Ever-mount­ing death toll of Tur­key’s ‘mar­tyrs’ stirs up na­tional con­tro­versy


It has be­come a fa­mil­iar scene in Tur­key over the past month. Another soldier is laid to rest, par­ents griev­ing as the cof­fin is draped with the Turk­ish flag un­der the mer­ci­less glare of tele­vi­sion cam­eras.

Some 60 mem­bers of the Turk­ish se­cu­rity forces have been killed over the past five weeks as the Kur­dis­tan Work­ers Party (PKK) has hit back at a re­lent­less gov­ern­ment air and ground cam­paign, in the most sig­nif­i­cant losses sus­tained by the mil­i­tary and po­lice in re­cent years.

Far from be­ing hid­den away, their fu­ner­als have been broad­cast al­most daily on state and pro­gov­ern­ment tele­vi­sion, with footage openly show­ing the grief of loved ones as they weep over the cof­fin.

The fallen are hailed as “mar­tyrs” (“se­hitler” in Turk­ish) who have given their lives for a glo­ri­ous cause, with the gov­ern­ment try­ing to foster pa­tri­otic fer­vor at a time of na­tional cri­sis.

But with the toll ris­ing, ques­tions are mount­ing within Turk­ish so­ci­ety about the price and pur­pose of the op­er­a­tion.

Tightly chore­ographed, many of the fu­ner­als have been tense af­fairs with gov­ern­ment min­is­ters even heck­led by the mourn­ers.

In ex­tra­or­di­nary scenes that cap­ti­vated Turk­ish media, a Turk­ish soldier whose brother was killed in an at­tack by PKK mil­i­tants on Sun­day launched a sting­ing at­tack on the gov­ern­ment’s “anti-terror” cam­paign dur­ing his fu­neral.

“Who has killed him? Who is the cause of this?” yelled Mehmet Alkan, a lieu­tenant colonel in full mil­i­tary uni­form who was in tears.

“It’s those who said there would be a so­lu­tion who now only talk of war,” he said, ques­tion­ing the gov­ern­ment’s failed peace process with the Kurds.


‘Cannon fod­der’

in Tur­key have


to no­tice that many of the vic­tims have been young sol­diers from the poorer re­gions in the cen­tre of the coun­try, their fam­i­lies un­able to pay the 18,000 Turk­ish Li­ras (US$6,100) to let them off mil­i­tary ser­vice.

“Peo­ple are re­ally ques­tion­ing whether they are re­ally in a just bat­tle against an en­emy, or just some cannon fod­der in a po­lit­i­cal game,” Halil Ibrahim Ba­har, a se­cu­rity ex­pert at Ankara Strat­egy In­sti­tute and a pro­fes­sor of so­ci­ol­ogy told AFP.

“Most see it as a po­lit­i­cal game that den­i­grates their deaths,” he added.

Tur­key will on Nov. 1 vote in new elec­tions af­ter coali­tion talks fol­low­ing a June poll col­lapsed, with Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan hop­ing na­tion­al­ist votes can tip the bal­ance in fa­vor of the rul­ing party.

Ear­lier this month Er­do­gan trig­gered out­rage by say­ing at a soldier’s fu­neral: “How happy is his fam­ily” that the young man had be­come a “mar­tyr.”

He added: “This home­land, soaked with the bloods of mar­tyrs, will have more mar­tyrs.”

Ear­lier this year, Tur­key marked the 100th an­niver­sary of the Bat­tle of Gal­lipoli in World War I, in com­mem­o­ra­tions that ex­tolled the sac­ri­fices of the young “Mehmets” who died to pre­vent an in­va­sion of the coun­try by Al­lied forces.

Prime Min­is­ter Ah­met Davu­to­glu has also said Tur­key was ready to “sac­ri­fice our sons” for the sake of the cam­paign.

The con­tro­versy has also spread to football, with Turk­ish Su­per Lig teams mak­ing mil­i­tary salutes and the topflight Be­sik­tas club sport­ing shirts with the words: “Mar­tyrs don’t die.”

Vic­tim of Pol­i­tics

“Par­ents no longer feel happy that their sons have be­come mar­tyrs,” ex­plained Mehmet Guner, pres­i­dent of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Mar­tyrs’ Fam­i­lies.

Most, he said, feel that they have be­come “vic­tims at the hands of politi­cians who can start or end a war with just one sen­tence.”

“Who are we fight­ing? Rus­sia, Amer­ica? I don’t want to sac­ri­fice my son to a war we don’t wage against another coun­try,” said Guner, him­self the son of a soldier who died three decades ago.

“If politi­cians sent their sons to the war and they were hurt like us, they would do any­thing to stop the vi­o­lence,” he said.

“But in this war, the rich are not dy­ing.”

Last week, Turk­ish Energy Min­is­ter Taner Yildiz, a pi­ous Mus­lim like all prom­i­nent mem­bers of the Is­lamic-rooted rul­ing Jus­tice and De­vel­op­ment Party (AKP), also en­tered the fray af­ter declar­ing he wished to be­come a “mar­tyr.”

His words drew a sharp re­sponse from Alkan, the of­fi­cer mourn­ing his brother at Sun­day’s fu­neral.

“There is re­ally noth­ing like sit­ting around in a palace with 30 body­guards and go­ing about in an ar­mored car and say­ing ‘I want to be mar­tyr’,” he said.

“If you want to be­come a mar­tyr, go then. Go!”

The Turk­ish mil­i­tary on Wed­nes­day opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Alkan’s re­marks, with some pro­gov­ern­ment media out­lets brand­ing him as a “PKK sup­porter.”

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