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Why Turkey's Military Is Killing Mules At The Iraqi Border

Dead mules near the Turkey-Iraq border
Dead mules near the Turkey-Iraq border
Fehim Tastekin


ISTANBUL — Turkey's Roboski military outpost became infamous as the location of the 2011 bombing that killed 34 Kurdish youth, whom Turkish fighter pilots had mistaken for PKK rebel troops.

Now we see the latest news about Turkish soldiers killing mules, not men, in the same area near the Turkey-Iraq border. According to Ferhat Encu, a parliamentary deputy candidate who lost relatives in the 2011 massacre, soldiers killed eight mules on March 23. This was followed by two more of the animals gunned to death, and six others that died when they ran off a cliff after being scared by the gunfire. Another two mules were killed on April 5. Encu says mules that were not used in border commerce were also killed in this continuing slaughter.

But why? The state has its official justification: The Ministry of Customs and Commerce has sent a memo to the Provincial Directorate of Agriculture, Food and Husbandry in Sirnak, ordering the killing of a total of 78 mules used for border trade because they were suspected of carrying diseases into Turkey. But if the animals are thought to have an illness, shouldn't they be brought in and examined? No — too much hassle. The animals are killed by the bullets of Turkish soldiers.

This is not a first. A total of 75 mules were gunned and burned in Baskale, Van on Aug. 4, 2003. On January 2015, 97 mules were killed in Hakkari by a court order since they posed a health risk. Semdinli-Derecik also witnessed mules being killed on Dec. 25, 2014, this time by the order of a prosecutor.

Somehow, the state is very sensitive about health and border safety issues in certain areas. Encu says this is related to both the Roboski massacre in 2011 and the ongoing peace process between the Turkish state and the Kurdish militia.

A new symbol

“They are trying to intimidate us by destroying our means of living. It's not just the killing of the mules, our villages are practically under siege," says Encu. "People who go to the highlands are being stopped and questioned. Those who do not want peace with the Kurds are trying to sabotage the peace process in Roboski."

The Kurdish political leader says that sometimes the mules are shot when there are people riding them, not while crossing the border. "We ask the local government for help, but they say they cannot do anything about the soldiers," he adds. "Justice was not served when the men were slaughtered in Roboski, can it be served now by killing mules?”

The Roboski massacre of 2011 has become a symbol for crimes committed by the Turkish state. The government cannot shake this image, and is now trying to silence the Kurds who ask for justice by killing their mules. Will it work — or will it just become a new evidence of how far Turkey will go to avoid solving the Kurdish question once and for all?

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Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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