Our heart shrivelled because we forgot what happened in Roboski 

On Dec. 28, 2011, late at night, the Turkish warplanes bombed a group of Kurdish villagers, who had gone across the border into Iraq to load packages with cigarettes and tea and barrels with petrol on their mules. They were about to enter the Turkish territory again when the bombing started. Not much later, 34 traders, 19 of whom were underaged boys, were dead. One of the victims was 34-year-old Osman Kaplan, married to Pakize and father of five children. All I ever saw of Osman was a photo of him while working in a small garden where the family grew some vegetables. Spade in his hands, looking up into the camera.

Today, Roboski massacre is commemorated for the eighth time. I attended the commemorations between 2012 and 2014, and four months before the 2015 commemoration Turkey deported me due to my journalistic work about the Kurds. That year, my book about the massacre had been published in Turkish and English. I had started it with a quote I had learned during my years of investigating the bombing: "May our hearts shrivel if we forget Roboski".

The massacre received a lot of media attention in the first couple of years. That was because of the way the government handled it – by framing the victims as terrorist auxiliaries and turning the judicial process into a parody. One court case followed the other and most of the time, the families of the victims were the ones being prosecuted while the perpetrators, following an old Turkish tradition, were let off the hook or even got promoted. 

This year, there was no news. Well, Ferhat Encü was released from prison, the son of the Encü family, which lost many members in the massacre, who was elected member of the parliament for the leftist Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) in 2015. His release hardly made it to the papers because the government removed him from his seat so he was just an ordinary citizen. His younger brother Veli Encü, who was arrested a month earlier than Ferhat Encü, is still behind the bars. He went to the graveyard where victims are buried every Thursday with other family members to commemorate and to read a statement and shared photos and videos about the massacre on social media. Mahmut told me that the families of victims still visit the graveyard every Thursday.

Also, the questions that the HDP asks in parliament about Roboski, drew no headlines this year. The questions, like every year, came down to one request: open a new investigation into the matter. HDP deputy for Şırnak, the province where the massacre happened, Nuran Imir, sent the parliamentary inquiries to me.

"Like every year, the government and the opposition have rejected our request," she said.

A new legal case could spark interest again, Ferhat Encü told me in a private conversation on Twitter. But there is no news about reopening of the case, according to lawyer Kerim Altiparmak. 

"The villagers feel forgotten and hopeless," Ferhat Encü said. 

"Our journalists have been here," Encü said, referring to reporters from Kurdish media, when I asked him whether there have been any journalists in the village to report about how the families are doing today and to ask them what it is like to be forgotten almost eight years after the crime. "Nobody from outside, as far as I know," he added.

May our hearts shrivel. 

But then again, how could we forget? If there is one actor that makes sure that we will never forget, it is the state itself. Because it creates new Roboski-like cases again and again. Only recently, Turkey shelled Tel Rifaat in northern Syria, resulting in ten dead civilians including eight children. In a photo taken following the attack, the dead civilians were lying in a row on the ground, wrapped in blankets, their desperate families around them, very similar to one taken after the Roboski massacre. Who could not see the reflection of the pictures from Roboski in these images?

The comparison does not end there. Tel Rifaat will not be thoroughly and independently investigated, just like Roboski. There will be no fair judicial process and no compensation. 

HDP deputy Imir said Roboski massacre haunts her all the time under the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

"When we look at the AKP government and administration, the first thing that comes to mind is Roboski. Erdoğan has said that Roboski would not vanish in the dark corridors of Ankara, but now we see a government that strives to lose Roboski in these dark corridors," she said in an e-mail. 

Imir sees Roboski everywhere, not only in Tel Rifaat, listing several atrocities happened in recent years. 

"The destruction of Şırnak and the dozens of deaths there, are Roboski. The body of Hacı Lokman Birlik being dragged through Şırnak tied behind an armoured vehicle, is Roboski. The people who were burned in the basements of Cizre are a continuation of Roboski. The murders in Sur, the eradication of Nusaybin are Roboski."

She is referring to the events during the armed conflict that shook several cities in the majorly Kurdish southeast of Turkey between 2015 and 2016. 

In late 2015, leaders of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency for Kurdish self-rule, declared autonomous regions in several cities in Turkey’s Kurdish dominated southeast after the collapse of a two-and-a-half-year peace process. 

The youth wing of the PKK set off implementing the declaration by digging trenches and establishing barricades to keep the security forces out.

The Turkish army responded with massive military operations on urbanized terrains, conducting house-to-house fighting with tanks, urban assault vehicles. Several civilians were killed throughout the conflict.

One could say that all the events that happened after Dec. 28, 2011, have obscured our sight on Roboski. So much destruction and pain ever since – Roboski seems to become part of the past instead of the present. But it has not. As long as no justice is done, the pain and the memory will live on. The Dersim massacres of 1937 and 1938, in which thousands of Alevi Kurds were ruthlessly killed, may hardly have any survivors left and it is part of Turkey’s past, but as long as it is not properly dealt with and the state does not fully acknowledge what happened, it remains part of today's Turkey.

Our hearts have not shrivelled. Our hearts are in Roboski.

Fréderike Geerdink has investigated the Roboski massacre and published a book about it. It is available in English here and in Turkish here


© Ahval English


The views expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.