For the honor of the uniform
“I know every time I leave the house to go grocery shopping, he secretly wears his uniform. His boots are still up in his closet with their year old mud. He is waiting for the day he will be called for duty again.” These were the words of one of hundreds of mothers whose sons were kicked out of the Turkish Armed Forces despite not having links to the July 2016 coup attempt. I met with a group of them last week and I could not help but cry from the stories I heard.
The non-commissioned officer (NCO) position has been the lifeblood of the Turkish Armed Forces and for the past five years, the chiefs of staff have made an extra effort to attract young college graduates to these positions. Young men and women applied to take the exams to become NCOs, some of who were from four-year colleges and some of who were from two-year colleges. I had met a group of young women four years ago who had been graduates of the faculties of chemistry, physics and education, who had dreamed of becoming soldiers. So, there has been a good supply and demand of NCOs.
The coup attempt and the purge that followed not only ruined a generation of promising officers with links to the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), it also put thousands of innocent NCOs, officers and military school students on potential “blacklists.” With decree number 669, more than 16,000 students, NCOs and recent graduates of the military academy were kicked out of service. To make matters worse, they had been labeled as “potential traitors” in the eyes of their neighbors and relatives.
Mothers were so devastated that they knocked on every door, from parliament to the Defense Ministry to Felicity (Saadet) Party chair Temel Karamollaoğlu. “I could not leave him at home alone” one mother said about her son. “He was so depressed and missed his friends so much that I was afraid he would harm himself.”
These young students and NCOs did not enter the military to make a monthly living. They wanted to be fighters like their classmates who are fighting in “Operation Olive Branch.” “My commanders are there, even our junior is there. Why am I here?” asked one young NCO with exasperation.
Their only fault had been to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. They still want to go through the same security procedure, even harsher if need be. They had not chosen to be students or NCOs at the time of coup. In fact, their dedication almost two years after the coup shows us they can be the real lifeblood the Turkish army desperately needs.
Prof. Ersan Şen, a law professor who read their case, told me each student’s case should be handled individually. “Legally they are in an area that is the grayest of the gray. They have no links to FETÖ, they had not even participated in the events that night. The government or the parliament should immediately do something for them. The number cannot be ignored, the state should not waste this potential,” he said.
Thanks to some media visibility and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Chief Military Advisor Mr. Adnan Tanrıverdi, the students and NCOs have gained some support but the solution is still far.
“All we want is our uniform,” one young military student told me. “If they call me for duty, I would even go without putting on socks. This is a matter of honor for us.”