This week my book about the Roboski massacre was published in the Netherlands, ‘De jongens zijn dood’,(The boys are dead). It is, as its cover states, a journalistic journey into the heart of the Kurdish issue in Turkey. After travelling to Roboski for the first time a few days after the massacre, I visited the families and the other villagers about ten times and tried to figure out what really happened that dramatic evening. The longer I engaged myself, the more I was also drawn into Kurdish and Turkish history, in search of a deeper background knowledge.
Now I am in the Netherlands for the promotion of my book. I am not sure yet how much publicity the book will get and on how many radio and TV shows I will talk and how many reviews the book will get, but I have thought a lot about the most important message that I want to share with anybody who wants to listen to me.
It was a deliberate bombing
That is: the massacre was not an accident. It was a deliberate bombing of a group of poor smuggling villagers. After the PKK carried out an attack in the province of Hakkari in October 2011 in which 24 soldiers died, the whole country wanted revenge. The Roboski massacre was that revenge: based on vague intelligence that PKK commander Fehman Hüseyin was in the smugglers’ group, they dropped the bombs.
They had their whole lives before them
If Hüseyin had been in the group, the victory would have been complete, and the villagers could have been framed as PKK helpers. He was not in the group, but with the complicity of the Turkish media the villagers were framed as PKK helpers anyway. That these villagers were actually citizens of Turkey, that most of them were young and had their whole lives before them, that they had families who loved them, that they were integral parts of a tight community, was of no interest to the state.
When digging into this whole matter, initially I felt like a tough investigative journalist. Soon it turned out that you don’t have to dig so deep to come up with this most likely scenario. There is the official report into the massacre by the investigating committee of the Turkish parliament’s Human Rights Committee, and although the report’s single aim is to sweep the matter under the carpet, it sure sheds some light. Especially if you also read the dissenting reports by opposition committee members Ertugrul Kürkcü and Levent Gök.
The bombing happened ‘because we are Kurds’
If you then add the information the villagers give you, if you spend time there – not only in the villages Bejuh (Turkish name: Gülyazi) and Roboski (Ortasu) but also on the smuggling routes – and research Kurdish history right before and during the republic, you get the picture. What I understood after all these months of research is what the villagers had told me from the beginning: the bombing happened ‘because we are Kurds’.
Why am I the only foreign journalist who really investigated this matter? Why do many international media outlets still write when they refer to the massacre: ‘…the Uludere massacre, in which Kurdish smugglers were mistaken for PKK fighters’? The full truth still has to come out and several reports that are now secret should be out in the open, but anybody can easily discover that it was anything but a mistake.
May our hearts dry out if we forget Roboski
For many people in the west, Turkey somehow feels close to us. Westerners go on holiday there, their governments have good relations with the Turkish government, negotiate about EU accession and call with Erdogan to discuss global politics. This government can make mistakes, but deliberately bomb villagers to death? That seems so hard to imagine.
Several people have also asked me when I state that it was not an accident: ‘How can you just say that? Are you sure?’ looking at me with suspicion. Yes, I am sure – not 100%, because for that, all the information regarding the massacre has to be available, and it isn’t now. But I have no doubt, and I am not ‘just saying that’. I know what I am talking about.
This is the Turkish state. If my book and my promotional work around it convinces more people of that reality, I will feel I made a contribution. At the moment I am working on a Turkish, English and Kurdish translation of my book. We cannot forget Roboski. May our hearts dry out if we do.