Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar announced the conclusion of a military operation in northern Iraq’s Gara region on Saturday after 13 Turkish soldiers, policemen and intelligence officials were killed in the area.
“Searches conducted in a cave that was taken under control following intense clashes revealed the bodies of 13 citizens who had been abducted,” BBC Turkish cited Akar as saying, while noting that over “50 targets were destroyed in an aerial operation.”
“First inspections revealed that one of our innocent and unarmed citizens had been shot in his shoulder, while the other 12 were martyred with shots to their heads,” the minister said.
According to Akar, the operation saw Turkish forces kill 48 members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group that has been at war in Turkey for Kurdish self-rule for almost 40 years.
In the same press event, Chief of Staff Yaşar Güler said the latest operation in the Claw Tiger and Claw Eagle campaigns that Turkey launched last summer started on Feb. 10 with 41 aircraft, upon “very good evidence” on where the PKK had been keeping captured Turkish personnel.
“There were our personnel who had been abducted before 2015,” Güler said, referring to the 2.5-year-long peace process with the PKK that started in 2013 to resolve the decades-long fighting in Turkey and the Kurdish issue in general, but failed in 2015, leading to renewed crackdown on armed groups and civilian Kurdish politicians alike.
According to Güler, Turkish forces reached the cave in question on the third day of the operation.
Later on Sunday, Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu vowed revenge against the PKK by capturing and “tearing up into a thousand pieces” the group’s number two leader, Murat Karayılan.
Turkey will hold to account those who have caused suffering to the young men and their families, Soylu said in a statement he released.
The Turkish minister also blasted those exonerating the PKK over the attack, calling them “dishonourable filth”, in an apparent reference to the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
The Governor of Malatya announced that 10 of the 13 people had been identified, while authorities were working to identify the remaining three, state-run Anadolu news agency reported.
Those identified included police and gendarmerie officers, as well as individuals without a disclosed military ranking.
On Friday, Mezopotamya Agency cited a statement by the People’s Defence Forces (HPG), the armed wing within the PKK, that said “A camp where prisoners of war were kept was hit in an aerial bombing.”
There were two directors from Turkey’s national intelligence agency MİT, and nine police officers and soldiers among the captured Turkish citizens, Mezopotamya said.
Mezopotamya also cited a 2019 statement by an HPG commander, where he said Turkey had “not made any moves to take back the captive policemen, soldiers and MİT officials from the HPG,” and instead attempted to kill them in aerial attacks.
On Saturday, family members of two captured soldiers spoke to Mezopotamya to call on Turkey to bring their children back. Gürsel Özbey, father of soldier Semih Özbey, told Mezopotamya:
“The Geneva Convention requires (the PKK) to keep (the captured personnel) safe, and give them to their families. This is what I want. Of course if the state is conducting operations where our children are kept, I want it stopped immediately, as a father.”
In the press event, Akar said, “I wish we could have taken our 13 citizens out of there safe and sound. But the lowly thugs martyred these unarmed innocents in their massacre.”
Turkish government officials and members of the opposition have condemned the deaths.
“PKK executes 13 civilian captives in a cave in Gara, Iraq It attacks Turkish & Iraqi security forces & civilians,” Presidential Spokesman İbrahim Kalın said in a tweet. “The world is silent. This silence is a shameful act of complicity.”
“I wish Allah’s mercy on our 13 citizens who were nefariously martyred in Iraq’s Gara region by the terrorist organisation, and patience for their families. I offer my condolences to our nation,” main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Gürsel Tekin tweeted.
“I wish Allah’s mercy on our 13 citizens who were martyred by terrorists in Iraq’s Gara region, and patience for their families. My condolences for our nation,” tweeted CHP Deputy Chairman Veli Ağbaba.
“I wish Allah’s mercy on our 13 civilian citizens who were martyred in Gara by the terrorist organisation PKK,” centre-right opposition Good Party’s (İYİP) chairwoman Meral Akşener tweeted.
“As the terrorist organisation executes our 13 brothers with firing squads; Parties who partner up with the PKK, parties who form a ‘domestic front’ together with the United States to strike Turkey from within, those who rush to the aid of Demirtaş and Kavala – damn your nationalism, patriotism, conservatism! We stand with our soldiers,” pro-government columnist İbrahim Karagül wrote.
“May Allah have mercy. I am sorrowed, I wish we could have seen a response to our efforts for peace and a solution on these lands. This is what one of the captive soldiers said 2.5 years ago. The matter should have been to keep people alive no matter who they were. There is no solution through death, we must keep our people alive,” pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu said in a tweet, where he shared a video message.
In the video, a soldier who had been captured three years before the video was taken says, “I don’t know if anybody is working for us (to get out), but I expect everybody to do whatever they can. For sure, they should fight for us.”
“Won’t anybody ask why PKK didn’t kill the soldiers until now, when the captives were in their hands for years?” wrote journalist Fehim Işık in a tweet. “And, didn’t Turkey get back its prisoners from the PKK every time it based efforts on communication? Why did it prefer these people die this time around? Who will benefit from these deaths?”