Uludere: Drone footage shows victims were ‘obviously smugglers’

By bianet.org:

At a meeting on Wednesday evening (15 February), the Parliamentary Human Rights Commission viewed the images taken by Heron drones before and during the aerial strike in the Uludere region (south-eastern Turkey) on 28 December. The bombing caused the death of 34 civilians from the villages of Gülyazı (Bujeh) and Ortasu (Roboski). The Parliamentary Human Rights Commission had established a sub-commission related to the incident. Members of the sub-commission travelled to Şırnak on 2/3 February in order to talk to military and civic officials and also to survivors of the bombardment and relatives of the victims.

Opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Tunceli Deputy Hüseyin Aygün said in a statement made to bianet after the Wednesday meeting, “The communication traffic between the people in charge of watching the Heron pictures and the executives of the General Staff who gave the order for the bombardment must be disclosed. It definitely has to be clarified how this decision was given and what it was based on”.

“There are about ten hours of footage from the day of the incident showing the time prior to the incident and the bombing. The first image was taken at 18.23 hrs showing a procession of 40 people moving from the Gülyazı village to the plain at Haftanin [Iraq]. There, about six to eight trucks are waiting, carrying a certain load. The loading takes about one hour. The villagers set out towards the Turkish border at 19.16 hrs”.

“The bombing started at 21.40 hrs. It can be watched from the beginning to the end on the Heron pictures. Even we could see with the naked eye that the villagers were carrying a load”.

“We watched the footage together with military officials and experts. We asked if somebody had knowingly allowed the bombing of the villagers and how the experts could not understand that these were villagers. However, none of our questions were answered. We were informed that they talked to the Diyarbakır Special Authority Prosecutor who is in charge of the investigation before they came to see the commission”.

“How was the decision for the bombardment given? What was being said in the conversations between those who kept track of the Heron images and the ones who gave the decision? Did these experienced people misinterpret the pictures? Those who followed the Heron images might have communicated that the people on the pictures were civilians. These questions have to be answered and the communication traffic has to be disclosed”.

Aygün underlined that it was essential to reveal all those who carry any responsibility for the incident in order to reach a sound conclusion.

“They were obviously smugglers”

Aygün said that the descriptions of the villagers were confirmed by the images. CHP Deputy Levent Gök stated, “Even with the naked eye it was obvious that they were smugglers”.

Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) Deputy for Mersin, Ertuğrul Kürkçü,said: “We were deeply shocked by the images”.

Head of the commission Ayhan Sefer Üstün, Sakarya Deputy of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), commented: “The images alone are not enough to see the big picture. We will reach a conclusion by evaluating all data”.

The Head of the Uludere Sub-Commission, İhsan Şener, noted, “It is said ‘The images clearly show that they were smugglers’ because the result of this incident is certain. If the result of the incident was not clear, it would not be possible to understand from the Heron images only ‘whether they were terrorists or smugglers'”.

The meeting of the commission to watch the images taken by the Heron drones was held in the evening of 15 February. The session was also attended by three specialists of the Military Electronics Industries (ASELSAN) and two officers of the General Staff. Members of Parliament who were not part of the commission were not allowed to join the meeting and neither were journalists.

“We watched in horror”

Aygün claimed, “Even the hooves of the mules were visible. Everything we were told by the villagers was confirmed. They were bombed four times within 40 minutes”.

CHP Sivas Deputy Malik Ecder Özdemir said, “We watched [the footage] in horror. Each and every image from the beginning till the end shows that these people were smugglers. The mules right next to them can be seen with the naked eye”.

“Images are very clear”

Özdemir stressed that the images were very clear. “We saw people and mules passing over a stream. It was such a place where the people and mules had to pass one by one. It was possible to see how many mules and how many people crossed”, he said.

CHP Deputy for Ankara Levent Gök indicated, “We were able to locate with the naked eye the movements of people and mounts from the frontier in Turkey to the frontier in Iraq. These people exchanged goods and returned. It gave us the creeps. The images were so clear that we did not need the specialists we had called for assistance”.

Kürkçü defined that the footage covered the period between 15.59 and 01.01 hrs. “There are no images from inside the village. The entire footage shows the exchange of goods across the border. The Heron images correspond exactly to what we were told by the villagers. The images are from beyond the border”, Kürkçü explained.

Refik Eryılmaz, member of the commission and CHP Hatay Deputy, remarked, “A few hours passed between the discovery of the group and the attack. Considering the time that passed in the meanwhile, we have to ask if information could have been obtained from different places in the meantime”.

No answers

The deputies addressed the specialists and military officials at the meeting with several questions:

They asked for Heron footage previously taken of PKK members and smugglers in order to be able to compare. They also wanted to know according to which reasons and circumstances the political power gave the decision for the attack. Furthermore the deputies questioned, “45 minutes passed between the first and the last bombardment. Did the military not understand that those people were smugglers in the meantime?” However, none of the deputies’ questions was answered.

Özdemir summarized the incident based on the Heron images:

“At first, eight vehicles are coming from Northern Iraq. These vehicles wait in the valley where the Haftanin and Kutalma streams flow together. It is obvious that they brought goods. Later on, a crowded group of people moves into this direction from Turkish territory. They arrive and wait there for a long time. Goods are being loaded on mules. After that, they start returning to the Turkish side the same way they came in groups of two to three people”.

The members of the commission watched about four hours of the nine-hour footage. Özdemir described the course of events minute by minute:

17.20: Four vehicles move from Iraq towards Turkey. The vehicles gather at the valley between the Haftanin and Kutalma streams.

18.25: The first crowded group of smugglers comes from the village and walks towards the meeting point. This is the first image of the villagers.

18.55: The third crowded group of villagers comes.

19.16: The first group has loaded goods and starts returning the way they came towards the Turkish border.

19.40: The groups heading for the Turkish border start to gather at a certain point.

They wait close to the border until 21.24 hrs. This means that there was artillery fire in the meantime.

21.36: The Heron drone shows a point to the planes with a laser spot.

21.36: The first bomb is thrown.

21.43: The second bomb is thrown.

22.04: The third bomb is thrown.

22.24: Another group following the others is being bombed.

22.45: People hurry from the village towards the scene of incident.

23.00: The villagers reach the scene of incident.

Üstün, Head of the Parliamentary Human Rights Commission, announced:

“We allowed the ASELSAN team time to prepare a report within the framework of the questions raised by the members of the commission. We will write a report based on the images and these interpretations”.

“It is too early and it would be deceptive to make a comment before seeing the whole picture. Opinions might change according to the people you listen to. We might call the experts again. We have to look at the big picture. These images do not show the big picture. (…) We have advanced but there is still some way ahead of us”.

“The images look like black stains every now and then. But when they start moving you understand that this is the movement of a person or an animal. When they are in a crowded group it looks like one single spot. There are movements of vehicles. You can see that they are vehicles. The activity starts from the territory of Northern Iraq”.

The other AKP deputies as members of the commission did not comment on the issue referring to the “confidentiality of the investigation”. (AS)

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