Turkey’s two largest opposition parties put the blame on the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) for the failure of an operation in northern Iraq aimed at the safe release of 13 Turkish nationals held by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Turkey on Sunday accused PKK militants of executing 13 Turkish nationals, mainly members of the security forces, whom they had held captive in northern Iraq. Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Turkish soldiers discovered 13 bodies in a cave in the Gara region of northern Iraq, where Ankara launched an operation against the PKK on Feb. 10.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) on Tuesday accused the AKP government of not doing enough to ensure the safe return of the hostages to Turkey.
CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu put the responsibility for the killing of the hostages directly on the shoulders of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to whom he raised several questions at a meeting of his party on Tuesday.
“What have you done since 2015 to save the sons of the nation who were held captive by the separatist organization for five-and-a-half years?” asked Kılıçdaroğlu, referring to the PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU.
The CHP leader said Erdoğan sought the help of jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan before a repeat municipal election in İstanbul in 2019, allowing him to tell his supporters in a letter he sent from prison to remain impartial in the vote. Several days before the election, academic Ali Kemal Özcan publicly shared a letter from Öcalan that called on the HDP to remain impartial although the HDP had previously announced it would support opposition candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu against the AKP candidate, Binali Yıldırım.
“While you begged for a letter from PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan before the vote in İstanbul, why didn’t you ask him to make a call for the release of the sons of the nation? Was the İstanbul election more important to you than those men?” Kılıçdaroğlu asked, referring to the lack of action from Erdoğan to save the hostages.
The CHP leader also asked Erdoğan why he failed to use his good relations with former US President Donald Trump to seek his help for the release of the hostages as well as calling on national and international civil society organizations to take action to ensure the release of the 13 men.
At a meeting of his party on Monday, Erdoğan said the operation in northern Iraq was launched to save the hostages but that it failed.
“Who will assume responsibility for the failure of this operation?” Kılıçdaroğlu asked, naming Erdoğan as the main authority responsible for the tragic result.
HDP deputy chairperson Mithat Sancar also blamed the AKP for the failure of the military operation in Gara, saying it seeks to put the blame on the opposition parties to cover up its own responsibility.
Sancar said the AKP government has responsibility for the tragedy in Gara on two counts — one concerning the way the operation was conducted, and the other being its failure to seek ways other than an operation to ensure the safe return of the hostages.
“If the government had really aimed for the rescue of the hostages with this operation … should it have been done this way?” asked Sancar.
In the meantime, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu appeared before parliament on Tuesday to inform the political parties of the details of the Gara tragedy. Akar said it was impossible for the Turkish military to get access to the cave with an air operation, while Soylu denied claims of negligence by the government, saying that it did its best to save the hostages.