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

    Native Americans Ask: What About Our Water Supply?

    They say they have been facing a dangerous water contaminant for decades - uranium – but the problem has received far less attention than water contamination by lead in Flint, Michigan

    Pakistan's President Urges Nation Not to Celebrate Valentine's Day

    Mamnoon Hussain criticizes Valentine's Day, which falls on Sunday this year, as a Western import that threatens to undermine the Islamic values of Pakistan

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.