Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has said that the responsibility for the deaths of 13 Turks in Iraq's Gara lies on President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Addressing CHP members in a parliamentary group meeting on Feb. 16, Kılıçdaroğlu slammed Erdoğan for both the deaths and his speech to members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Feb. 15 during which he was seen smiling often.
"You launch a rescue operation and all the captives die. Someone needs to assume responsibility and resign," Kılıçdaroğlu said.
"Erdoğan doesn't even care about the deaths of 13 people. Turkey sees how he has fun and is enjoying himself," he said, urging everyone to watch Erdoğan's rally in the Black Sea province of Rize in order to see "how he laughed and told jokes."
"Thirteen people have lost their lives! According to which morals are you doing this?" Kılıçdaroğlu asked.
Kılıçdaroğlu's remarks came after Defense Minister Hulusi Akar on Feb. 14 said that the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) executed 13 Turks, including soldiers, police officers and intelligence officials, in northern Iraq. The said individuals had been captive for years, government officials later said.
A day later, Erdoğan said that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) wanted to save the Turkish citizens in an operation, but failed to do so.
The CHP leader also asked a number of questions to Erdoğan, with one being on the government inaction to save the captives since 2015.
"What did you do to rescue the soldiers held by the PKK for 5.5 years as a prime minister or the president since 2015?" he asked.
"Who will assume responsibility for the failure of the operation that was launched to save 13 citizens? Who is responsible?" Kılıçdaroğlu also asked.
Earlier, Kılıçdaroğlu questioned why the state didn't act for six years and decided to do so now.
"Those responsible should be brought to account," he said.
'Didn't Akar have intel on the issue?'
CHP deputy leader Veli Ağbaba criticized the government for not trying to save the captives for so long.
"Everyone needs to think about their mistakes if 13 soldiers are martyred in a rescue operation. We can say that the AKP is trying to gain political benefit from these deaths when we look at their statements," Ağbaba said.
"Those who are responsible for the deaths of 13 soldiers would be brought to account anywhere in the world," he noted.
Ağbaba also slammed Minister Akar for branding the captives "civilians" in his initial statement on Feb. 14.
"Didn't he have the intelligence that those held in the cave were soldiers and police officers? It's very important to know with which aim the operation was carried out. If the aim was to save the captives, then we can say that it's a failed one," Ağbaba said.
'The operation was a disaster'
CHP deputy Murat Bakan echoed Ağbaba's remarks, saying that he submitted six questions to parliament on the issue since 2016 and that the operation is a "disaster from a military perspective."
"The government is in trouble because of the economic crisis and the pandemic and has been rapidly losing public support. I think this operation was planned to show its base that they created a success story. The result was the death of our innocent citizens," Bakan said.
Turkish gov't 'handed Kurdish issue to guns, tries to put the blame on HDP'
Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, meanwhile, said on Feb. 15 that the Turkish government has handed the Kurdish issue to guns and tries to put the blame on the HDP.
"We see that the government has handed the Kurdish issue to guns. The HDP is being tried to be held accountable for it. These people could have been alive, their families had been desperately waiting for their return," he said.
The HDP immediately became the target of Erdoğan's AKP and its ally Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) after the deaths of the Turkish officials. Members of both parties have been trying to link the HDP to the PKK, with Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun going as far as to share a video in English that allegedly proves the links between the two groups.
The government often targets the HDP by claiming that it's the "political wing" of the PKK. Scores of HDP members, including former co-chairs Figen Yüksekdağ and Selahattin Demirtaş, are imprisoned on charges related to terrorism.
Gergerlioğlu on Feb. 15 said that the state tries to solve the Kurdish issue through guns and clashes.
"The soldiers and police officers had been held by the PKK for six years and no solution to this issue was found. An attempt to rescue them was made with an utterly risky operation, which led to these people's deaths," the HDP MP said.
"Peace took another blow," he noted.
'HDP tried to secure the captives' release'
Gergerlioğlu stressed that the captives' families had applied to the HDP in 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019 and that the party tried to find a way to secure their release.
"The families were telling us that they were ignored and that they were deeply saddened. They also visited other parties and the president as well, but were ignored," he said.
The soldiers thought that they were abandoned, Gergerlioğlu said, citing the letters they sent to their families.
"What we are seeing here is that the government left the Kurdish issue completely to guns and adopted an irrational approach. We see an operation that was carried out by taking the risks of deaths, but the blame is being tried to be put on the HDP. The authorities are trying to terrorize our party," he said.
Saying that the HDP released multiple statements and submitted parliamentary questions on the issue, Gergerlioğlu noted that the government remained silent in the face of all of them.
The deputy also said that he has been receiving death threats since an investigation was launched into him over his social media posts on the deaths of 13 Turks in Gara.
"I shared two tweets and didn't insult anyone while doing so. I explained the situation and said that these people could have saved alive. I gave a humanitarian message, but a lynch campaign was started. I've been receiving death threats," Gergerlioğlu said.
"As an individual who tried to make this issue reach a peaceful solution, I'm deeply saddened. Such incidents took place in the past, but the captives were saved. The families had been waiting for six years," he noted.
HDP shares video of its past calls on gov't
The HDP, meanwhile, shared a video proving its efforts for the release of the captives since 2015. The video includes parliamentary questions submitted by the party, as well speeches by deputies that call on the government to take action to secure their safe return.
Partimiz ve milletvekillerimiz alıkonulan askerlerin ailerinin taleplerini Meclis kürsüsünde, basın toplantılarında defalarca dile getirdi. Sağ salim evlerine dönebilmeleri için çağrılar yaptı. İktidar sorumlu arıyorsa cevabı aşağıdaki videoda: pic.twitter.com/BkgySCAuCk— HDP (@HDPgenelmerkezi) February 15, 2021
"If the government is looking for someone to blame, the answer is in the video," the HDP said in a tweet featuring the video.
Ministers meet with CHP, İYİ Party leaders
Separately, ministers Soylu and Akar visited CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu and Good (İYİ) Party leader Meral Akşener on Feb. 16 to inform them on the operation. They didn't visit the MHP since its members listened to the ministers' speeches in parliament.