ISTANBUL – Turks reacted with shock and anger on Monday to news that Kurdish guerrillas had executed 13 Turkish soldiers and police held in a cave in the mountains of northern Iraq.
The men were being held hostage by members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a Maoist guerrilla movement that has been fighting the Turkish state for more than three decades. Turkish soldiers found their bodies in a cave during a military operation in Iraq’s Gara region, the government said on Sunday. All the hostages had been executed, all but one with gunshots in the head, he said.
The death toll and the manner in which the men were killed have landed like a bomb in the tense and divided politics of Turkey. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his political allies condemned the attack, with opposition parties questioning why the government failed to negotiate the release of the men and risked a military operation to save them.
The PKK said the deaths were caused by airstrikes during the Turkish military operation which began on February 10. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said the PKK commander in charge executed the men from the start of the operation.
Twelve of the hostages identified were junior members of the military and military police. All of them were captured five or six years ago by the PKK in a period after the breakdown of peace negotiations between the Turkish government and the Kurdish guerrillas.
Guerrillas often set up impromptu roadblocks on isolated roads in parts of eastern and southeastern Turkey, and kidnap members of the armed forces traveling in public buses or private cars to return home to return. visit their families and return to their bases.
The men found in the cave had been kidnapped and taken across the border into the mountains of northern Iraq, an area the PKK has long used as a rear base.
Ozturk Turkdogan, head of the Turkish Association for Human Rights, said the organization had been in contact with 10 of the hostage families since 2015. But despite efforts to push for negotiations, the Turkish security services had been adamant in their pursuit of military operations, he mentioned. Speaking on Arti TV, he also criticized the PKK for holding hostages for so long.
The incident could prove politically damaging for Mr Erdogan, but could also give him ammunition to stir up nationalist sentiment and crack down on his opponents.
He called the mother of one of the soldiers killed in a speech broadcast on national television on Monday, promising to avenge the death of her son. His political ally, Devlet Bahceli, leader of the Nationalist Movement Party, vowed that anyone who showed sympathy for the Kurdish group would be treated as a terrorist and an accomplice.
Mr Erdogan criticized the PKK in his speech and said the United States and the pro-Kurdish political party in Turkey were also responsible for the deaths of the soldiers.
He criticized the United States for supporting and arming the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, a branch of the Kurdish group, which American forces use to fight the Islamic State in Syria, even though Washington, along with the Turkey and the European Union, has designated the PKK as a terrorist group.
“If we are with you in NATO, if we want to continue our unity, then you will act sincerely towards us,” Erdogan said in the speech to members of his party at a rally in Rize, in Turkey. Maritime region. “Then you will be with us, not with the terrorists.”
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said it summoned the US ambassador on Monday to protest the conditional wording of a US State Department statement on the incident, which read: “If any reports of the death of Turkish civilians at the hands of the PKK, a designated terrorist organization, are confirmed, we condemn this action in the strongest terms.
The pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, or HDP, is regularly accused of terrorism for its links with the PKK Criticism of Erdogan could signal a new wave of oppression against the party, which has seen many elected officials and activists dismissed of their duties and detained.
The Anadolu Agency, the state press service, reported that an investigation had been opened against two HDP lawmakers for “provocative” social media posts about the incident when news of the murders broke on Sunday . The HDP said Monday that 700 people, including party officials, had been detained overnight across the country.
Members of the HDP and the Human Rights Association have in the past worked to mediate with the PKK and secure the release of hostages. The two lawmakers under investigation had met with the families of the hostages.
The party called on the government and the PKK to report on what happened in a statement on Monday.
“The government is able to account for the losses suffered by the families of the deceased and to society, instead of asking our party to account for them,” the statement said.
“Likewise, the PKK should inform the Turkish public and the world about how the captives lost their lives, which were entrusted to them, and their responsibility for these deaths.”
The party also called on the PKK to release other captives into its hands.