Two soldiers will go on trial. They accidently shot another soldier while they were on duty in the South-Eastern province of Adiyaman. They saw a shadow, thought they were being attacked by the PKK and started shooting. The army has now revealed that the soldiers* were not trained well enough. My heart breaks when I think of these young men before a military court. First, they have to do military service – a duty many young Turkish men are proud of. Then they are sent badly trained to the most dangerous area of the country. They accidently kill a brother. And are taken to court. How totally disillusioned they must be feeling.
The incident happened about eight months ago, at the end of December. It only came to light because secretly recorded tapes were made public with the voice of the former chief of general staff, Isik Kosaner, in which he talks about the issue. In the recorded talk, he wants to make clear that he thinks the army is not always well enough equipped and trained for the fight against the PKK, and refers to the accident. Now the name of the soldier who died has been revealed: Cüneyt Kızılarslan. It turns out a court case against the young soldiers involved is being prepared. On October 4th the first hearing will take place.
How many similar deaths of soldiers are being swept under the carpet? It’s about time the army became more open about the reasons soldiers die. This is not the first case in which to the outside world it looks like the soldier was killed by the PKK but it turns out the truth is quite different. Some time ago, soldiers died of a land mine explosion, and later it turned out it was a mine that the army itself had placed. Another example: a soldier died of an ‘accident’ in the barracks, later it turned out that an officer gave him a hand grenade with the pin pulled out as a punishment for falling asleep on duty.
Deaths like this are not the only ‘suspicious ones’ in the army. In the last five years, 408 soldiers ‘committed suicide’. There are several cases in which the family doesn’t accept that explanation of their son’s death. One horrible example is the case of Murat Oktay Can, who, said the army, took his own life. It happened in 2009. The family doesn’t believe it was suicide, because the cause of death was a bullet from a rifle in his forehead – how can you do that yourself? The family is still fighting a legal battle to learn the truth about Murat’s death.
Faith in the army is declining in Turkey. This summer a survey revealed that 75% of Turks trust the army, down from 90% three years ago. This is mainly due to the investigations into (allegedly) coup-plotting army personnel. The cases of suspicious deaths of (often conscript) soldiers diminish faith in the army on a micro scale. It touches me deeply when I read about a father losing his son during his military service, claiming he is proud of his son and would give all of his children for his country – only to find out later that his son didn’t die in battle but as a result of an accident caused by ill treatment or by brutal murder by higher ranking personnel. The devastation of losing a son is deepened by losing his faith in the military leaders of the country he loves so much.
A similar thing must be happening to the soldiers who will be in court on October 4. I don’t know details about the soldiers’ private lives, nobody does, but I picture them. I picture them being waved goodbye at the bus station of some Anatolian town by friends and family – their mothers must have wept, their fathers must have been proud, their friends must have put a Turkish flag around their shoulders and thrown them in the air several times, chanting something like ‘He is the best soldier because he is our soldier’. And now look how they ended up. Basically treated like trash and used as scapegoats by the military powers of the country.
Maybe the army can win some trust back by being much more open about the way soldiers die. Of course, at first it will damage the image of the military forces further, but in the end transparency can only do good, on both micro scale and national scale. For now, higher ranking officers should take the blame for the death of Cüneyt Kızılarslan. Conscript soldiers are victims, not murderers.
* The young men going to court are a ‘private’ and a sergeant. Privates, so soldiers without any rank, are conscript soldiers. I’m not sure whether the sergeant is also a conscript soldier.