Military on defensive on suicides
In the last three years, 323 soldiers have fallen in action, while 230 have committed suicide, according to official data.The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) has gone on a PR offensive to defend itself amid growing public awareness of the high number of suicides and controversial deaths occurring among conscripts conducting compulsory military service.
In the last decade the number of suicides decreased by half, the TSK said Dec. 7, while noting that the institution was ready for all kinds of measures that could help resolve the problem that it defined as a “societal” one.
“While suicide cases were 32 out of 100,000 as of 2002; as of 2011, this number was decreased to 15 out of 100,000, particularly with the contribution of precautions taken in recent years. In other words, in the last 10 years, the number of suicides has decreased by half,” the TSK said.
The TSK’s statements are usually posted on its official website, but this statement on suicides was delivered solely to Anatolia news agency. Meanwhile, in another unusual practice for the TSK, a senior commander gave an interview Dec. 7 to the state-owned TRT-Haber news channel in which he explained how difficulties concerning soldiers’ private lives and family problems played a more dominant role in the suicides of conscripts rather than the difficulties of compulsory service.
The high number of suicides and controversial deaths among conscripts made headlines recently after Parliament’s Human Rights Commission head Ayhan Sefer Üstün announced late last month that 175 conscripts had committed suicide over the last two and a half years, with the number reaching 934 over the last 10 years.
Within a week following Üstün’s statement, two suicides and one instance of “friendly fire” resulted in the deaths of three conscripts across Turkey.
“We believe that we have made important progress in increasing institutional awareness about the problem of suicide, by determining the risk groups according to scientific standards … in the institutional regard by examining the incidents and situations that have taken place,” TSK said.
“However, in regards to suicides which are at the same time a societal problem, the Turkish Armed Forces is ready for all kinds of cooperation which will make a contribution to the solution of the problem,” the TSK said.
At the time, Üstün also announced that within a certain period of time, the number of suicide deaths had exceeded the number of conscripts killed during clashes.
According to figures provided by Üstün on Nov. 28, in the last 2.5 years, 175 conscripts and non-commissioned officers committed suicide, while in the last 10 years, 934 conscripts and noncommissioned officers took their own lives.
“In the last 2.5 years, during domestic security incidents, there were 233 martyrs and in the last 10 years, 818 TSK personnel were martyred. In the last 10 years, suicide cases exceeded the number of martyrs. These figures are unacceptable. We should all together deal with this issue,” Üstün said at the time.
The TSK statement to Anatolia provided the numbers of suicides and fallen soldiers in the last three years: in 2010, 88 soldiers were killed in action while 85 committed suicide; in 2011, this number was 102 and 70, respectively; while in 2012, it was 133 and 75. Accordingly, in the last three years, 323 soldiers have fallen in action amid a gradual annual increase, while 230 have committed suicide.
The lengthy statement provided details about psychological services provided for conscripts while underlining that “ill-treatment” was only one of the many reasons for suicides in addition to drug addiction, financial debts, immoral attitudes, divorced families and love affairs.
“It would not be right to create furor among the public opinion by making comments and assessments while results of administrative and judicial investigations are not yet out and while the reason for suicides are not yet determined; and to incriminate an institution,” the TSK said.