the two sides begin negotiating again.
"The darkest hour can be just before the dawn," he says.
Hemin Hawrami, head of the Iraqi Kurdistan Democratic Party's (KDP) Foreign Affairs Office, believes negotiations and the continuation of the "democratic opening" will pave the way for a long-term peaceful solution.
"We expressed our deep condolences for the death of those people .We don't believe violence from either side will bring any solid results and thus we encourage all parties to renounce violence and the military solution," he told SES Türkiye.