News / Middle East

Bullying in Turkish Military Becomes a Human Rights Issue

FILE -Turkish military station at the border gate with Syria, across from Syrian rebel-controlled Tel Abyad town, in Akcakale, Turkey, October 7, 2012.
FILE -Turkish military station at the border gate with Syria, across from Syrian rebel-controlled Tel Abyad town, in Akcakale, Turkey, October 7, 2012.
Dorian Jones
— Violent conduct within the Turkish military was long considered a taboo subject. But the military leadership is now facing serious accusations. More than 900 Turkish soldiers have committed suicide over the past 10 years, and a growing number of families of suicide victims are taking the issue to court.

Last March, a group of families protested outside parliament over army bullying. Many attending were parents whose sons committed suicide or died at the hands of their fellow soldiers.

Kenan and Gulsen Polat show me their son Murat’s room.  They say it's just as he left it when he went to do his 15-month military service eight years ago.  Above the carefully made bed hangs his photo.  It’s now a memorial shrine.  As his mother explains, Murat didn't die in combat, but at the hands of his so-called comrades.

"He was killed in the barracks by other soldiers, " said Gulsen Polat. "They stomped him to death.  His body was completely covered in boot marks.  It was terrible.  She says that he was accused of stealing and was subjected to this terrible beating as part of an interrogation on the orders of a senior officer.

Observers say speaking out over physical and verbal abuse in the army was a taboo.  But the army is no longer untouchable, with hundreds of senior officers convicted of plotting against the government.  The group Platform for Soldiers' Rights was set up by former conscripts to give a voice to victims of army bullying and is campaigning for independent scrutiny of the military.

Group member Yigit Aksakoglu says bullying is institutionalized.

"Soldiers face the choice either of taking part in the physical and verbal abuse or becoming a victim.  It is systematic; it's part of the culture of the army.  This has to be broken.  We are talking about 400,000 men being put in this situation each year.  We need an independent body that people can file complaints with so the problem can be properly investigated," said Aksakoglu.

The Turkish Parliament's Human Rights Commission earlier this year highlighted the problem, revealing that more than 900 soldiers had committed suicide in the past decade.  The military says there is an internal mechanism to deal with the problem.  But retired Brigadier General Haldun Solmazturk claims the Turkish armed forces' chief of staff doesn’t recognize the magnitude of the problem

"As an infantry officer who served in Turkish units for over 30 years, I believe it's one of the most serious problems in [the] Turkish army, [the] bullying culture.  It has to be recognized; it’s vital," said Solmazturk.

Solmazturk spent much of his career on the frontlines of the fight against the Kurdish rebel group, the PKK.  But he says his toughest battle was trying to stamp out bullying.  Although he admits that in order to root it out, a disturbing part of the Turkish character needs to be addressed.

"This was the most difficult area I had to tackle, to change the culture they brought from the families, from [their] neighborhood, the factories [where] they worked - the culture of bullying.  They take it for granted, the right, the authority - others who are weaker, who are younger, and who are less able to defend themselves.  This is a major problem in Turkish culture, I have to accept this," he said.

For the Polat family such changes will come too late for their son.  What they want now, says Kenan Polat, is justice for their son Murat.

"Until those senior officers responsible for my son’s death are brought to justice, and my son is recognized as a martyr, we will not rest.  We want justice for our son’s memory and that no other parent has to go through what we are going through," said Kenan Polat.

The Kenan’s are seeking justice at the European Court of Human Rights, where they have filed a case. They hope a victory there will force the army to face the bullying and finally address the problem.

You May Like

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid