Aslan Encu: a 12 year-old boy killed by the Turkish Army
On Wednesday December 28, Aslan Encu was one of fifty boys from the village of Uludere, in the mountainous region of southeast Turkey, who were taking some goods across the border into Iraq to make some money for their families. Twelve year old Aslan had been helping his older brother to raise enough funds to buy a prosthetic leg, following a landmine accident seven years ago. Many of these young boys carrying goods across the border illegally are orphans whose parents lost their lives in the Kurdish struggle against the Turkish state and the army since 1984.
Later that night, on the way back from Iraqi Kurdistan, tired and exhausted, Aslan and rest of the group climbed up the snowy mountains in order to cross the border into Turkey to reach their villages.
Unaware of the Turkish military’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicles flying overhead, the group of Kurdish teenagers were being photographed and the images were transmitted back to the command centre in Ankara which is manned by both American and Turkish technicians. Shortly afterwards, the army took a decision to send in American-made F16 fighter jets to eliminate the group.
This area is very popular with poor people who regularly take goods to sell across the border in Iraqi Kurdistan to feed their families. A lack of investment by the state for many decades has forced many Kurds to find an alternative way to make a living by smuggling goods across the border. The army states that the group of Kurdish teenagers were mistaken for guerrilla fighters from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) who have been engaged in war with Turkey since 1984 to achieve greater recognition for Kurdish rights.
Aslan Encu had every reason to be frightened when he heard the roar of approaching warplanes at exactly 9.37pm. One by one, the teenagers lost their lives, as the pilots returned to the scene and pounded the spot with hi-tech bombs for the following 47 minutes. By 10.24pm, the pilots flying the F16s had completed their mission. They had killed 35 innocent civilians, mostly between the ages of 12 and 20 years old.
When the scale of the massacre became apparent, the Turkish army started to spin the story and their version of events wasn’t questioned by international news agencies. Reuters quoted an unnamed “Turkish security official” as saying that “there were rumours that the PKK would cross through this region. Images were recorded of a crowd crossing last night, hence an operation was carried out. We could not have known whether these people were group members or smugglers.”
The attitude of many people in Turkey, it seems, was summed up by Mustafa Akyol, a prominent Muslim commentator, who sent the following comment on the micro-blogging website twitter: “A stupid and horrible “collateral damage” by Turkish warplanes kills some 30 innocents. I condemn it…”
The Turkish government has now acknowledged that the air-strike was a mistake and has expressed regret, but this won’t stop the outpouring of anger that will spread in the coming days. However, the Prime Minsiter Recep Tayyip Erdogan defended the military and called the attack “unfortunate and saddening”.
Amnesty International responded to the statement issued by the Turkish government by stating: “The government statements of regret are welcome but are woefully insufficient in the face of what appears to have been a complete failure to distinguish between a military target and civilians.”
For Aslan, it was too late—his lifeless body was lying on the snow in the mountainous region of his homeland where the Turkish state has denied his identity since 1923.