Apology for ‘distressing’ blunder fails to calm Kurds
Turkey’s government is struggling to contain the fallout from a blunder in which the military killed 35 young Kurdish smugglers in an air strike they thought was directed at Kurdish separatist militants.
The conservative, Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) has followed previous administrations in cracking down on the separatist rebels of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
But it is no closer to finding a solution to the complaints of the country’s substantial Kurdish minority.
Turkey’s military said they directed Wednesday night’s air strike near the Iraqi border against what they thought was a group of around 40 fighters from the PKK, with whom they have been involved in a bitter, decades-long conflict.
When the dust cleared however, the bodies were of local villagers, most of them aged between 16 and 20 years old, who had been smuggling cigarettes and fuel across the border.
Grief-stricken, enraged local villagers had denounced the attack within hours: local television pictures showed them using mules to carry the dead down off the snowcovered mountains in Uludere district.
But while the AKP conceded Thursday that there could have been a blunder, it took until Friday for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to unequivocally acknowledge the mistake.
Expressing regret for the killing of 35 Kurds, he offered his condolences to the victims for what he described as an “unfortunate and distressing” incident.
At the same time however, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu insisted that Turkey was engaged an anti-terrorist operation against the PKK while respecting the rule of law. Wednesday’s blunder had been an exception, he said.
Media commentators and opposition politicians were scathing of the AKP’s handling of the crisis.
“The state bombed its own people,” was the headline in the liberal daily Taraf.