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

    Vietnam Mulls Tough Measures for ‘Misbehaving’ Chinese Tourists

    Move comes after footage surfaced online of Chinese travelers harassing a banana hawker in Da Nang

    The Complicated Math of AIDS

    A lot, and then some: the huge - and complicated - cost of the AIDS epidemic

    Pakistan Social Media Star's Honor Killing Fuels Debate

    Qandeel Baloch's murder puts spotlight on deadly tradition and other mistreatment of women

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Borderi
    X
    July 22, 2016 12:30 AM
    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.
    Video

    Video Number of Syrian Refugees Arriving in US Jumps

    The United States is committed to resettling 85,000 refugees from around the world by October. Of that number, 10,000 will come from Syria and already some 4,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in the United States, many of them settling in the state of Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from Chicago, their arrival is not the end of a difficult journey to find peace and stability.
    Video

    Video Rio’s Trams Await Olympic Tourists

    Over the past century, many cities around the world replaced electric trams, prone to breakdowns and backups, with faster and more spacious buses. But for some reason restored antique trams are a huge tourist attraction. So it’s no wonder the authorities in Rio de Janeiro are busy restoring their city’s old tram line ahead of the Summer Olympic Games. VOA’ George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora