Reading the press release issued by the Turkish Armed Forces on Thursday, 29 December 2011, it is impossible to get the sense that during the previous night, its warplanes struck and killed thirty-five citizens of Turkey, many of them high school students and all of them civilians. When referring to the young Kurdish villagers it killed, the Turkish Armed Forces merely noted that it received drone-generated intelligence showing a group of people advancing along Turkey’s southeastern border with Iraq. The army, the press release stated, “judged it necessary” to launch an air-strike at “the target” between the hours of “21:37 and 22:24” precisely.
The Turkish Armed Forces targeted and killed those Kurdish youth—some as young as twelve—suspecting them of being terrorists associated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The killing took place in a political context where the Turkish state’s proudly conducted war on terror has been targeting citizens of Turkey not only militarily, but also judicially with the force of law. Notably, in the last two years alone, thousands of supporters of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP)—a party currently holding seats in the parliament and campaigning for the rights of Kurds—have been detained as alleged terrorists through the “KCK operations.”
Yesterday, thousands of people were protesting across Turkey to register their unmistakable rage at the Turkish state, while Hüseyin Çelik—the spokesman for Prime Minister Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP)—was telling reporters that the killing of thirty-five citizens during the previous night was an “operational accident.” These protesters were swiftly labelled as “supporters of terrorism” by mainstream Turkish media and received their own share of violence from the Turkish police, who attacked them with tear gas and water cannons in Istanbul, Diyarbakir, and elsewhere.
Strikingly, neither the Turkish army nor the Turkish government has yet expressed anything resembling an official apology regarding the killing of the thirty-five Kurdish citizens. In telling contrast to his prompt and passionate denunciations of Israel’s “operational accidents” that kill Palestinian civilians, Prime Minister Erdoğan kept completely silent for more than twenty-four hours after the deadly operation by the Turkish Armed Forces. Furthermore, AKP spokesperson Hüseyin Çelik was quick to warn the BDP—which has declared three days of mourning after the killings—not to “provoke” people to protest on the streets, or else “other people may also be harmed.” Such statements can only be received as threats in a country where citizens are arbitrarily detained, accused, and indefinitely imprisoned as suspected terrorists on a regular basis.
Only a few days ago, the Interior Minister Idris Naim Şahin publicly redefined terrorism to encompass “artistic terrorism” and “scientific terrorism” along with terrorism’s poetic and journalistic kinds. In his description of how various members of civil society are supporting terrorism, the Interior Minister claimed:
“Maybe by reflecting it in their paintings. They write poems and reflect it in their poems. They write daily articles and columns about it. Not content with that, they are trying to demoralize the soldiers and police who fight against terrorism by making them the subjects of their artworks.”
While this description led some artists and activist to call for the Interior Minister’s resignation, he surely and securely remains in place. This political climate is perhaps best captured by one commentator’s sarcastic description of the situation in Turkey as an extremely infectious epidemic, whereby the population is inflicted with an ideologically transmitted disease (ITD) called terrorism. “Otherwise, how can we explain the large and growing number of terrorists in the country,” the author searchingly asks.
In such a political context, many if not most Turkish citizens will perceive the killing of thirty-five Kurdish civilians by the Turkish Armed Forces as the exceptional collateral damage of a legitimate war on terror targeting the PKK. For others, the massacre of these Kurdish civilians by the Turkish state will stand as an exemplary case of the devastating war the Kurdish community has been enduring militarily, politically, and culturally for decades.
In his address to the Alliance of Civilizations Forum held in Doha earlier in December 2011, Prime Minister Erdoğan claimed that “We will not be able to see the light of peace in the horizon, and stability and security will never be achieved … as long as there are dictatorships left shooting its citizens.” This can be an appropriate description of the political situation in Turkey. Formally speaking, Erdoğan is not a dictator, but the Prime Minister of a government which remains popular with the Turkish electorate. Nevertheless, this very popularity might be the most devastating aspect of the military, political, and legal violence unleashed by the Erdoğan government on the citizens of Turkey.