Facing Roboski: a painful but necessary part of the peace process

(Türkçe burada okuyabilirsiniz)

An intelligence officer in the Turkish army, Milliyet journalist Kemal Göktas revealed on Monday, told his superiors on the evening of the Roboski massacre that the group they were planning to bomb was most likely just villagers and not PKK members. Aygün Eker, who is a colonel now, did get through to his chief, Brigadier General Halil Erkek, but higher up in the chain of command they refused to listen. The group was bombed and 34 people who were smuggling cigarettes, tea and petrol, were killed. Twenty of them were minors.

Front page of Milliyet, Monday 16 February 2015
Front page of Milliyet, Monday 16 February 2015

What is exactly the news here? That the army knew they were bombing civilians on that evening of 28 December 2011? No, I don’t think that’s the news. Whoever really delved into the Roboski massacre would easily have concluded already that it was most likely not an accident. There are loads of indications for that, and combined with some basic journalism and logical thinking, the conclusion can be easily drawn – I’m not getting into the details here, since I have written about them before.

The news is that an army officer said it. Kemal Göktas’ source remains unclear. I asked him, and he said his source is secret. An incredibly valuable tool for a journalist, since it gives people the opportunity to share secret or sensitive information with journalists without getting into trouble. Since the news revealed the names of those involved, including the name of corps commander Yıldırım Güvenç, who ordered artillery fire on the group before the bombing, it seems very reliable. I don’t think Göktas would have dared to publish this including the names if he wasn’t absolutely sure of the facts.

Alternative report

It is, however, not the first time that there has been an indication from someone directly involved that the people in the area on that evening knew very well that civilians were going to be bombed to smithereens. One such indication can be found in the ‘alternative report’ which HDP’s Ertugrul Kürkcü wrote. Kürkcü was a member of the parliamentary investigation commission into the massacre, and he and the other non-AKP members of the committee didn’t accept the commission’s official report.

In Kürkcü’s report there is a quote of Major Mehmet Olcensoy, given to civil authority auditors. The quote relates to the artillery being aimed at the group of villagers, and their reaction to the shooting. The group kept on walking back towards Turkey, which was interpreted by those who wanted to bomb as a sign that they were PKK members – which doesn’t make sense, because PKK members would spread and hide to reduce the risk of losing people. Anyway, Olcensoy said, according to Kürkcü’s report (and the quote didn’t end up in the official report): ‘In my opinion the lack of reaction to the shelling by the group is a question mark. Because of this ambiguity we did not celebrate the destruction of terrorist elements after the event.’

This was, however, not reported by the Turkish press. The official report was finally released just a few days before Newroz 2013 (when Öcalan declared the ceasefire and the withdrawal of the PKK from Turkey), which was obviously a choice aimed at attracting as little attention to it as possible. The Turkish press reported the finding just as Erdogan liked it: they accepted the report’s conclusion, basically that the bombing had been an accident and that nobody was responsible, and that was that. Onwards to peace!

Fully love and trust

I hope more people who were involved in the massacre have the guts to get in touch with trustworthy journalists and share their information. This example of Göktas shows that it is safe, that your identity will not be revealed. It is not enough, because eventually leaks cannot replace a thorough and honest official investigation into the massacre, disclosing what exactly happened that night, but for now, it is all we have.

News like this in big papers like Milliyet – and not in for example the Kurdish press, which is not read and trusted by many Turks – is also crucial to make more people believe that the Turkish state is actually capable of killing its citizens ruthlessly and then covering the massacre up. It happened often, and still, many people in this country decide to close their eyes to that reality. Which is understandable in a way. It must be horrific to realize that the state you were brainwashed to fully love and trust, has so much innocent blood on its hands. News stories like the one this week help people to open their eyes. A painful, but crucial part of the peace process.

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