From Uludere to Dağlıca: Impotency of the Powerful
While we sincerely hope that we do not live through another tragedy for the rest of 2012, what we leave behind, in that case Uludere and Dağlıca, seems to be the two most important events happened in Turkey this year. It is impossible to disregard Uludere in any way or form. Although months have passed since the tragedy, the subject stuck to the ever so fluid daily Turkish agenda. Uludere continues to be debated among columnists, still makes the headlines with new developments and still talked among the politicians. After Uludere, the second biggest loss we had was PKK’s Dağlıca attack. Following months will surely bring more clarity as to what this attack implies as far as society and politics are concerned. We cannot, however, consider these events as independent happenings. The moment we take any event as an abstraction from its appropriate context, we both suppress its relationship with other events and let those who are lost in the chaos of abstraction to produce high volumes of hate and conspiracy. Our aim is quite the opposite. It is to understand social events in their relation to their contexts and thus prevent possibilities of similar tragedies. In this article, I analyse the events that took place between the death of 34 people at Uludere and PKK’s attack at Dağlıca resulting in 28 deaths and close to 20 injuries. I will analyse these events, and others in between, in relation to each other and draw conclusions, to better assess realistic possibilities of non-violence.
Since 2 fighter jets bombed and killed 34 civilians, Uludere massacre has been, and continues to be, an important milestone for Turkey. The most important and visible change that happened after Uludere is AKP’s and Erdoğan’s certain decline in the eyes of the public and of the liberal press that has supported him thus far. The most important reason for this tumble is, without any doubt, an extremely poorly handled crisis-communication via press releases and speeches Erdoğan and AKP’s other voices have made after the event. Although Erdoğan often have preached that Uludere should not be made a “material for political debate” and accused other parties with “exploiting” this sensitive subject, he practised otherwise. His thanks to the army for “a job well done”, his remarks of “necrophilia” for those who demanded justice for the death of their loved ones, his scolding statement of “we gave compensation for the dead, what else do you want”, and his terribly executed substandard subject-changing communication strategy of “we will make abortion illegal” provided an image of a politician who is not only inconsistent, but also incoherent with his words. If we were to combine Erdoğan’s these statements together with Minister of the Interior İdris Naim Şahin’s remark of “there is nothing to apologize for”, and top these with Erdoğan’s silencing of Hüseyin Çelik’s speech, in which he said “they weren’t terrorists, we should apologize”, AKP provides us with a picture of their stance on Uludere: “some people died over there, army did a good job, it is not important since we paid for it, and as long as we continue to pay, more people can die.” Such attitude, combined with a very unsuccessful political and mass-media misdirection campaign revolving around the issue of “abortion”, paints the picture of an AKP trying to cover-up anything that might have happened in regards to Uludere. For those who can see this picture, the first question coming to mind is what exactly is it AKP is trying to cover up? Of course, AKP’s infamous notoriety against any kind of transparency makes this an unanswerable question. The lingering question that they might be trying to hide something, however, causes AKP and Erdoğan lose significant amount of influence over the public and the liberal mass media.
Main opposition, who did not make any statements beyond a few regarding neither Uludere, nor abortion, proposed a “social reconciliation” plan in the beginning of June. Again, if we think of Kılıçdaroğlu’s move separate from Erdoğan’s lack of success after Uludere, we will have a limited perspective. It indeed requires an extremely strong faith to believe that Kılıçdaroğlu attempted this move only to bring peace and harmony to the society. It is quite undeniable that Kılıçdaroğlu wanted to take advantage of Erdoğan’s failure and desired to gain support among the liberals and intellectuals that Erdoğan was losing with his every statement. The most important proof that we have for such a judgment is the content of the 10 articles Kılıçdaroğlu proposes for his “social reconciliation.” If we analyse these articles, we see that, while making bold claims, Kılıçdaroğlu does not propose any sincere and efficient steps towards social harmony. The proposal claims that violence is the result of a causality and did not happen by itself, Kurdish issue is the culmination of problems through Republic’s entire history, and security policies do not get anywhere near peace. These are very important statements and indeed it is the first time CHP, or any party for that matter, utters them. On the other hand, the proposal has remnants of security-policy language as well as unrealistic solution suggestions. For instance, they suggest that violence started with PKK. They also claim that the parliament, whose only true function is to divide the society, is the only place for reconciliation—and they do not explain what this “reconciliation” looks like. Moreover, the idea of “intellectual men” is very weak. Proposal suggests that these “men” take orders from the parliament, immediately enforcing a range of opinions and personas who could be accepted to this group of “intellectuals”; i.e. good citizens who do not think that differently from their respective supervisors, the state. In addition to these aspects, Kılıçdaroğlu and Erdoğan decided to leave MHP and BDP out of this after their initial meeting. To reframe, a project that wants to reconcile Turkish nationalists and Kurdish nationalists decided to leave out Turkish and Kurdish nationalist political parties out of the project only after one meeting. This decision, when considered together with above shortcomings of the proposal, makes some people question the sincerity of CHP’s move, and makes this move look like a political manoeuvre to win supporters.
Kılıçdaroğlu’s initiative is still important for couple of reasons. This movement first made Erdoğan make more statements about the issue and peace processes. But, more importantly, it provided the necessary force for Leyla Zana’s undertaking. Zana, perhaps the most symbolic name of the Kurdish politics, made a statement on the 14th of June supporting Erdoğan and drawing attention to three important subjects: a. halt to a prejudice against Kurds as terrorists; b. a constitutional security for the Kurdish identity; and c. right of education in native language to stop the assimilation of Kurdish children. Zana’s remarks, especially the ones about supporting Erdoğan, enjoy a great deal of attention and praise from the press before an untimely interruption.
Before media and the public consider Zana’s proposal in depth, PKK kills 8 soldiers in Dağlıca, injures 16 and loses 10 of their own. A move that is certainly not so smart for an organisation claiming to support Kurdish rights, returns to PKK as increased hatred, blood and further conflict. At this moment, it is important to consider Dağlıca’s echoes in politics, mass media and consider their effects on the public.
Right after the assault, different internet newspapers framed the news differently. It is very important to examine this aspect of the mass media to project their effects on the public:
- Radikal newspaper website wrote “skirmish at Hakkari: 8 dead, many more wounded” for the headline. Right above the news, there were two highly visible news links for BDP’s and CHP’s call to PKK for abandoning violence.
- Hürriyet, in its headline, emphasized the “martyr vs. terrorist” dichotomy. BDP’s call to PKK to abandon violence was visible next to the news; however CHP’s call was much smaller in a corner. There was also a short article regarding how PKK timed their attacks precisely when Erdoğan was out of the country. This “interesting detail”, as the title of the article suggested, framed PKK as “evil genius” and propagated the stereotype of “sleepless, contemplating, conspiring, planning evil enemy.”
- Millyet’s website put forth the pain that should be felt: “heart burning message”, “hurtful detail”, “crying scream”, and “traitor attack” and other phrases imposed reactionary feelings upon the reader. While CHP’s call to PKK was minute and way below the news, BDP’s call to PKK was not published.
- Zaman, published the news as “traitor attack” and put forth the immediate reactions by the army and the generals, invoking a feeling of mobilization. Moreover, Zaman published neither CHP’s, nor BDP’s call for abandoning violence.
- Vakit newspaper suggested that there was “large numbers of martyrs and wounded in the traitor attack”, suggesting that there might be a possibility of, perhaps, smaller numbers of martyrs and wounded, thus normalizing violence. While BDP’s and CHP’s calls to PKK were not published, they also demonized and targeted liberals and leftists who supported peace talked with PKK’s leader Karayılan, calling them “liberals of Karayılan.”
Above comparison makes it obvious that more conservative the press becomes, more it distances itself from peace and supports social polarization. Save for the central leftist Radikal newspaper, the aforementioned conservative press, which embraces religion and nation above else, ironically acts against their own teachings and lusts over social polarization, and propagating animosity—social consequences of which extend far beyond incoherence. For the readers of the four newspapers out of five mentioned above, Dağlıca attack becomes a far more destructive and traumatic event. While the readers aren’t informed about calls for peace and non-violence, they are also forced to see the events as black vs. white, and they are further limited to interpret the event in a hateful way.
This mass media campaign of hate, found a rather comfortable place within the discourses of Erdoğan and AKP. After BDP announced their call, suggesting PKK should abandon violence and Turkish armed forces should stop operations, Erdoğan said “good morning” and further added “this business will be over sooner or later.” Of course, he does not explain the point in which it will be “over.” From his earlier statements, however, we well know where this end point resides. In a statement he made on 23rd of March, for instance, to announce his “new strategy”, Erdoğan said: “struggle with the terrorist organisation to the end, and negotiating with their extension in the parliament.” This statement not only demonized BDP as an extension of PKK, but also clarified the “end” point as a death sentence for several thousand people. While Erdoğan does not back away from this language after Dağlıca, in his press release he belittles BDP with his “good morning”, without even mentioning their name. Such disconfirmation only encourages social polarization. In addition, Minister of National Defence, İsmet Yılmaz clearly stated “to those who do not want peace, we will give the appropriate response” and sustained the language of violence. Ultimately, after all these initiatives for peace, Erdoğan’s and Yılmaz’s statements turn this into a social blood feud and confirm that the best answer for violence is even more violence. Acting on such orders from Erdoğan, Turkish army killed 26 PKK militants on 20th of June. Blood feud continues…
The most expected and the almost certain result of blood-nation propaganda carried by conservative politics and conservative mass media, who influence most of the society, is a social confirmation of violence and decrease of odds as far as peace and social harmony are concerned. Ironically, it is the same people who are paying with their money, lives and traumas, for the endless bloodlust and will to power of powerful conservatives.
When we consider the events at and in between Uludere and Dağlıca tragedies, we see that the powerful neither have the will nor the efficacy to actually solve the issue. It really would not be a stretch to suggest that the powerful and the mass media, which is under the control of the powerful, are engaged in a propaganda campaign in the favour of violence and intractability. It is safe to suggest this, because we know not all conservatives are indeed in support of war, violence and conflict. The result of this propaganda campaign (or as it is more popularly referred in Turkey nowadays as “psychological warfare”) is quite obvious in the zeitgeist of Turkey; manifesting as lust for violence, power, blood, and increased polarization. It is also obvious that no miracle pill of “openings” or “10 step solutions” put forth by those in charge are enough to solve this issue. It is unrealistic to expect the powerful to act against their interests, especially as long as their interests are aligned with conflict and violence. The two most powerful communicative tools over the society, mass media and political discourse, are engaged in a closed feedback loop, each feeding violence, hate, and will to blood to each other. On the other hand, while Erdoğan often supports violence, he was very accurate when he said: “this business will be over sooner or later.” At this point, those who remain above politics, who will for social justice, peace and harmony needs to ask this one very important question: “how and on whose terms will it be over?”
Ali Ersen Erol, PhD Candidate, School of Communication, Howard University
Please cite this article as follows:
Erol, Ali Ersen (June, 2012), “From Uludere to Dağlıca: Impotency of the Powerful”, Vol. I, Issue 4, pp. 56-60, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London: ResearchTurkey (http://researchturkey.org/?p=1408)