Turkey pays respects to soldiers killed in Kabul

Turkey pays respects to soldiers killed in Kabul

ANKARA-Hürriyet Daily News
Turkey pays respects to soldiers killed in Kabul

The coffins of soldiers are carried after the religious ceremeony at Kocatepe Mosque in Ankara yesterday. DAILY NEWS photos, Selahattin SÖNMEZ

Turkey bid farewell yesterday to the 12 soldiers killed in a helicopter crash in Kabul last week as the country’s top political and military leaders joined thousands of mourners in Ankara to honor the dead.

A somber military ceremony was held at the soldiers’ garrison in Mamak, followed by funeral prayers at Kocatepe Mosque for five of the troops who were laid to rest in Ankara. The bodies of the other seven soldiers were flown to their hometowns for burial.

The military ceremony at the Peace-Keeping Brigade Command was attended by President Abdullah Gül, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel, main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu as well as a number of ministers, politicians and senior army commanders.

Speaking at the ceremony, Brigadier General Mehmet Karadayı said the soldiers’ deaths were a reminder of the major contributions that Turkish forces were making to stability across the world, from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo to Lebanon and Afghanistan. “Our martyrs gave their lives for their mission of contributing to world peace,” he said.

As the ceremony drew to a close, weeping relatives, among them young children, collapsed onto the coffins, wrapped in Turkish flags, to bid a last good-bye to their loved ones.

The bodies of the five Ankara natives – Maj. Mithat Çolak, Capt. İlker Aydın, Capt. Adil Erdoğan, Lt. Tahsin Barutçu and Sgt. Maj. Salih Helvacı -- were then taken to Kocatepe Mosque for funeral prayers, which were joined by the same coterie of civilian and military leaders.

Thousands of people packed the mosque court to honor the soldiers as the head of the Religious Affairs Directorate, Mehmet Görmez, led the prayers. “The martyrs had no other aim but to bring peace and humanitarian aid to our Afghan brothers. They gave their lives for this purpose,” Görmez said.

The bodies of the other seven soldiers were flown to their hometowns – Maj. Serkan Doğan to Tekirdağ; Maj. Şükrü Bağdatlı and Lt. Okan Melikoğlu to Ordu; Staff Sgt. Mehmet Akbaş to Isparta; Sgt. Önay Vurucu to Erzurum, and Lt. Murat Yıldız to İzmir.

The 12 soldiers perished when their Skorsky helicopter crashed into a residential building near the Afghan capital March 16, due to what is believed to have been a technical failure. Four Afghan civilians were killed on the ground. It was the deadliest incident involving Turkish soldiers in Afghanistan. NATO said there was no enemy activity in the area. The cause of the crash is under investigation.

Turkey, which has about 1,800 troops in Afghanistan, is currently in command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul province. The Turkish troops are involved only in patrol missions and do not participate in combat operations.