‘The Act of Killing’ is by far the most overwhelming film I have ever seen. It was recommended to me by the lecturers in my International Journalism Master’s as an example of a documentary film in which the unexpected form, re-enactment, is exceptionally well chosen. It is, but the film hit me mostly because of its content. All the violence was re-enacted, but revealed a shocking truth.
Door de Koerden gunstig te stemmen, zou Erdogan de hernieuwde stembusgang in Istanbul aanstaande zondag in zijn voordeel kunnen beslissen, denken sommigen. Daarom zou hij de isolatie van de Koerdische leider Öcalan hebben doorbroken. Maar waarom is Erdogan dan tegelijkertijd een offensief begonnen tegen de PKK-strijders in het noorden van Irak?
On January 26, Kurdish locals in northern Iraq’s Dohuk province began to peacefully protest the presence of a Turkish military base in the village of Sirye. Over the previous year, Ankara had killed dozens of locals in regularly bombings on the nearby mountain headquarters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has fought an armed insurgency in Turkey for decades.
People from Sirye and the nearby village of Dereluk gathered opposite the base. Gulistan Niheli and Omar Ali Rekani, members of Iraqi parliament for the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), were among those holding a banner that read: “We call upon the Turkish army and PKK militants to respect the sovereignty of the region and take their political and military conflict to their own place”.
Veli Encü remembers clearly what he vowed to himself, what all the devastated villagers vowed to themselves on that tragic night seven years ago: they would fight for truth and justice for as long as it took, and never give up.
Encü maintains that vow today, after a year that has been especially difficult for the families who lost their sons and husbands to Turkish army bombs on Dec. 28, 2011.
After years of failed court cases in Turkey, they took their case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) – and were rejected. “Still, we will not give up until those responsible for the massacre are punished,” says Encü, the spokesperson for the families seeking justice for their lost loved ones since that tragic night.
ISTANBUL – A commission in the Turkish parliament has finalized its report on the Uludere massacre, in which 34 civilians were killed at the end of 2011. According to the report the bombing of civilians was unintentional, and it was caused by communication flaws between civilian and military authorities. Nobody is guilty, according to the report.
Three of the four parties represented in the commission don’t accept the outcome and will publish their own reports. The commission has eight members: five from governing party AKP and one from each opposition party, CHP, BDP and MHP.
In the bombing at the end of 2011 34 civilians were killed at the Turkish-Iraqi border. They were smuggling petrol and food. There are not many other ways to make a living in the region, partly because of the conflict between the Kurdish armed group the PKK and the Turkish state. Governing party AKP has always said the incident was an accident and that the smugglers were mistaken for PKK fighters. The report states that the incident must be seen as a result of the ‘intense terrorist threat’ in the region, where the PKK has camps.
Several members of the commission have serious doubts about the outcome of the investigation. They didn’t get the chance to speak to the people responsible and had no mandate to force people to talk. Several important military documents were stamped ‘secret’ before the commission could look into them, and the chair of the commission, an AKP MP, complained about that.
The members of the commission have watched the footage of unmanned patrol planes that spotted the group of 38 smugglers in the border area. According to commission members of the BDP and the CHP the footage shows very clearly that the group are no PKK fighters. Ertugrul Kürkcü, MP for the pro-Kurdish BDP to ANP news agency: ‘You clearly see that it’s not a trained military group, and also the images in which goods are loaded from trucks onto donkeys are clear. When the F16’s approach, you don’t see the group separating and hiding, as guerillas would do, but rather huddling together because they are scared’. Nineteen of the 34 victims were minors.
Kürkcü says his party will present its own report next week, and that also the social-democrat CHP and the ultra-nationalist MHP will publish their own versions.
The report leaves many questions unanswered. That can hinder the peace process between the state and the PKK, who are talking to try to find a solution to the almost 30 year old armed conflict in Turkey.
ISTANBUL – On Thursday morning the former chief of general staff Ismail Hakki Karadayi was taken into custody in Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul. He is suspected of involvement in the so-called ‘post-modern coup’ of February 1997, in which the army forced the government to step down.
Karadayi was chief of general staff between 1994 and 1998. During his term, in 1996, Turkey got an Islamist head of government for the first time in its history, namely Necmettin Erbakan. The army, at the time still strong in its role as the ultimate defender of the Turkish form of secularism, feared too much religious influence in politics, and forced Erbakan to go. Because the army showed its power without tanks, the event went into history as the ‘post-modern coup’.
Last year several other high ranking former officers were arrested in connection with the same case. Among them was the second in command after Karadayi, Cevik Bir. He is still in jail. Karadayi is being transported from Istanbul to Ankara now, where he will be interrogated.
ISTANBUL – The Dutch Patriots, which might be stationed in Turkey as soon as early in the new year to protect Turkey against artillery fire from over the Syrian border, will probably be stationed near the city of Adana. Adana is Turkey’s fifth biggest city, some hundred kilometres from the Syrian border. Foreign military presence is not unusual there: since the nineteen fifties it has had an important American air base.
The city has 1.5 million citizens and is modern, located close to the Mediterranean Sea and is an important economic centre. Besides that, the region around Adana is known as one of the most fertile places on earth: on a large scale, fruits, vegetables and products like cotton are being grown.
The city grew rapidly in the nineteen nineties. The war between the armed Kurdish group the PKK and the state was at it fiercest at the time, hundreds of Kurdish villages were burned down in the Kurdish southeast of the country and many Kurds fled to the city.
In general, Kurds in Turkey don’t support the strong anti-Assad politics of the governing AK Party. They believe PM Erdogan is mainly arming himself against the Kurdish population of Syria, which lives right across part of the border and which managed to build a certain degree of independence over the last couple of months. The Free Syrian Army doesn’t no say in Kurdish territory. The Democratic Union Party, the Syrian equivalent of the PKK, pulls the strings.
In Adana, Reuters news agency reported earlier this year, there is a secret centre where Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar collect intelligence and refer it to the Free Syrian Army. Whether that centre is located at the American base close to the city is not clear.
When the Dutch Patriots come to Adana, the city will again play a bigger role in Turkish and international Syrian policies. Even though the Kurds denounce Turkey’s politics concerning Syria, and many Turks, especially in border areas, don’t support it either, any increased tensions or protests are not expected in the city when the Patriots arrive.
Dutch military personnel should prepare for a hot summer. In July and August Adana is one of the hottest cities in Turkey: the temperature easily rises to 43- 44 degrees Celcius. Many Adana citizens leave the city and go to summer houses in the cooler mountains, north of the city.
ANKARA – Three former Turkish generals have beensentenced to life imprisonment on Friday. They were on trial for planning a coup against the government in 2003. Because the coup plans didn’t lead to an actual coup, they can be released after twenty years. Thirty-four other officers were acquitted.
These verdicts are the first from trials over coup plans. Hundreds of officers were on trial because they supposedly wanted to create chaos in the country with terror attacks. The chaos would give them the opportunity to bring down the government.
A total of 78 suspects were sentenced to 18 years imprisonment, 214 of them got 16 years, 28 suspects got 13 years and four months. The high sentences caused intense reactions in Turkey. The biggest opposition party CHP states that the trial ‘has been a political trial from the very beginning’.
There is heavy discussion about evidence being tampered with in the so-called Sledgehammer case. Not only the accused’s lawyers are convinced of tampering, but also some supporters of the case admit there is something not right with the evidence presented in court. Investigations into the evidence by two Turkish universities and an American investigation bureau proved that there had been major interference with the mainly digital evidence.
The debate about the coup plans has been intense from the very beginning. The Turkish army has a history of not hesitating to stage coups, but that doesn’t prove that high military personnel were now also involved in plans to stage a coup. The plans were supposedly made in 2003. The current AKP government had been in power for one year. Among members of the army there was a deep mistrust of the leaders of the AKP, who are rooted in the political-Islamic movement. The last coup, against such an Islamic-oriented government, was in 1997, when the army forced Prime Minister Erbakan to step down, using a memorandum.
Ever since the AKP has been governing Turkey, the power of the army has been limited. Many lawyers, academics and political analysts believe that power in the country has now been taken over by judges and prosecutors appointed by the AKP, and that they never intended to give the generals and officers a fair trial.
ISTANBUL – ‘A new tactic’, says Murat Karayilan, commander of the Kurdish armed movement the PKK via a Kurdish news agency. No, says the Turkish army, it’s a big anti PKK operation. Fact is that in the South-east of Turkey an unusually long battle is being fought between the army and the PKK. The fighting has been going on now for eleven days.
Usually confrontations are short: the PKK attacks an army post or police station or explodes a mine, after which they quickly go back into hiding. The army, in its turn, bombs PKK camps in the mountains on the Turkish-Iraqi border. Battles that last for days, like now in the Semdinli region, are unusual.
Whether the PKK, like Karayilan says, has really changed tactics, must nevertheless be doubted, says analyst Gareth Jenkins. He works in Istanbul for the American Institute for Central Asia and the Caucasus. Jenkins: ‘The PKK can’t really hold territory; they don’t have the military means for that’.
But that it is a one-sided, long lasting attack on the PKK, like the army says, isn’t very convincing either: the military’s power is so much greater that such an operation shouldn’t have to last eleven days.
The fighting started when eleven days ago the PKK put up roadblocks in the area, stopped cars and checked people’s identities. That triggered the army action. Jenkins: ‘I think the PKK changed tactics already about a year ago. Then Kurdish groups declared so-called ‘democratic autonomy’, and ever since the PKK wants to show they ultimately call the shots in the area.’
The road blocks have increased ever since, just like attacks on companies that cooperate with the state or on state property in the region, like oil pipelines and dams. Also the PKK more than before has been interfering in solving local disputes about, for example, land and water rights or between different clans.
Bigger attacks in which more soldiers get killed, carried out by several smaller units, are allegedly part of the new strategy too. Maybe something went wrong there in Semdinli. Jenkins speculates: ‘Maybe they got caught and not all units could get away in time. Usually the PKK moves in small groups, with eight to ten men. But this is not a fight between the army and one small PKK unit, because in that case it would never last so long.’
The Turkish media in the meantime report little about the continuing battle, possibly on orders of the Turkish government. When the government will come out with a statement about Semdinli, remains unclear.
ISTANBUL – Turks in general approve of their government’s decision not to start a military retaliation against Syria, after the shooting down of a Turkish jet last Friday. In most cases the Turkish media consider the reaction of the government to be cautiously measured. Only a handful of Turks would support an armed conflict.
Prime Minister Erdogan announced on Tuesday that Syria is from now on a ‘hostile nation’, and that provocations at the border will be considered a threat to Turkey’s security. Research bureau ANAR estimates, based on opinion polls from years of earlier research, only a maximum of 5% of Turks would support a war with Syria. At the end of the week the results are expected of the latest polling of support for a military conflict.
Another poll, carried out before the incident with the plane, showed that 12% of Turks would find it a good idea if Turkey intervened in Syria to protect Syrian citizens against their President Assad. But that is quite different matter to a war directly involving both countries.
Turkey has been fighting the armed Kurdish separatist movement PKK for thirty years now. That battle still costs many soldiers’ lives, and most Turks don’t want yet another armed conflict that could take the lives of young, often conscript soldiers.
Even though the threat of a military confrontation between Turkey and Syria has not totally faded, the tourist sector isn’t worried. Spokesperson for the Association of Turkish Travel Agents, Ertugrul Karaoglu, says: ‘We haven’t seen any effect of the tensions between Turkey and Syria on tourism. Of course it all depends on how far this will escalate, but even if it turns into an armed conflict at the Syrian border, you won’t notice any of that far away on a beach in Bodrum.’
His organisation is not going to make an effort to convince potential tourists that Turkey is a safe destination. Karaoglu: ‘Because what will people think if you tell them ten times how safe it is? That there is something going on. And there isn’t.’
The only sector that is so far really bothered by the conflict is international trade. To reach trade partners south of Syria, trucks now have to go via Egypt, which increases the costs significantly. Trucks with Syrian and other Arab number plates are now taking over the loads from vehicles recognizable as Turkish, which are robbed more often, according to industry sources in English language paper Today’s Zaman.