Why ‘fair’ is just a four-letter word in Turkish

Why ‘fair’ is just a four-letter word in Turkish

By coincidence the word “fair” in Turkish (“adil”) is a four-letter word like in English. Looking at the sorrowful scenes of people mourning dead soldiers, now almost daily, I recalled a few lines from this column nine years ago: 

“The scenes from soldiers’ funerals since 1984 have invariably depicted mourners who are just ordinary people - farmers and villagers, small shop owners, pensioners, civil servants of lower ranks and the jobless. Today the death toll is close to 8,000 and the violence has left behind tens of thousands of injured men, some of them disabled.

“Yet for some very bizarre coincidence, not a single important Turk has lost a son in the fight against the PKK [the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party], or has had a son wounded. Not a single cabinet minister, a member of parliament, a senior bureaucrat, a mayor, a judge, a general, a wealthy businessman, a corporate executive, a celebrity, a media director, a newspaper columnist, a police chief, a well-known doctor or a lawyer… the list can be multiplied endlessly in what practically makes the upper classes of the Turkish caste.” [“Great Turkish lies,” Hürriyet Daily News, Sept. 6, 2006.]

Nine years later, the scenes of funeral ceremonies for our fallen soldiers still depict the same trauma exclusively cut for the same lower classes of the Turkish caste. It is still the same ominous coincidence that invariably tends to kill the beloved ones of the same unfortunate caste. It is still the same invisible hand that keeps the sons of the upper caste either away from conscription altogether, or from being posted to hardship or conflict zones - a skillfully crafted coincidence. 

Except that we now have a minister (energy) who says he wants to become a “martyr” of Islam and of his homeland. I wish the honorable minister a long and healthy life. And a political career flashing less self-ridicule. It would be much nicer if Minister Taner Yıldız, instead of faking to volunteer for “martyrdom,” asked his fellow cabinet members what kept their government from bringing some fairness, at least when a 20-year-old faced death in the eye. 

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu had a very legitimate and humane point when he said on Oct. 17, 2014, that the system of paid exemption from military service would be halted because it was unfair. In his own words: “[We cannot allow a system] where the poor boy is drafted and the son of the rich man is exempted because he can pay for it.” Right? Right. 

But on Nov. 15, 2014, or less than a month later, Mr. Davutoğlu said: “There is significant demand for paid exemption [from conscription]. We are assessing the situation in view of producing a solution for the hundreds of thousands of citizens who have passed beyond the practicable age of conscription.” Would Mr. Davutoğlu sign a law that annulled income tax because there was “significant demand?”

But as he said, “they” did assess the situation indeed - in view of parliamentary elections in June, hoping to garner a few more votes. They introduced a new paid exemption system. Thousands did their military service “at the bank branches” where they borrowed money to pay for the exemption. Those who could not afford it were enrolled, the less lucky (poorer) ones ended up at conflict zones. Some of them have been returning home in coffins wrapped in the Crescent and Star since the fragile ceasefire in the Kurdish conflict ended. 

No doubt, Prime Minister Davutoğlu was right when he said that “[We cannot allow a system] where the poor boy is drafted and the son of the rich man is exempted because he can pay for it.” He was not so right when less than a month later he changed his mind and legislated “a system where the poor boy is drafted and the son of the rich man is exempted because he can pay for it.” 

The great Turkish poet Orhan Veli Kanık wrote so neatly on the “great Turkish lies” more than half a century ago:

“What have we not done for this country?
Some of us have orated
Some of us have died.”