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

    Turkey, US Splits Deepen Over Support for Kurdish Militants

    Ankara summons American ambassador to protest remarks by State Department spokesman who said Washington does not consider Syria's Kurdish Democracy Union Party (PYD) a terrorist organization

    Obama Seeking $19 Billion for National Cybersecurity

    Move, touted as attempt to build broad, cohesive federal response to cyberthreats, calls for increase in cybersecurity spending across all government agencies

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire, who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clownsi
    X
    February 09, 2016 8:04 PM
    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay Prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Middle East Affairs and national security.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.