ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey's prime minister has apologized for the first time for the killings of nearly 14,000 people in a bombing and strafing campaign to crush a Kurdish rebellion in the 1930s.
The apology Wednesday by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan comes at tense time for relations between Turkey and its minority Kurds. Erdogan's government is currently fighting against autonomy-seeking Kurdish rebels and despite efforts to seek peace, it says it is determined to crush the rebels if they don't lay down arms.
The fighting that has killed tens of thousands since 1984 is the latest of several uprisings by Kurds in Turkey's largely Kurdish southeast.
Erdogan on Wednesday offered his apology for the killings of 13,806 people in the southeastern town of Dersim — now known as Tunceli — between 1936 and 1939. The apology came after a war of words between Erdogan and the leader of the main opposition party.
An opposition lawmaker from the Republican People's Party said a dozen of his relatives were killed in Dersim and lawmakers needed to shed light on the suppression of the rebellion. Erdogan then called on Republican leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, to face up to his party's past.
His offering of the apology appeared to be a political tactic to tarnish the image of Kilicdaroglu, whose family is rooted in Tunceli.
"If there is need for an apology on behalf of the state, if there is such a practice in the books, I would apologize and I am apologizing," Erdogan said in a televised speech.
Erdogan said Kilicdaroglu must also apologize because his party was in power at the time.