Grief and pride for killed soldiers

In south-eastern Turkey the fight against the PKK has again intensified over the last few years. Almost every day soldiers die. “I am proud of my son.”

Her husband was wounded, a helicopter came to take him to hospital but he refused to go: first, he wanted his men to be safe. The decision proved fatal. His wife Fatma (39, not her real name), is proud that her husband died as a ‘hero for the country’. But tears come to her eyes when she tells that now her biggest problem is that her children will grow up without their father.
Ten days ago, in the southeast of Turkey, fifteen soldiers died in the fight against the PKK, the Kurdish separatist movement that is also seen by the EU and the US as a terrorist organisation. So many deaths also draws attention from the foreign press, but the killings are not an exception: over the last few months, every week more than one soldier dies in this region. The funerals are broadcast on national television, usually accompanied by patriotic music and slow motion footage of crying relatives. The deceased are professional soldiers, but quite often just young boys doing their military service.

Crying man

Of course, says Taner Uran, (voluntary) manager of a support group for wounded soldiers and relatives of those killed in battle, death and war go hand in hand, but that doesn’t lessen the grief. During the interview his mobile phone rings regularly, and during one of the phone conversations the crying of a man at the other end of the line can be heard clearly. “Now that fifteen soldiers have been killed in a single incident, and since civilians in a minibus were recently killed by the PKK, I get more phone calls from relatives. They call us to tell their story again .”

Ümit Ican (also not his real name, the relatives are scared of repercussions) did not sleep well last night. He lost his 21 year old son in the south east. “I am proud of him, and of my two other sons who are also soldiers”, he says. “They protect our country. I think it’s horrible that many people believe PKK propaganda that in Turkey there is a dividing line between Turks and Kurds. There is not. I, like many Turks, have lots of Kurdish friends and even family, we live alongside each other. We agree that the PKK is not a Kurdish organisation, but a terrorist one.”

After sunset

Ümit and Fatma depend on a network of relatives, and now, during ramadan, after sunset they break their fast together. “Financially I am taken care of”, says Fatma, “but emotionally we can only rely on other relatives and on the army. Everybody here knows what it means to lose a husband, son or brother.” The sadness combined with grief, that’s the feeling she can share with other relatives of dead soldiers. “If my husband had let them take him to hospital, he might still have lived. But I understand that he had to stay with his men.”

Taner Uran can understand that as well: he himself was wounded in 1995, during an exchange of fire with the PKK just across the border with Iraq. “Three of my men died. Young guys, entrusted to the army by their relatives. As an army man, you take that responsibility very seriously. Until they return to their families.”

Across the border
The fight in south-eastern Turkey, where the majority of the population is Kurdish, started in the early eighties, but recently intensified again: the PKK attacks Turkey more often from bases in northern Iraq. The Turkish government thinks the Iraqi government and the American troops in Iraq don’t take enough action against PKK violence. The Turkish army wants to take action on Iraqi soil and today the Turkish parliament votes on a government proposal to enable the Turkish army to undertake military action against PKK camps in northern Iraq.

17 October 2007

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