A sacred duty

To serve in the army is an honour in Turkey, but those who refuse meet persecution.

    In Turkey, those who die for the army are considered heroes and martyrs

    As part of Al Jazeera's reports from Turkey before this weekend's parliamentary elections, Barnaby Phillips looks at the important role played by the country's army.

    Held together by fierce patriotism, a poor Istanbul neighbourhood has gathered to say good bye to its favourite sons, a heroes' send-off for the young men joining Turkey's army.

    They sing "this soldier will go and come back", but these are dangerous times to be joining the army. 

    Atakan Caliskan, a 20-years-old engineer, was off tonight to do his national service, so his family gathered for a farewell meal.

    They worry the army will send him to the troubled south-east.

    He said: "Of course there is some fear, even if it's just a small part of my heart. But for the fatherland, we will give our lives, if necessary.

    "If we live in this country, then when it is our turn, we must do our duty and shed blood, if we have to."


    Bereaved families go to mourn every Friday at Istanbul's military cemetery. By the newest graves, the grief is raw.

    Special report

    A series of reports ahead of the country's parliamentary elections

    There, we found Vedat and Hatice Parparoglu. Their son, Oguz, was killed by Kurdish separatists two years ago.

    His funeral captured Turkey's imagination because as Oguz lay dying, shot on a mountain, he telephoned his parents to say goodbye. He was 21, doing his national service.

    His parents relive that phone call every day. The death of their son haunts them, but has not shaken their faith in Turkey's army.

    Vedat said: "We were never angry with our army, and we can never be angry with it. It was his duty to defend the country.

    "I am only angry with the government, which is not doing anything about the terrorists. But I can never blame the military."

    In this country, where military service is a sacred duty, those who die for the army are heroes and martyrs, and nearly every Turkish man looks back on his time in the military with great pride.

    There is, though, one small part of society which rejects this system, but it is isolated and persecuted.


    Turkey's conscientious objectors are
    persecuted for refusing military service
    Struggling to be heard and accepted, Turkey's conscientious objectors refuse to do national service because they are against violence in principle.

    Mehmet Tarhan is one of them. He spent almost a year in prison because he wouldn't join up.

    He's discovered that principles come at a high cost. It takes courage to resist Turkey's military culture.

    Tarhan told Al Jazeera: "You can go into exile abroad, and be called a traitor. Or, you can go underground here, but all your rights are taken away.

    "You can't have a passport. You can't vote or rent a house. You can't open a bank account, or get married, or go to a government hospital.

    "If you do, you are arrested. It is a civil death."
    Back at Atakan's house, celebrations reach a fever-pitch: a great honour that he is about to become a soldier.

    His parents are overcome. His mother says that a woman's duty is to be a mother, a man's duty is to be a solider.

    Don't worry, they say. He'll come back, he will come back.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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