Speaking of Apologies...

In 1077 Pope Gregory VII excommunicated Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV. For three days Henry stood outside the gates of the castle of Canossa, barefoot in the snow according to legend, to apologize to the Pope for his actions and to beg forgiveness. Since then, thousands of apologies, a few sincere, have been offered by political leaders and prominent personalities for their policies or mistakes.

One of the more enticing of them is the Apology for Printers offered in May 1731 by Benjamin Franklin who agreed to make a "standing Apology" for printing matters which people said ought not to be published. Among contemporary politicians British Prime Minister David Cameron has perfected the art of making apologies, having resorted to it on many occasions, including regrets for the 1919 massacre in Amritsar, India when British troops killed 379 Sikh civilians in what he called a "deeply shameful event in British history."

It was therefore not unprecedented for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on March 22, 2013 to offer apologies to the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for the killing on May 31, 2011 of nine Turkish citizens by Israeli forces who had boarded the Mavi Marmara, one of the vessels in the Turkish-organized flotilla ostensibly aimed at challenging the Israeli maritime blockade of Gaza.

Netanyahu's action was however a surprising gesture in light of the official international report on the maritime incident. This report was issued in September 2011 by the Panel of Inquiry, convened by the United Nations secretary-general, a panel of four distinguished individuals chaired by Sir Geoffrey Palmer and including Suleyman Ozdem Sanberk, former Turkish Ambassador to the European Union and to the UK.

The chief findings of the report were that the Turkish organized flotilla had acted recklessly in attempting to breach the Israeli naval blockade, and that there were serious questions about the conduct, true nature, and objectives of the flotilla organizers, especially IHH (İnsan Hak ve Hürriyetleri ve İnsani Yardım Vakfı or The Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief), the group of Turkish Muslims claiming to be a charity organization but one with links to Hamas and probably to al-Qaida. Moreover, the panel held that Israel's naval blockade was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea, and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law.

The Palmer Report recommended that an appropriate statement of regret should be made by Israel, and that it should offer payment regarding the victims and their families through a trust fund, the amount to be jointly decided by Israel and Turkey. It also called for the resumption of full diplomatic relations between the two countries abrogated since Erdogan had withdrawn the Turkish ambassador from Israel.

Netanyahu's apology was an act of good faith and, as recommended in the UN report, he did offer $1 million to be put in the suggested fund. Erdogan however thought this amount was insufficient, and further that there could not be full diplomatic ties with Israel until its blockade of Gaza was ended.

However sincere may be Erdogan's sympathy for the Palestinians in Gaza, an area he said he intends to visit, he has not demonstrated similar disquiet about the fate of other people and groups affected adversely by Turkish actions. Surprisingly, the Turkish Prime Minister did on November 23, 2011 apologize for the Turkish massacre of Kurds in southeastern Turkey in 1937-39 when the government of the Republican People's Party (RPP) led by Kemal Ataturk, was responsible for killing more than 13,000 Kurds using bombs and poisonous gases and deporting tens of thousands of Alevi Kurds from Dersim, a Kurdish tribal province. But unlike Netanyahu's gesture, that of Erdogan was less an act of good faith than a device to discredit the current leader of the RPP, his main political rival.

The British government apologized for the 1919 killing of Sikhs, but it is unlikely that Prime Minister Erdogan will make a similar apology for the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1921 during which more than one million people were killed by the Ottomans. Nor is it likely he will express regrets for the callousness in February 1942 of Turkish authorities who refused to allow the Struma, a ship with 768 Jews on board fleeing the Nazis in Romania to go to Palestine, to be repaired in a Turkish port. Instead, a Turkish tug-boat towed the Struma with its faulty motor into the Black Sea. It exploded and only two people on board survived.

However, one might have expected Turkish apologies for a more recent massacre, the killing of 34 civilian Kurds, mostly teenagers, in the township of Uludere, whether the action was intentional or not. An airstrike by Turkish jets on December 28, 2011 fired on a group of smugglers crossing on mules from Iraq into Turkey. It was believed erroneously they were Kurdish PKK (Kurdistan Workers" Party) militants or terrorists. None of the villagers killed was armed, and their mules carried diesel fuel. Erdogan did not apologize but on the contrary he accused foreign provocateurs of exploiting the event, and proclaimed that political rivals were seeking political advantage by their criticism.

Using Netanyahu's admission and apology in March 2013 for Israel's unintentional killing of nine Turks, as an example, the international community should, at a minimum, call on Erdogan to apologize for the killing of 39 innocent Kurds. Prime Minister Erdogan might in addition show Turkish graciousness, not only by restoring full relations with Israel and vaporizing the spirit of malevolence towards it, but also by expressing regrets and perhaps apologies for the actions of his predecessors towards the Armenians and the Jews of the Struma.