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?