The Uludere airstrike, also known as the Roboski massacre, or Sirnak massacre, took place on December 28, 2011, at 9:37 pm local time near the Turkish–Iraqi border. According to Turkish government sources, 34 smugglers were killed in the incident.
|Part of the Kurdish–Turkish conflict|
|Date||December 28, 2011|
9:37 PM (UTC+02:00)
|Executed by||Turkish Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon|
A group of 40 Kurdish villagers of Turkish nationality, mostly teenagers, from Ortasu (in Kurdish: Roboskî) and Gülyazı villages in Uludere district of Şırnak Province were moving in the night of December 28, 2011 from Iraqi territory towards the Turkish border. The people were smuggling cigarettes, diesel oil and the like into Turkey, packed on mules.
Turkish Armed Forces had received information about activities in the region on the night of 28 December, which was supplied by United States intelligence services based on a U.S. drone flight. The Turkish Armed Forces reviewed the footage from the unmanned aerial vehicles flying over the terrain evaluated the smugglers as a group of militants of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Pentagon officials were quoted as saying that American drones initially spotted the group, but after alerting the Turks and offering to conduct more detailed surveillance they were denied and “Turkish officers instead directed the Americans who were remotely piloting the drone to fly it somewhere else.” Two F-16 Fighting Falcons of the Turkish Air Force took off and bombed the area. This happened after they received the information that evening from the U.S. IAI Heron drone, as stated by a survivor, Servet Encü.
The next morning, relatives searched for the missing people, and found the bodies of the victims. 34 people belonging to the group were killed during and shortly after the airstrike. Two smugglers escaped to Iraq. Only one survivor, Servet Encü, returned to his village. 28 of the dead were from the Encü family. The bodies, some of them burnt beyond recognition or dismembered, were transported to their hometown on mules due to the rough terrain.
Servet Encü stated that generations of people in his village and neighboring settlements have been in the smuggling business due to financial need. He added that Iraqi traders bring diesel oil or tea by vehicles to within 2–3 km (1.2–1.9 mi) of the border, and the villagers buy the goods and bring them home on trails, which takes about two and a half hours. He said that the smuggling action was well known to the security forces at the border.
The funeral of the victims, following an autopsy performed at the Uludere hospital, took place at a newly established cemetery between the villages Ortasu and Gülyazı. The funeral convoy, formed by about 1,000 vehicles and attended by a crowd of about 10,000 people, covered the distance of 20 km (12 mi) between the district center and the cemetery in one hour.
Major protests followed in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish cities, most notably Diyarbakır where protests turned violent with police using batons and tear gas against protesters and protesters throeing stones and Molotov cocktails at police. Protests were also held in Ankara and Istanbul, where over 1,000 protesters gathered in Taksim Square and threw stones at police and smashed vehicles before police dispersed the crowds with tear gas and water cannons.
District governor Naif Yavuz, who was at the autopsy and the funeral service later paid a visit to he houses of the relatives of the victims for condolence. Shortly after his visit, he was attacked by a mob, which attempted to lynch him. He barely escaped the attack with the help of his security guards, but was hospitalized for his injuries. It turned out to be an act of people, who came from outside the village.
In Nicosia, around 300 Kurdish Cypriots marched on the Turkish embassy in Northern Cyprus, where Murat Kanatlı, head of the left-wing New Cyprus Party spoke to the crowd and accused Turkey of escalating tensions in the South-East. The demonstration ended peacefully.
In Erbil, some 500 Iraqi Kurds protested the killing, some of whom clashed with Iraqi Kurdistan security forces, although no casualties were reported. Some protesters carried pictures of Abdullah Öcalan and chanted "fight, fight for freedom" and "Erdogan is a terrorist." At the protest, Kurdish activist Ali Mahmoud told the press that "The crime ... is a real genocide, a war crime and a crime against humanity, and breaches international laws, we demand that Turkey be judged in the international courts."
- Bahoz Erdal, the leader of the PKK's military wing, called for a Kurdish uprising in response to the incident, releasing the following statement: "We urge the people of Kurdistan... to react after this massacre and seek a settling of accounts through uprisings." Meanwhile, Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) leader Selahattin Demirtaş released a statement claiming that "It’s clearly a massacre of civilians, of whom the oldest is 20," but he called for Kurds to respond through democratic means. He also quoted Erdoğan on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "A leader who kills his own people has lost his legitimacy" and said "now I say the same thing back to him."
- Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan assured that essential administrative and judicial investigations were initiated. Hüseyin Çelik, the deputy chairman and spokesman of the ruling party AK Party, announced that the families of the victims will be compensated constituting a "material apology". A verbal apology can follow after incident's all details are uncovered, he added.
- The Republican People's Party (CHP), Turkey's largest opposition party, sharply criticized what they perceived as the government's attempt to portray the incident as understandable, collateral damage, with Kurdish CHP deputy Sezgin Tanrikulu saying that "If there are some who think that death of these innocents is just a natural result of the struggle against terror, it means that Turkey has already been divided on moral grounds."
- Graeme Wood at the New York Times blog asked if the Turkish leader Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a 'New Assad' dictator, oppressor.
In a MetroPOLL survey which involved 1,174 people, when asked about who was ultimately responsible for the deaths, 14.5% of Turks said the state, 11.5% said the smugglers, 9.5% said the PKK, 5.4% said the prime minister of the government and 4.9% said it was the General Staff. When asked whether the government had fulfilled its responsibilities towards the incident, some 45% said yes, with 38.1% saying no.
Legal procedures after the massacre included a special investigative commission at the Turkish Grand National Assembly which found no deliberate intent by the officials involved on 22 March 2013. On 7 January 2014, a criminal investigation against the state officials concluded with a plea of negligence. Various charges were also pressed against the civilians and families of the deceased, some of which ended in sentences against individuals.
Against officials involved
On 9 January 2012, the commander of the Gülyazı military border post near Roboski, Gendarmerie Colonel Hüseyin Onur Güney, was suspended from duty following a military investigation. 17 active duty army staff were also prosecuted for allowing border smuggling.
On 9 January 2012, a special commission to investigate the Uludere massacre has been established at the Turkish Grand National Assembly. During the hearings, opposition MPs complained that the Ministry of Defence declined to answer questions using the confidentiality order taken by the prosecutors office as an excuse. On 22 March 2013, the commission submitted its 85-page report on the massacre which concludes that military operation ended with 34 civilian casualties was without deliberate intent. Three members of the commission from the opposition parties lodged a minute of dissent to the report, mainly criticising the lack of thorough investigation.
The criminal investigation was administered by the Diyarbakır State Prosecutor's Office, however, prosecutors admitted the documents they demanded from the office of Chief of General Staff were belated and military personnel were not interrogated. Despite the limitations, prosecutors were able to confirm on 6 August 2012 that the villagers were clearly discernible from the footage of the unmanned aerial vehicle taken before the massacre. The Wall Street Journal reported that it was a U.S. drone that spotted the group on the Iraqi border. On 11 June 2013, the Diyarbakır Prosecutor's Office, after investigating the case for more than 18 months, has cited no deliberate intent by the military staff, but rather negligence. They, therefore, declared lack of jurisdiction and transferred the investigation to the military prosecutor.
On 7 January 2014, military prosecutors (General Staff Military Prosecutor's Office) decided not to press charges against the military personnel --nolle prosequi, citing that no investigation was necessary for suspected military staff İlhan Bölük, Yıldırım Güvenç, Aygün Eker, Halil Erkek and Ali Rıza Kuğu as “they committed a major error but performed their duties within the given orders”.
Previously on 23 May 2012, then Minister of Interior İdris Naim Şahin stated that the authorisation for the operation had been given at the air forces command centre in Ankara. On 7 January 2014, it was reported that the Chief of General Staff, Necdet Özel, had authorised the operation approximately 90 minutes before the first strike. The pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) filed a lawsuit against the Turkish government at ICC following the massacre.
Regarding civilians and families of the deceased
Among the relatives of the deceased, Ferhat Encü, who lost 11 relatives in the massacre, has been subject to continuous harassment by the police, reportedly being taken into custody four times on the same charge. He became a member of parliament for the HDP
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