Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Turkey admits to massacre, world yawns

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A news story which received little coverage in Australian media surrounds the tragic news that Turkey committed a massacre that killed 35 civilians in an air strike into Iraq near a Kurdish village along the Turkish border on 28 December 2011.

Turkey has admitted that the attack was an error. Turkey claimed that it intended to target suspected Kurdish militants, but that the victims turned out to be civilians not terrorists. The victims of the attack are believed to have been villagers involved in smuggling cigarettes into Turkey from Iraq.

The attack was one of the deadliest attacks since the PKK took up arms in 1984 in a conflict in which more than 40,000 people have been killed.

The pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party condemned the air strike as a "massacre", saying that all the victims were civilians aged between 16 and 20.

"Those killed were young people who made a living from smuggling. There were people studying for university exams among them," said party leader Selahattin Demirtas.

Selahattin Demirtas also said, "It is clear there was a massacre. They will try to cover it up ... we will not allow them to cover it up...This country's warplanes bombed a group of 50 of its citizens to destroy them. This is a war crime and a crime against humanity."

Turkish agencies report that protesters angry at the deaths threw stones at police in Istanbul on 29 December.

The killings come on top of a similar raid in August that killed seven civilians including toddlers.

It is interesting to speculate what would have happened if Israel made a similar error and killed 35 Palestinian civilians in a single attack along the Gaza border. Frontpage headlines, angry editorials and opinion pieces. demonstrations, and strong condemnation from foreign governments would seem likely.  Leading the charge would likely be Turkey which has made public condemnation of Israel a key part of its foreign policy in recent years - as well as a close affiliation with Hamas, with Ankara hosting Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh over New Year's.

As Middle East academic Michael Rubin has commented on the massacre: 

"It will be interesting to see whether Turkey will discipline those involved in these killings, pay compensation, apologize, or allow international investigations. No one should hold their breath, however. The Turkish government is interested in neither justice nor counter-terrorism; its interests lay instead solely in Israel-bashing and incitement."

Turkey may want to focus more on its own domestic problems and addressing its human rights abuses against its Kurdish citizens before it decides to comment on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Sharyn Mittelman