Yesterday, thousands and thousands of young Turkish men started their military service. There is no fear of being sent to the restless southeast or to northern Iraq: “What must be done must be done.”
ISTANBUL – The young man in the picture, that’s Erhan. He is twenty years old and is thrown high up in the air by his friends. Erhan, they sing, is our soldier and therefore the best soldier. Erhan has a Turkish flag wrapped around him and says, when he has both feet on the ground again, that he has no problem with serving in the Turkish army: “What must be done, must be done.” But his mother cries.
This weekend from all corners of Turkey thousands and thousands of young men were heading for the army training centres. Yesterday their military service started and last weekend it was time to say goodbye. At Istanbul’s biggest bus station groups of family and friends saying goodbye to the recruits are easy to recognize. They come to the bus station in a car with a Turkish flag on the roof or the bonnet, groups of friends sing and dance, the soon-to-be military man often wears a flag around his shoulders and mothers, sisters, aunts and grandmothers are dabbing their eyes with handkerchiefs. Many fathers don’t show their emotions, like the father of Durmuş (20), who has seen two sons return safely from their service . “If anything happens to Durmuş, it’s God’s will”, he says. But when the bus leaves, he wipes away his tears.
The ground offensive against PKK that the Turkish armed forces started at the end of last week in the north of Iraq doesn’t seem to frighten the recruits. Erhan says he wouldn’t have a problem with being sent to the front, and if Durmuş had to choose between a quiet military surveillance job and the fight against the PKK, he would choose ‘the most active’. Alper (29), who was a student for years and so is only now starting his service, also thinks that way: “I have family working for the army and they could fix me up with a cushy post in Ankara or Istanbul, but I don’t think I will ask them to arrange that. I’m okay about fighting for my country.”
Which personnel are sent where after finishing their training, is not yet clear. The recruits are serious when they say it’s all the same to them: the struggle against the PKK is a just one in their eyes and in the eyes of the groups that have come to wave them goodbye. It’s an honorable duty to make a contribution. Even if it costs you your life. “The country comes before everything else”, says Erhan’s father. But he too can’t hold back his tears when his son boards the bus.
(published in daily newspaper De Pers)