Turkey last week conducted a military operation in northern Iraq against the terrorist group the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), failing to save 13 Turkish hostages being held by the group for four years, critics have said.
The Turkish government announced over the weekend that the hostages, who were not identified publicly, were found executed in a cave complex in northern Iraq after the operation killed 48 PKK militants.
According to the announcement given by Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar at the operation’s control centre near the border with Iraq, 12 of the kidnapped Turks were allegedly shot in the head and one shot in the shoulder.
“According to initial information given by two terrorists captured alive, our citizens were martyred at the start of the operation by the terrorist responsible for the cave,” Akar stated. He added that the aerial and land Operation Claw-Eagle 2, which began on 10 February, was launched with the dual intention of striking PKK militants in northern Iraq and rescuing the Turkish hostages.
The hostages were reportedly kidnapped around 2015 and 2016 and detained in the large cave complex in Iraq’s mountainous Gara region for four years. While they were first officially reported to have been civilians, it was then revealed by some outlets that they were police and intelligence operatives.
PKK executes 13 Turkish hostages, presumably former soldiers and police, during a Turkish military operation in Iraq’s Gara region.
Turkey also lost three Turkish soldiers during the operation.
This map shows the cave base of PKK, which had several rooms pic.twitter.com/rmPAIZz2DK
— Ragıp Soylu (@ragipsoylu) February 14, 2021
Critics of Turkey and its operation questioned whether Ankara lied about the execution of the hostages however, claiming that it was a story to cover up the Turkish military’s accidental killing of the 13 Turks during its strikes. The Brussels-based Turkish-Kurdish journalist Fehim Isik expressed his scepticism on Twitter, saying: “The prisoners were held for years by the PKK which did not kill them. Why did they kill them now?”
“Hasn’t Turkey in the past managed to get back members of its forces following negotiations with the Workers’ Party? Why did it prefer that the prisoners die this time? Who benefits from their death?” Isik asked.
Others criticised the military operation altogether, blaming the ruling AK Party for the hostages’ deaths. Turkish opposition party HDP’s member of parliament Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu stated on Twitter that the captives’ family approached him two and a half years ago, seeking their safe return. “If there was an atmosphere of peace, maybe those people would be alive…I would do anything for life, but the state officials never thought about such a thing,” he said.
Yesterday, as Turkey’s operation came to an end, the US military – which backs Kurdish groups in Syria – transported dozens of vehicles carrying aid and assistance to the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The military vehicles reportedly came from northern Iraq and into north-eastern Syria, where the Kurdish militias and their administration control their territory.
Following those events, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu today condemned Western nations’ “double standards” on their stance on terrorism, expressing Ankara’s disappointment at the US’ and others’ continued support for groups which it says are aligned with the PKK.
“Western world’s double standard on terrorism and its selective approach about ‘good terrorist’ and ‘bad terrorist’ continue,” Cavusoglu wrote on Twitter, using the hashtags #PKKisaHeinousTerroristOrganisation and #PKKExecutesCivilians.