A generation should not be lost
Syria’s “Operation Olive Branch” has shown us a different side to Turkish society. Whether the Justice and Development Party’s (Ak Party) trolls that take their seats every Tuesday in parliament to cheer for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan like it or not, Turkish society still adores its military might. Turks like their soldiers. Respected historian İlber Ortayli summarises well this type of mentality. “Turks like their commander. Atatürk is a big example. But also look at the Ottoman Sultans that went to fight wars. This society likes to see their top man in action,” he said.
Surprisingly a young generation of soldiers and fighters are proving this theory to be true. Take a look at some of the Instagram stories they post and you will see a different side to the Turkish Army. One young soldiers posts about the landscape, the flowers, the sunrise in Syria while guarding his post. He occasionally shares sounds of shelling in the dark, but most of his social media postings are about the beauty of life. They remind us of the letters sent by Ottoman soldiers to their families from the Çanakkale (Gallipoli) Wars.
I have been following the case of the Air Force Academy’s young cadets that were forced to take part in the July 2016 coup attempt. On the night of the bloody coup attempt, they were on a mandatory camp in Yalova. They had no access to television, cell phones or their families. The commanders ordered them to get on the buses to participate in an “anti-terror drill.” These young military students had no idea where they were being taken. Some found themselves in the line of fire on Bosphorus Bridge. Forensics reports clearly show that two of them were beaten to death by the mob.
Now almost two years after that dark night they are in court charged with killing people and attempting to overthrow the government. These are young men (and three young women) between ages of 19-21. They followed the orders of their commanders without questioning. Hardly any of them even fired a bullet at the civilians and surrendered to the police without resistance. Some 40 of them are already sentenced to life in prison.
With every unjust conviction handed to these young cadets and military students, the Turkish judiciary is actually sentencing the Turkish Military. The Ak Party’s deep resentment towards the military establishment and its centuries of tradition came with a huge price tag during the Sledgehammer and Ergenekon trials. Now it is becoming even worse.
I have met the families of these young military students. Most come from very poor families inside Anatolia, the majority of them did not attend Gülen (the U.S.-based cleric, leader of the Fetullahist Terror Organization believed to be behind the coup) schools or private studies. These mothers and fathers are under so much pressure that they refrain from coming to the court hearings to see their sons. With every story, your heart breaks into pieces.
Turkey is fighting a giant battle in the international front. Turkish society is fragmented as never before. But before it becomes too late, the Turkish Air Force Academy’s young students should see the daylight. They are dreaming of the day they will wear their blue uniforms and serve the country again.
Turkey’s courts should at least give them a fair chance. If Deniz Yücel can walk free, these “Young Eagles” should also fly.