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The Smell of Gunpowder

For many Turkish soldiers returning from the conflict in the southeast, the past is disturbingly ever present.

Last updated: 11 Oct 2012 10:15
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Editor's note: This film is currently unavailable on Al Jazeera

In Turkey, compulsory military service applies to all male citizens from the age of 20 and thousands have been sent to the southeast of the country to confront and quell the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which demands autonomy.

But military service comes at a price - and very often young men give more than their loyalties - they give a piece of their humanity in the process.

Studies show that some 2.5 million young men in Turkey who completed tours of duty in the southeast of the country may be afflicted by "Southeastern Anatolia Syndrome", a localised name for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) characterised by psychological symptoms that emerge following a distressing event outside the range of normal human experience.

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The Smell of Gunpowder follows Osman Partal, Abdullah Sertdemir and Yusuf Kilic - three veterans in the fight against the PKK in southeastern Turkey and their quest to return to life as they knew it before conscription.

Osman says: "I served 19 months in the army. I came back alive. But I don’t have a soul. My soul is broken."

He is traumatised by the memory of his friends who have fallen in battle: "All of them were my friends. All were just like me. They have all drunk the sherbet of martyrdom. It could have been me but God did not allow it."

Like so many others, Osman struggles to come to terms with a life beyond the frontline, relying on therapy and drugs to cope with his bouts of aggression and depression.

"I constantly feel tired because of the pills I take. I have no strength in my shoulders and my hands. At times I can’t even open my eyelids .... I am in this state because of this country. I did this for the nation. For the army."

Soldiers officially recognised as 'service veterans' receive a medal of honour and state benefits. But only a very limited number of soldiers with mental health problems have been officially granted 'veteran' status.

This film highlights the personal struggle of these veterans carrying the wounds of war that society cannot always see and notice.

 
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