Intense days it have been, totally taken up by the news around the killing of 35 civilians by the Turkish air forces. Chilling details, like: 28 of the 35 deceased had the same last name, and 17 of 35 were under the age of 18. The group of smugglers always took the same route, one of the survivors told an investigation team of two NGO’s who were on the spot quickly. The gendarme and police knew it, and tolerated it. Smuggling has been a way of income in the region for generations long. Even more so since the war between the state and the PKK broke out in the eighties, and agriculture and cattle breeding was no longer possible because big parts of the region were declared a security zone.
What keeps stuck in my mind these days, are the predictable reactions from all sides. The media, for example. I was surprised to hear TV stations in Turkey are directly instructed by Ankara about how to cover the news (read my story about that here), but for the rest, I have not been surprised. After the AKP came with a statement, the news could be covered by TV, but still, they have to be very careful who to get in front of the microphone and which footage to broadcast and which not.
The papers don’t need too much instruction, I’m afraid. The civilians were bombed Wednesday late at night, on Thursday early morning the news was spreading, so the first papers to report about it were published on Friday. Time enough to cover the story from different angles, you would think. But no, unfortunately the majority of papers didn’t make an effort to go beyond the official statements. No paper for example mentioned the pre-report that was published on Thursday by two NGO’s, in which it became clear that the police and gendarme knew about the smuggling, that the smuggling routes were known by everybody. This at least raises questions about the intelligence that was used before the attack, but in none of the articles, this was mentioned. Some quoted one of the survivors from the same report, but the factual findings of the NGO’s were not published.
Some papers didn’t even choose the 35 civilians deaths to be the main story. One of Turkey’s biggest papers, Hürriyet, decided not to change their plans for the front story: a happy coverage of a container village in earthquake city Ercis, sponsored by Hürriyet. Self promotion on a day where tragedy should have been reported as the main news. Milliyet, also big, chose as main news the veto that President Gül used against a parliament decision to raise the pensions for mp’s. A corner of the front page was saved for the killings in Uludere.
In general, the reporting of Turkish media didn’t make Turkish people loose one night of sleep over this. If you don’t search yourself for news from different angles, you could go to sleep without your truths being shaken. Yes, 35 civilians were killed by the Turkish air force, but, there are all these buts. But: they were smugglers, what were they doing there anyway right by the Iraqi border, and but: there are PKK camps in the border region so ‘collateral damage’ is inevitable.
And when the footage and pictures of the funeral of the deceased were released, for many Turks all pieces of the puzzle fell into place: there were flags in red-yellow-green on the coffins – Kurdish colours, but by most Turks considered PKK-colours. Also, a portrait of Öcalan could be seen. See, many people immeditaly think, they are all terrorists! No paper takes the trouble to go and really talk to the villagers. Why do you cover your coffins with these flags? What do these colours mean to you? Why do you show Öcalan portraits? Tell us, about your daily life. Tell us, how the still unsolved Kurdish question and the still ongoing war between the army and the PKK affects your lives.
On pro-PKK side, the reactions were just as predictable. In short: the state planned to kill these civilians and it’s part of the ethnic cleansing of the Kurdish people. Some prefer the word ‘genocide’. ‘Erdogan mass murderer’, slogans like that.
The automatic reactions on both sides, remind me of a pothole in the street. There is water in the pothole, and the weight of water and sand slowly slowly makes the pothole bigger and deeper. The bigger and deeper the pothole gets, the more water will flow into it, just for gravity reasons. People have a pothole in their mind, with their basic convictions in it. When a new idea comes to their mind, the chance that it flows into the pothole is big, just like water flows in the easiest direction. The more ideas flow into the pothole in the mind, the bigger the pothole becomes, and the more difficult it becomes to think outside the pothole. It’s a circle.
A circle that can be broken, but you have to make an effort for it, and sometimes you need outside help. Somebody has to force you somehow to think outside the pothole. Now I’m afraid no investigation into the killings that is carried out by any party in Turkey will be able to reach this. If the army and/or the state research the killings, many Kurds will not trust the outcome, even if the investigation is done properly. When IHD and Mazlum-Der, the two NGO’s that made the pre-report, do the investigation, many Turks will not buy it, because especially IHD is seen by many as PKK-supporters. Everybody will let the results easily glide into their own potholes. No truths are questioned, and that’s it. Which will not satisfy anybody, and for sure not bring a solution to the conflict any closer.
That is why an investigation by an independent body is important. IHD and Mazlum-Der propose the Human Rights Commission of the UN should come to investigate. As soon as possible, before any evidence can be destroyed. I hope the state gives permission for that. It is the only party that could force people to think outside their pothole. Such an investigation wouldn’t allow people to just disregard the outcomes if they don’t suit their truths. It will also show a new borderline into two different groups: those who are able and willing to think beyond their own truths and force themselves to prevent new ideas to flow into the pothole in their minds, and those who don’t. In other words: those who are willing to really work towards peace, and those who don’t.