We were at first a bit relieved to hear reports only of wounded soldiers from the explosion at the Afyon ammunition depot on Sept. 5. Apart from Burhanettin Coban, the mayor of Afyon, who said, “we might have martyrs,” nobody else mentioned fatalities until the morning.
Then we received a local report that a roll call had been taken and 25 soldiers were missing. Then the chief of general staff issued a written statement that said two non-commissioned officers, two specialist sergeants and 21 privates were killed.
The entire country was shaken by the announcement. Here I want to convey the information I got from military officials, Forestry and Hydraulics Minister Veysel Eroglu (who was the first to reach Afyon) and opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy chairman and party spokesman Haluk Koc.
Special team from Ankara
The explosion at the ammunition depot occurred at 9:11 p.m. It was immediately reported to the Land Forces Command in Ankara and from there it went to the chief of general staff. Commander of Land Forces General Hayri Kivrikoglu immediately traveled to Afyon. A team of explosives experts from the land forces logistics command was dispatched to Afyon.
The initial report by the experts’ team to Ankara suggested there was no sabotage involved. Chief of Staff Gen. Ozel was also kept updated regularly by Gen. Kivrikoglu, who by then had reached Afyon.
What caused the accident?
The fire that started went on for a long time, unexploded ammunition was scattered over a wide area and high temperatures prevented the team of experts from having full access for a detailed investigation, but they concluded from preliminary findings that it was an accident, the causes of which were not yet established. This time lapse naturally brings to mind other possibilities.
Military officials say a hand grenade will not explode by falling to the ground. For it to explode, its pin must have been removed. They also say that in storage, explosives are kept away from fuses. Such an accident would have been possible only if the hand grenades and other explosives had had their fuses connected.
There is also a possibility that the explosion might have been caused by an earlier eruption of fire or excess heat. This can be determined only after a detailed investigation. Officers say the Afyon depot is one of the main ammunition storage centers of the Turkish army. Bombs produced are stored there first and then distributed to units. There is constant movement of hand grenades and other bombs in and out of this center.
Minister Eroglu and Haluk Koc were told that the grenades being stored there had just come from the recently closed Ammunition Depot No. 44 at Susurluk. The explosion occurred when they were being stored at Afyon. Minister Eroglu, who was the first to reach Afyon, said it was not sabotage, but an accident.
“We don’t know what happened”
He said, “I can say that we have established it wasn’t sabotage, but an accident. I am saying this as an engineer. It was definitely an accident, but what type of an accident and how it happened, we don’t know yet. That will be known at the end of an exhaustive technical investigation. I spoke to our soldier who was wounded. He, too, was inside, but asked permission to go out to pray. That is when there were two powerful explosions. He said they were sorting the ammunition. They were 26 in there to start with when he left to pray. Unfortunately, all the others were martyred. Other wounded personnel were outside, such as sentries. They mostly suffered from the pressure of the blast.”
“I know 'igloo' ammunition depots”
Minister Eroglu said the depot that exploded was of the "igloo" type. It is impossible to penetrate. He said, “These are what we call igloo-type depots that are buried in soil. I did my military service during our Cyprus Peace Operation, where we built many such storage units. I had 18 engineers under my command. They are very robust structures, buried and well protected, with thick walls. There is no question of penetrating it.”
“Many questions come to mind”
I spoke with CHP spokesman Haluk Koc after his contacts in Afyon. He said, “It is a very sad disaster. We visited the wounded. We were briefed by officials and listened to eyewitnesses. They said it was massive blast that was like an earthquake. We were told that the ammunition depots are built to NATO standards. There are strict safety rules. That is why it was not appropriate for Minister Eroglu to cite examples from India and Pakistan. We still don’t know what exactly happened. We were told that except in wartime, nighttime shipment is banned. The ammunition being stored had been transferred from a depot closed down at Susurluk. There was ammunition from 1970s. Moreover, the rules state that fuses and bombs have to be stored separately. I don’t know how you could have an accident in an ammunition depot with NATO safety standards. In the environment we live in, many other questions come to mind. There are questions about why they were sorting ammunition at night, why there was nighttime shipment although we are not in war. We were told that 15 of the martyrs were short-service conscripts, all university graduates, who had arrived there only three days ago.