I Spent My First Newroz in 2013

Since the very first time I watched the Newroz celebrations on television, live from the Kurdish city of Amed in northern Kurdistan, I have been mesmerized by the thought of participating at least once during my life time.

This past Newroz it finally happened. I decided that this Newroz would be the one. Did it have anything (or everything) to do with the then rumoured speech by the Kurdish leader Abdulla Ocalan? Or was it the images of the early Newroz celebrations from the city of Wan that captured my heart and would not let go?

Either way I picked up the phone while watching the singer Ciwan Haco enter the stage on TV, live from Wan, and be greeted by thousands of expecting fans with loud cheers and slogans: ‘Biji Newroz’ (Long live Newroz) being one, ‘Biji Serok Apo’  (Long live leader Apo) another, as if they were each other’s missing pieces, conclusions or just like the water to the plant and vice versa.

Before I knew it I had booked the tickets, packed and was with a crew of six, boarding the flight that would take me to the utopia of my heart, which I was hoping would be anything but a utopia. I was so excited, so happy yet I was still miles and miles away from what would come to be the best trip in my life so far. The first Newroz I can count as having celebrated to the full. Kurdish style. ‘Kesk u sor u zer’ style (the colours of the Kurdish flag: green, red and yellow).

I have cried during this trip and cried some more. I have laughed on this trip and held hands on this trip. I have let my sentimental Kurdish heart be filled to the brim with goodness and kindness and Kurdishness and respect and everything that is good in this world and makes me want to make it even better.

My first tears came on the flight. I saw young and old, bashuri and bakuri, rojhelati and rojawayi Kurds on the Turkish airlines carrier to Amed, to celebrate a Newroz, which is still not recognised in Turkey.  I was delighted that we were all united in our wish to see the fire of Newroz burn freely in yet another part of our wonderful land, but at the same time sad that we had to endure the fear that comes along with having the Kurdish colours or Kurdish dresses in one’s luggage at a Turkish airport security control.

I was not worried about the over weight of my bags due to me over packing running shoes, comfortable clothes and scarves for the hostilities and clashes that happen every Newroz in Amed and the rest of Northern Kurdistan. I was ready to be a part of that. To partake in the resistance against Turkish police brutality. To partake in the unity that came along with being a group standing up to a bully. I was ready to say that I had been to Newroz in Amed and felt and experienced what my people experience every Newroz, every time, every day.

And then it finally happened. Our plane landed and as the plane acted as a taxi taking us to our final destination, I looked around to take it all in.  What I was met with was nothing short of a heartbreak. An abrupt end to an illusion I had carried with me. I am not a child. I know what is going on. I have seen it on TV. “Seen it on TV”, that says it all. I had not experienced it with my own eyes since I grew out of my pink pony pyjamas at the age of 5.

Now I was seeing it live and what was I seeing?

Military trucks. Military people. Military tents and military planes. My beloved Amed was a military station in every sense of the word. My heart was broken and I had not left the plane yet.

But it was to be mended as soon as I heard: “Hun bixerhatin Amede” (Welcome to Amed). I realised then that many other things had changed since I was 5 besides the colour and design of my pyjamas. People greeted me in Kurdish wherever I looked. I was home. I was finally home!

A quick gathering of the group, checking up on impressions and the warm winds blowing our way and we were soon in a car heading for the Sur district of Amed to meet with district mayor Abdulla Demirbash.

No appointment. No official procedures. No stiff bureaucracy. Just plain humanity welcomed us at the door, decked out in green, red and yellow balloons in honour of the approaching Newroz celebrations.

We met with this humble man, protector of ethnic diversity. Protector of minority languages. Protector of religious diversity. Abdullah Demirbash was wearing Kurdish clothes in a beautiful dark green colour, reminiscent of the dress worn by the Kurdish guerrillas. One of his sons, Baran is a Kurdish guerrilla, another has been called to do military service in the Turkish army.

“Baran’s mother and I cannot sleep at night whenever we hear the military planes rise above Amed. What if another attack occurs? What if Baran and our other son meet on the battle ground?”

Two brothers, left with no alternatives than to take up arms and fight on two sides of the same battle, within one land.

One land with its borders decided over on a negotiating table while fat cigars were smoked and middle aged men in suits decided what once belonged to one united group of diverse people, now would be cut into streaks and pieces between those whose lungs bore to scream the highest.

We thanked Demirbash for his hospitality and promised to meet again during the Newroz celebrations the next day. We left for the hotel. Stepped out of the car. Took out our luggage. Inhaled the scent of resistance and hope while a white minibus drove past us with  large speakers on the side proclaiming: “Newroza we piroz be” (Happy Newroz) followed by information about the importance of 2013’s Newroz, namely freedom for Ocalan and a political recognition of the Kurdish people.

This was our first day in Amed. I was already in love and I was already fearing the moment I would set my foot on the plane home.

The morning of the 21st I woke up, dressed up in my Kurdish dress from eastern Kurdistan with that specific waistband and shoulder shawl. The group of six all did the same, and as we were from all parts of Kurdistan except rojawa, so were our clothes.  While on our way to the Newroz field we saw young and old people decked out in the Kurdish colours and Kurdish dresses decorated with sequins and pearls, waving, laughing, and jumping of joy.

The 20-minute car ride felt like a few seconds as the anticipation was high and everywhere I looked, I was met with a smiling face wishing me a joyful beginning to the New Year.

We arrived. Went to the security control. Passed by a few police vehicles. Police vehicles that only a few months ago had been used in disturbing Kurdish events by the use of water canons and teargas. They were covered with dots, marks after stones thrown at them during past events.

There were the only police vehicles I saw.  It bode well for the Newroz celebrations but also for the always-unstable peace dialogue that has just begun standing on formerly crippled feet.

The event itself cannot be described. The songs. The yellow, green and red flags. The scene decked out in the same colours. The people in the same colours. The Kurdish dresses sold in the same colours. The incredible feeling of pride when 2 million eager Kurds sing the Kurdish national anthem, not once but twice in one loud voice. I did not know if to take photos, sing along, say hello to all friendly faces or to ease my goose bumps.

Newroz in Amed cannot be summarized by a 3-page retelling, or by a 10-page booklet or a 300-page book. It has to experienced.

You have to go and eat newly made bread from the people on the festival area.

You have to sit next to a “dayiken ashti” (peace mother) and let her tell you about the two sons that she has lost due to the war.

You have to visit the great wall of Amed and dance with youngsters singing songs praising the liberation movement and the Kurdish guerrilla fighters.

You have to drink dew (cold yogurt drink) and eat newly peeled cucumbers from a stand after your dance.

You have to visit the mayor of Amed, Osman Baydemir, and give your opinions on improvements for the city and hear him reply: “We are not leaders, we are the servants of our people and I carry your suggestions close to my heart”.

You have to answers questions of where you are from only to be given hugs and kisses and gifts when they realise you are not from bakur but from another part of Kurdistan.

You have to ease your goose bumps whenever they tell you: “You are our guests from our common land. You have come all the way from rojhelat to spend Newroz with us. This makes us proud, this makes us united! Bixerhatin, ser sera, ser chawa”! (Welcome from the depth of our hearts).

That is when you will feel at home, and realise that the utopia of your heart is reality in Northern Kurdistan today and that neither military stations nor over weight luggage can take that feeling away. You will know in your heart that in Amed you will always be welcomed by a friendly face decked out in “kesk, u sor u zer”.

A few photos from Newroz 2013 in Amed.

The photos are property of Shiler Amini

Leading Female Kurdish Politicians Murdered in Paris

2013 started out with many prospects for peace for the Kurds. Finally it seemed that proper negotiations would take place and that the brave resistance of the approximately thousands of Kurdish hunger strikers in the Turkish prisons had paid off. Kurdish BDP politicians Ahmet Turk and Ayla Akat Ata went to see the Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan in Imrali. Talks resumed between the PKK and the AKP government of Turkey in what was expected by many to be the resolution we all had been waiting for.

Then last night at around 1 am, the bodies of Sakine Cansiz, one of the co-founders of the PKK, and Kurdish activists Fidan Dogan and Leyla Soylemez, were found in the Kurdish Information Centre in Paris.

There are many question marks as to why this has happened and why these three female politicians have been targeted. It is yet to soon for concrete answers but many questions have been raised as to why, and how this happened and who ordered the murders.

While old wounds from the assassinations of Kurdish politicians Qasemlou and Sharafkandi from the PDKI  in 1989 and 1992 respectively, are still unhealed, suspicions rise as to the role Iran might have played in this tragedy.

The current situation in the Middle East leaves no country unaffected and a peace process underway in Turkey with the Kurds would mean a more likely transition to re-negotiations between the Kurds and Iran, or an outbreak of war.

Another aspect is the role NATO could have played in this tragedy to discreetly stir up the tensions and thus allow for movement in the region, and as a result benefitting NATO’s own aims and aspirations in the Middle East.

Last but not least, Turkey is seen as the perpetrator even though random murders such as these are more something expected from Iran. What would Turkey gain in murdering these Kurdish politicians? Many claim that it is not about gaining as much as about having an opportunity to continue as before but now being able to hide behind the safe walls of a “peace dialogue”.

The hope of 2013 becoming the year of peace is still there.

It now all depends on how much support Turkey and the International community can show the Kurdish people and how long it will take to heal these wounds of 2013.

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Turkey’s Kurdish Impasse: The View from Diyarbakır

The International Crisis Group (ICG) has published a new report, Turkey’s Kurdish Impasse: The View from Diyarbakır. ICG’s summary of the report and recommendations are below. To view the full report, download it here.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS

turkey-30nov12.ashxAs Turkey’s biggest Kurdish-majority city and province, Diyarbakır is critical to any examination of the country’s Kurdish problem and of the insurgent PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party). The armed conflict has deteriorated in the past year and a half to its worst level in over a decade, with increased political friction and violence leading to the deaths of at least 870 people since June 2011. While as many Kurds live in western Turkey, particularly in Istanbul, as in the south east, grievances that underlie support within Kurdish communities for the PKK’s armed struggle are more clearly on display in predominantly Kurdish areas like Diyarbakır: perceived and real discrimination in the local government and economy, alienation from central authorities, anger at mass arrests of political representatives and frustration at the bans on the use of Kur­dish in education and public life. Yet Diyarbakır still offers hope for those who want to live together, if Ankara acts firmly to address these grievances and ensure equality and justice for all.

Across the political spectrum, among Kurds and Turks, rich and poor, Islamic and secular in Diyarbakır, there is a shared desire for a clear government strategy to resolve the chronic issues of Turkey’s Kurdish problem. Official recognition of Kurdish identity and the right to education and justice in mother languages is a priority. The city’s Kurds want fairer political representation, decentralisation and an end to all forms of discrimination in the laws and constitution. They also demand legal reform to end mass arrests and lengthy pre-trial detentions of non-violent activists on terrorism charges.

Control of Diyarbakır is contested on many levels. The state wants to stay in charge, channelling its influence through the Ankara-appointed governor and control over budget, policing, education, health and infrastructure development. The municipality, in the hands of legal pro-PKK parties since 1999, most recently the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), is gathering more power against considerable obstacles. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) that rules nationally has ushered in a more progressive approach to police, but this has not ended confrontations and defused local hostility. Turkey as a whole, and Kurdish-speaking cities like Diyarbakır in particular, need a coherent, informed debate on decentralisation and a strategy to implement it.

The current government has done more than any previous one to permit Kurdish language use in Diyarbakır and elsewhere, but most Kurds want nothing less than a com­mit­ment to education in their mother language. The government’s initiative on optional Kurdish lessons should be fully supported as a stepping-stone in a structured plan to achieve declaration of that goal as a right.

Once Turkey’s third best off economic centre, Diyarbakır and its surrounding province have fallen to 63rd place at last measurement. Investment has long been low due to violence, flawed government policies and PKK sabotage, kidnappings, terrorist attacks and extortion. But residents show their faith in the city’s future through their investment, particularly in marble quarries and the booming real estate sector. Diyarbakır’s location at a regional historic crossroads still makes it an important hub for elements of the service sector, such as courier businesses and hospitals. Thousand-year-old monuments could make it a tourist magnet.

Fighting between the security forces and the PKK, mostly in the south east, is rising. While Diyarbakır has mostly been spared the worst of the recent violence, the civilian population and local politics are nonetheless increasingly stressed and polarised by events. The AKP is losing its appeal, and the BDP, while uncontested as the strongest political force in the city, has yet to prove its political maturity and ability to be more than a front for an increasingly violent PKK. The moderately Islamic Gülen movement is trying to offer another way, and as a negotiated settlement seems less likely, Kurdish Islamic groups are boosting their already substantial influence.

Yet, voices from Diyarbakır insist that common ground exists, as it does throughout the rest of Turkey. Crisis Group, in two previous reports in 2011 and 2012, recommended that the government announce a clear strategy to resolve the conflict, focusing in the first instance on justice and equal rights for Kurds. It suggested that the government work pro-actively with Kurdish representatives on four lines of reform: mother-language rights for Turkey’s Kurds; reducing the threshold for election to the national parliament to 5 per cent from 10 per cent; a new decentralisation strategy; and stripping all discrimination from the constitution and laws. Once these steps have been taken, it could then move to detailed talks on disarmament and demobilisation with the PKK. In short, both sides need to exercise true leadership, by eschewing violence, committing to dialogue and achieving the Kurds’ legitimate aspirations through Turkey’s existing legal structures, especially in the parliamentary commission working on a new constitution.

This companion report additionally offers recommendations specifically for urgent action by the government and legal leadership of the Kurdish movement in Diyarbakır to strengthen Kurds’ trust in the state by working to resolve pressing local problems and to ensure the long-term development of the city and province.

RECOMMENDATIONS

To the Turkish Government and Diyarbakır community leaders, including the Kurdish movement’s legal leadership:

To establish mutual trust between Turks and Kurds

1.  The Turkish government should pass and implement legal reforms to allow the use of mother languages in trials, shorten pre-trial detentions and ensure that Kurdish and other suspects are taken into custody in a humane manner. It should encourage local police to continue improving engagement with the Diyarbakır community and end use of excessive force, even in response to unauthorised public meetings and demonstrations.

2.  Community and Kurdish movement leaders should comply with procedures on public meetings and dem­on­stra­tions; renounce all PKK violence; and continue civil society efforts, such as the recently established “Dialogue and Contact Group”.

To guarantee use of mother languages in education and public life

3.  The Turkish government should complete the implementation of optional Kurdish classes in the 2012-2013 academic year transparently; define a timeline for full education in mother languages wherever there is sufficient demand; continue to prepare teachers and curriculums for this transition; allow local elected officials to change relevant laws and regulations so as to restore or give Kurdish names to local places; and relax the ban on the use of Kurdish in public services.

4.  Community and Kurdish movement leaders should acknowledge the government’s positive steps in these areas, and stop boycotts of optional Kurdish classes.

To ensure a fair debate and eventual consensus on decentralisation

5.  The Turkish government should lead a debate in Diyarbakır, as well as nationwide, about municipal governance and decentralisation.

6.  Local government leaders should cooperate and meet with central government representatives who visit the province and clearly express their commitment to achieving Kurds’ democratic demands legally.

To assist Diyarbakır’s economic, social and cultural development

7.  The Turkish government should ensure that Diyarbakır receives a fair share of public funds, particularly for education, international airport facilities, railway connections and industrial zones, equivalent to that of comparable cities elsewhere in Turkey; and pro-actively promote domestic tourism to this and other historic cities in the south east.

8.  Community leaders should reach out to Turkish mainstream opinion to help overcome prejudices about the Kurdish-speaking south east through the exchange of business delegations, school trips and professional conferences.

Istanbul/Diyarbakır/Brussels, 30 November 2012

Kurds in Syria and the Old Concept of “Good Kurds” and “Bad Kurds”

republished here with the permission of the author

Kurds in Syria and the Old Concept of “Good Kurds” and “Bad Kurds”
Dr Janroj Keles

My Critique of the Henry Jackson Society’s Report on “Unity or PYD Power Play?: Syrian Kurdish Dynamics After the Erbil Agreement

Compared to the Kurds in Kurdistan regions of Turkey and Iraq, the Kurds in Syria have been invisible in political and public spheres in the Middle East for decades. They have been described as “forgotten people” or “the silenced Kurds” in a few academic works and articles. Indeed they are the largest ethnic group after the Arabs in Syria and are the potential catalyst for a possible pluralistic and democratic process in Syria.

They have suffered for decades under the policies of the Arab imagined political community and their ethnic identity and existence have been denied by “Syrian Arab Republic”. They have been subjected to ethnic discrimination, political prosecution, displaced as part of Syrian government’s Arabization policies. After stripping of Syrian citizenship from 20 percent of Syria’s Kurdish population in 1960 [sic], many Kurds were classified as the Ajanib (foreigners) and maktoumeen (meaning “hidden” or ” muted”) and become refugees in their own country for decades before and during the Bath regime. However since the Kurdish Serhildan (Uprising) in 2004 in Kurdish populated Qamishli and so called “Syrian Revolution” in 2011, the “forgotten people” have been receiving increasing attention from the international communities and also considerable attention from journalists, political analysts and the Middle East “experts” who have been publishing some interesting reports and articles on the Kurds in Syria. But some of these reports and articles are problematical because they look the Kurds in Syria from the perspectives of dominant nationalistic discourses in the region e.g. Turkish and Arab nationalism and/or from the perspective of the “common sense” of global powers. In this sense a recently published report[1] entitled “Unity or PYD Power Play?: Syrian Kurdish Dynamics After the Erbil Agreement” needs to be read critically because it is biased, one-sided and political and makes unsubstantial claims about the Kurds in Syria and about Kurdish political organisations in the region. Moreover it attempts to justify and legitimize the hostile intention of Turkish policies toward Kurds in Turkey and Syria in criminalizing and delegitimizing Kurdish political parties. The authors use an old concept of “good Kurds” and “bad Kurds” without any analytic skill and academic credibility and knowledge of multi-connected, multi-referential relationships among Kurdish organisations, parties and networks and between Kurdish and Syrian groups, parties and people.

First of all I would emphasize that I agree with some issues highlighted in conclusion in particular issues related to the KNC and PYD that they should find a rational ways to respect their political differences and share power for a pluralistic and democratic process in the Kurdish populated region. I also firmly agree with the authors that both KNC and PYD should be integrated into the political establishment in the region. However I think the report is also problematic in various respects. Firstly the report divides the Kurdish political groups sharply into “good Kurds” and “bad Kurds”. This old concept has been used by the regional countries and also by USA in accordance to their “national interests” and at the expense of subordinated Kurds. This report repeats the same, old and trivial concept. The “bad Kurds” who are “the militant”(p6),” terrorist” (p11), “radicals in the PKK linked Democratic Union Party (PYD)” (p5), “the Turkish PKK” (p17) and the “good Kurds” who are “moderate Kurds”. It is unclear what the characteristic of “moderate Kurds” (p6) are and how they are qualified as being “good Kurds” and who decides on which criteria that certain groups are “moderate” and others “radical” and therefore need to be isolated (p24). There is a discourse throughout this report based on creating a “folk devil”, a political group who is labeled as a threat. It does not matter for me whether this otherized group is PYD or any other political group. My concern is that a particular group which has considerable popular support in Kurdistan region in Syria is labeled and its legitimacy questioned because it has ideological and political links with the PKK.

Secondly I also criticize the report for ignoring multi-connected, multi-referential relationships among Kurdish organizations, parties and networks and between Kurdish and Syrian groups, parties and people as well as between Kurdish leaders, parties and Turkish government. These multi-connected, multi-referential relationships influence the political position of differently positioned groups, parties and even governments. Let me clarify this with an example. On his way back from a visit to Germany, the Turkish Prime minster Mr Erdogan responded to a question about the “threat” of PYD in Syria and to Turkey as follows: ‘…Barzani… even tried to explain that PYD is not like PKK’ (Barzani … hatta PYD’nin PKK olmadığını anlatmaya çalıştı bize (Hurriyet, 02 November 2012). This statement shows clearly that President of Kurdistan Regional Government, Mr. Barzani mediates between PYD and Turkey in an indirect way and attempts to include PYD into the political field in the region. So the division between “bad Kurds “ and “good Kurds” are not as clearly delineated, because of their multiple connection, attachment, loyalties etc. Therefore I find the language used in this report is based on the deictic juxtaposition and distance rhetoric which attempt to show the “good Kurds” as “moderate” and “bad Kurds” as “threat”. I think that there are no such sharp boundaries in the region. The political positions of parties and groups in the Kurdish populated region and in Syria are constantly changeable due to local, regional and international conditions, search of security within an instable region and hunger for power.

My third reservation about this report is that the accusation of PYD working with Assad regime has been mentioned in this and other reports without any reliable evidence. Instead there is a reliance on suspicions as in the following sentence: “Nevertheless, the fact that the regime ceded such large swaths of territory to the PYD without a struggle raises suspicions that this was a tactical move designed to strengthen the PYD in order to enervate Turkey, which views any build-up of a PKK apparatus in northern Syria as a direct national security threat” (p11). The only supporting statement for this claim highlighted in the report is that “analysts and scholars have speculated as to whether or not the Assad regime withdrew independently from Kurdish areas, or whether it did so in direct collaboration with the PYD” (p11), however there is not any reference to those “analysts and scholars”. Some Kurdish groups I talked to, see such claims made in Turkish and Arab sources as a “conspiracy theory” to delegitimize the political production and position of a certain powerful Kurdish political group within Syria and beyond, in particular on the international level. The report repeats the same “conspiracy theory” without providing any reliable evidence to its readers. The Christian and Druze communities in Syria have been blamed by the so called “Free Syrian Army” in a similar way for working with the regime. I have to emphasize that I do not have any evidence for or against the truth of this claim. I assume that only after the fall of the regime we will know this.

The authors provide space for such accusations made by Syrian-Arabs and highlight that there is a “frustration and anger at the Kurds for not sufficiently participating in our uprising” (p15). However there is no statement of some Kurdish groups who are for a “peaceful transition from dictatorial regime to a democratic and pluralistic system”. There are clearly two different positions. The first one (mainly Sunni-Arabs) believe that Assad regime can be changed by armed struggle, the other one (mainly held by minority groups including Kurds, Christians, Armenians, Assyrians and Druze) who distrust the Muslim brotherhood and nationalists and prefer to seek a peaceful rather than militant solution, they are scared both of the regime and also of the Islamist opposition.

The report goes further: “The KNC failed to reach an agreement with the SNC, as was demonstrated in the July Istanbul meeting, and the PYD refused to even attend”. However the Kurds I spoke to blame the SNC for blocking the Kurdish active participation in “revolution” because SNC insists to continue the policies of Baath regime in the way in which SNC has reject the Kurdish demands for constitutional recognition of Kurdish ethnic group and their political representation through autonomy or federalism, secularist, pluralistic and democratic Syria. The Kurds from Kurdistan region in Syria I have connection with, see SNC as “still an Arab nationalist organization with strong tendencies of Arab Islamists” which does not recognize the ethnic and religious plurality of the country’s population.

I am really disappointed to see that “intellectual and moral leadership” in the political reproduction of the hegemonic form of Turkish and/or Arab nationalism over subordinated Kurdish people are legitimized through Henry Jackson Society.

25.10.2012, London

8 years and 4 months

Mehmet Tahir Ilhan is sentenced to 8 years and 4 months in prison for possession of half a lemon.

That’s the amount of time the Adana 8th High Criminal Court sentenced a deaf-mute Kurd to prison. Mehmet Tahir Ilhan, aged 37 and father of six, was charged with ‘committing crimes in the name of the PKK’ and ‘making propaganda of the organisation’ and ‘resisting to security officers.’

Mehmet Ilhan

The evidence against the bazaar porter from the city of Mersin was the possession of a half-lemon. Lemon can ease the effects of tear gas. Using sign language at a hearing in the south-eastern city of Adana, Mr Ilhan said he had got caught up in a violent pro-Kurdish demonstration and denied all charges against him.

Defense lawyer Tugay Bek said his client is also illiterate and that the ‘charges are contrary to logic and reason, because the situation of the accused does not enable him to have any physical condition to make propaganda for the organisation.’ The prosecution had  demanded 25 years imprisonment for Mr Ilhan.

Will botched airstrike lead to regional policy changes?

Will botched airstrike lead to regional policy changes?
by Christian Sinclair

In late December 2011 Turkish military forces bombed a group of Kurdish civilians along the Iraq-Turkey border, killing 34 of the 38 in the group. Eighteen of the 34 who died in the attack were teenagers. The group came from the villages of Gülyazı (Bujeh) and Ortasu (Roboski) in the Uludere district of Sirnak and the attack has now been dubbed the “Roboski massacre” or the “Uludere massacre.” Ankara said it mistook the group for PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) fighters.

Suddenly, five months after the airstrike against these Kurdish civilians, there is intense media coverage of the Roboski massacre. Previously, there had been precious little coverage outside of Kurdish media circles of what is the largest civilian death toll in Turkey’s decades old campaign against the PKK. So why now? Why the coverage?

click for larger image

The 38-person caravan was en route back to Turkey after a trip across the border for fuel, cigarettes, sugar, and other items typically smuggled over the desolate, rugged mountain terrain in this region. As the group came within 50 meters of the border, the sky lit up with bombs dropped from F-16s in a raid lasting 40 minutes. When it was over, 34 charred bodies were left on the snowy mountain trails. The tragic loss of life sparked protests across Turkey but prompted only half-hearted, inconclusive investigations. Amnesty International says it has “doubts about whether [the investigation] is thorough and impartial and will be effective in identifying what happened and those responsible.” Even with international agencies investigating and protests across Europe, there was still very little coverage of the attack in the mainstream Western press.

Last Wednesday, however, the Wall Street Journal injected new life into the story by reporting that a U.S. drone was involved in passing along the intel to the Turkish military about suspicious activity along its border that night in December. Now many Turkish and Western media outlets are covering the story, albeit with competing narratives about who saw what first. It seems that the media interest now comes from the drones, Washington-Ankara relations, and who saw the caravan first, rather than the fact that Turkey, a member of NATO, killed almost three dozen of its own citizens in a questionable air raid.

In Ankara there is what is called a Combined Intelligence Fusion Cell where U.S. and Turkish personnel sit side by side to watch drone feeds in real time. That night, according to U.S. military officials, a predator “was on an eight-hour patrol along the Iraqi-Turkish border when its American controllers spotted the convoy walking toward the Turkish border.” That information was then passed along to the Turkish military, who then directed the Americans to move the drone out of the area.

But Turkey is insisting that there was no U.S. intelligence provided or that the action taken was based on Turkish intelligence. Turkish President Abdullah Gül said before flying to the U.S. for the NATO Summit in Chicago, that  “[i]f the [Turkish] government, concerned authorities, the General Staff make a statement, we all should trust that.” He added that he does not “think it is not right to make such useless polemics.” Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan said the Uludere operation was “action from footage provided by our aircraft not by U.S. predators” and that particular region “was an area of terrorism.” It seems then with this blanket pronouncement that since Ankara had deemed it “an area of terrorism” then it should not be held responsible for what they have called an “administrative accident.”

This is troubling and the U.S. and other NATO partners need to understand the lens through which Turkey views any shared intelligence. A former senior U.S. military official told WSJ he and fellow officers were sometimes troubled by Turkish standards for selecting targets in their long-running battle with the PKK.

There are other, perhaps more troubling, theories about the WSJ report. In a very “creative” spin on the report, Turkish PM Erdoğan said late last week that he thought it “may be part of a project to undermine the Barack Obama administration as the U.S. presidential election approaches” and his take on this report is that it “is meant to make life difficult for the current [U.S.] government.”

The political opposition in Turkey has been quick to criticize Erdoğan and his party. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, head of the opposition CHP (Republican People’s Party), says he has “difficulty understanding this government’s mentality. This government failed in the Uludere case. It murdered 34 citizens.” Deputy CHP Chair, Sezgin Tanrikulu, says that the “reason why the government is keeping quiet now is that it wants to avoid political responsibility.”

Truck carrying bodies of Roboski massacre victims

Mayor Fehmi Yaman in Uludere charged that the attack was part of a series of government efforts to intimidate the local population and called it deliberate. “The orders for this attack came from the very top level and they will do everything to protect themselves,” said Yaman. Families of the victims said that the “Turkish army knew very well that the villagers, who are poor and uneducated, have used the route to smuggle for generations” and they could not have mistaken them for PKK militants.

Etyen Mahçupyan, columnist for Today’s Zaman, wrote in January that soldiers knew the caravan was coming, stopped them to gather them all in one spot, and then the soldiers “lit a flare to illuminate the region and allow warplanes to savagely shell the region and tear the smugglers’ bodies to pieces.” In fact, says Mahçupyan, it is “very hard to justify the argument that this incident was really an accident; there are a whole host of signs that suggest the massacre was deliberate.”

The questions surrounding this attack on innocent civilians should be raising alarm bells in Washington and elsewhere. U.S.-Turkish military cooperation is in need of review to better control how Ankara uses the information is receives from its American counterparts. There should also be a review of military aid to Ankara and strict controls on its use. Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said he wouldn’t “comment on intelligence-sharing with our Turkish allies” and instead remarked that the U.S. has “an enduring relationship with Turkey.” Perhaps someone at the NATO Summit in Chicago should take the opportunity to raise the issue with President Gül and lay out plans of how this relationship will endure.

In the end, we can only hope that the coverage continues, for whatever the reasons, and that the 34 Kurdish victims of this botched airstrike become a catalyst for policy change in the region. If that happens, their unfortunate deaths won’t be for naught.

(follow Christian Sinclair on Twitter: @sinclair_c)