Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), visited southeastern Şırnak (Şırnex) province on Thursday to meet with families of the Roboskî massacre victims.
As part of a campaign of what he calls reconciliation with Turkey’s othered communities, the CHP leader paid his first visit to Roboski, a frontier village on the Turkish-Iraqi border.
A total of 34 villagers mostly from the same family, including 19 children, delivering goods packed on mules, were killed in an airstrike by Turkish warplanes in Roboski on 28 December 2011.
In the 11 years since the massacre, those responsible have not been identified despite a secret parliamentary commission. The lawsuit filed by the families was returned from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
“We lost 34 of our people here on 28 December 2011,” Kılıçdaroğlu told reporters after meeting with relatives of those who lost their lives in the Roboski Massacre. “The pain is still not over. This pain must be relieved if justice is to come to this country.”
Kılıçdaroğlu promised to shed light on the incident. “Only after the matter is clarified can we reconcile. It is our duty to ensure justice,” he said.
“CHP MPs Levent Gök and Sezgin Tanrıkulu visit us every year. But this time, it is the chairman of the party,” Memet Encü, father of one of the boys who were killed, told reporters ahead of the visit.
The opposition leader’s visit comes as deputy Gök published a new book on the massacre. Gök brought copies of his book as gifts to the families, to be presented to them at a memorial service at the village cemetery.
While Kılıçdaroğlu himself visited the village for the first time, his wife Selvi Kılıçdaroğlu had spent time with the mourning women on the Mother’s Day following the incident, in 2012.
“We find it to be very positive that a leader with his sights set on leading the country is visiting Roboski and listening to the families’ demands first-hand,” Ferhat Encü, the Istanbul co-chair for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) who lost 11 of his relatives in the massacre, said in an interview about the visit.
Kılıçdaroğlu is likely to announce his bid for president in Turkey’s upcoming 2023 presidential and parliamentary elections as part of a wide coalition of opposition parties.
Turkish officials had first announced that the strike had targeted a convoy of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighters entering Turkey illegally. However, it was quickly revealed that the victims had been locals who were smuggling cigarettes and other goods from the Iraqi side of the border, which cuts through closely related communities on both sides.
Cross-border smuggling is a main source of income for many in the region, due to the mountainous border, lack of opportunities in the area, and the fact that two frontier Kurdish communities are closely related.
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, prime minister at the time, had targeted alternative media organs for reporting on the dozens of deaths, and thanked then-Chief of General Staff Necdet Özel and the force command for their “sensitivity despite the press”.
“It was a group of 40. There were mules and people. How can anybody know who is who from that distance?” Erdoğan said at the time, defending the army’s decision. “We have already announced we will pay compensation, but there are some who abuse the matter,” he said.
The families’ search for justice was delayed for years, only to be dismissed by a military court in 2014. Another appeal at Turkey’s Constitutional Court failed in 2015, and in 2016, a group of 281 relatives of the deceased appealed to the European Court of Human Rights.
The top European court rejected the case on a technicality, saying the documents the court requested were provided in 17 days instead of 15 as the bylaws stipulate.
Erdoğan’s son-in-law and then-Energy Minister Berat Albayrak said in 2019 that “Uludere may be investigated again, the aircraft may be investigated”, prompting another appeal to Turkey’s courts by the families citing new evidence. There have not been any developments on the new appeal to date.