Following the Turkish military operation that was conducted in the Garê Mountains of Northern Iraq, the government stated on Feb. 14th that the PKK had executed 13 hostages. Three military officers and more than 50 PKK militants died during the clashes and bombardments.
Most people in Turkey were shocked to find out about this, as they were unaware of captives being held by the PKK for so long.
Yet the captives’ families had made several attempts to rescue their children. The captives were police and military personnel who were abducted 5 or 6 years ago whilst wearing their civil clothes, not on duty. The families were in contact with the Presidency, CHP and HDP as well as the Human Rights Association in Turkey (İHD).
Some of those families had taken part in the sit-in protest in front of the Diyarbakır HDP building, alongside other families who had claimed that the PKK had abducted their children. The stories of the captive police and soldiers wasn’t publicized much.
The AKP-controlled media widely covered those protests back in 2019. The framing was usually that of “mothers against the PKK”, a response to the “Saturday Mothers” sit-ins that protested against the government for more than 30 years. The Saturday Mothers sit-ins were raided by the police and banned in 2018. Thus, “Diyarbakır Mothers” sit-ins were viewed by some as yet another propaganda tactic by the regime.
The day after the tragic news broke out, the AKP media headlines promised revenge and held the US responsible for the event. The İHD, which has previously helped rescue hostages from PKK, said that their offer to negotiate had been rejected by Turkish government officials.
President Erdoğan delivered his first statements on the tragedy at an AKP Congress – always free from COVID-19 restrictions – during which brought up the war on terror and against internal enemies inside the country. He then called a grieving mother on the phone, put her on loudspeaker and told her that her son had won the honour of martyrdom. That day, another 700+ people, mostly related to the HDP, were detained.
MHP leader Bahçeli was furious and vengeful as usual. He held the HDP directly responsible, called once again to shut down the party and said every “collaborator” (meaning opposition parties) would suffer his punishment.
Opposition leaders Kılıçdaroğlu and Akşener asked valid questions regarding the military operation, which sparked a backlash from Erdoğan and his allies. One of the captives had a shotgun wound in the head, but autopsies of the 13 citizens that were killed were not made public.
Only after the 16th of February, when the stances of the CHP and IYI Party became clear, most independent media began to comment and ask questions with regards to the tragedy in Gare. Of course, such journalistic or analytical voices couldn’t be heard in the mainstream media. The foreign media, meanwhile, seemed liked it wasn’t too keen to cover the political aftermath of the operation.
The tactical and operational details of Gare remain unclear. (One can read Fehim Taştekin and Aydın Selcen’s analyses about it in Duvar English).
Was the intention of the military operation to rescue hostages, or to strike the PKK? Is it possible that both took place simultaneously?
A pro-AKP figure, Çetin Çetiner, wrote an interesting article for Habertürk. He claims that the PKK transferred 13 captives to the Gare Mountains close to the Turkish border back in October and that “the aim of the terrorists was to take them to Sinjar, to the YPG. Then, our American allies would have tried to push us (Turkey) to negotiate with the YPG in April.” Journalist Celal Başlangıç (artigercek.com) asked if the aim of the operation was to “take PKK’s Trump” rather than rescue the captives.
Today, proposals to lift the legislative immunities of 9 HDP MPs feature on the parliament’s agenda. Among them are HDP co-chair Pervin Buldan, HDP group leader Meral Danış Beştaş, Garo Paylan, Ayşe Acar Başaran. In the immediate aftermath of the Gare tragedy, they might face prison.
I would like to end this piece with words uttered by President Erdoğan: “The old Turkey was the country of restrictions and poverty: There were quarrels, chaos and unrest. Today's Turkey is a country of freedom, self-confidence, development, growth and peace.”
See, we’ve got it all.