By Oktay Yildiz

[First appeared in Ozgur Politika, September 1996]

“On a rainy Saturday afternoon, we went shopping in the suburb of Ulus in
Ankara. I unconsciously threw myself on the ground when I heard gun shots.
When I got up off the ground, faces in the crowd around me were looking
strangely at me. I then realized that I was covered with mud. I asked my wife,
who was guiding me away from the crowd, “Who shot us?” Looking at my
face with deep sympathy, she answered, “It was the sound of the jack hammer
digging the concrete on the sidewalk.’ ”

It is a rather difficult feeling to explain; the fear of living with fear. Jumping
out of bed from a nightmare only to find your pajamas are drenched in sweat.
Huseyin Guclu, a seargant serving in the military in Kigi, Bingol, in 1987, was
telling us this story in an interview.

Ali Riza Eker, another seargant who served in the Turkish military in
Kurdistan, committed suicide a month ago after finishing his military
service. He had post-traumatic stress disorder, or the so-called “Vietnam
syndrome.” He was a victim of the psychological damage that is created when
one is exposed to a war environment. This syndrome was experienced by the
American military cadets in Vietnam, the Russians in Afghanistan, United
Nation forces in Somalia, and the Turkish troops in Kurdistan. That is why
the United States, which lost thousands of people to this syndrome, has
produced movies like “Rambo” to eradicate the effect of this disease from the
minds of their young people. Turkey will suffer from this syndrome in the
years to come; who would have expected that soldiers decapitating and
mutilating innocent people would lead a normal life after such experiences?
Doctors from the military hospital have reported that between 20-30 soldiers
are treated every month for the symptoms of this syndrome, according to
Nokta weekly magazine. According to one doctor, these people are having a
hard time adapting to civilian life; they think that they are still in the military
and engage in pseudo-militaristic activities such as dodging bullets, patrolling
the streets, and awaiting a military offensive. According to one of the military
doctors, civilian life represents an unadaptable form of living, an inescapable
trench, and the more they try to get out of it, the deeper it gets. Every object
they come across and every sound they hear is perceived as the enemy and
they become soldiers all over again. They live this trauma of war even when
they are asleep.

What was the premilitary life of Ali Riza Eker like? He was young, healthy,
handsome, and an individual full of life who was considered to be the best
hunter in Mahmudiye village in Balikesir. One day he was summoned to the
military to serve in one of the gendarmarie battalions in the province of
Mardin (Kurdistan). He was put in charge of managing an automatic weapon
with heavy artillery. He was appointed “Hunter of the Kurds.” He would tell
his family of his heroic military stories and, particularly, of how he killed
over 30 Kurds and how proud he was of these killings. Whether he truly
believed his actions to be heroic or not is unknown. He was conditioned to act
on orders and he did. In a letter to his best friend, Bulent Koroglu, who was
serving in Tunceli province (Dersim) in Kurdistan, he described his
participation in one of the military actions against PKK guerrillas where he
jumped off a military helicopter, dodged behind a rock, and sprayed the PKK
guerrillas with his automatic weapons and, before long, he had fired off 1,600
bullets and killed 7 people. “You should have been there, Rambo was nothing
compared to us!” As he continued with his heroic actions of killing Kurds
and decapitating them, he thought that it was all for the benefit of his people
and his country, without knowing that he was not only committing harm to
his people and his country but also to himself. He was on a journey with no
return. He later realized that he had no choice but to put the barrel to his own
head and pull the trigger.

“Whatever happened, happened in the last three months of his military
service” explained his father Husamettin Eker. He asked his mother to get his
coffin ready as he may not have much time to live during his last phone
conversation with his mother 20 days before being discharged from the
military, an event that put the family on the edge. He went to Istanbul with
one of his cadets for a few weeks, then to Balikesir for several days where he
was found drunk and unconscious in a coffee shop by some relatives who
later took him to his village. Ali Riza had now discovered the truth that what
he did to other human beings in the military was not for the benefit of his
country, but it was too late. He would not speak, except for giving short
answers to questions he was asked. He would wake up in the middle of the
night and rush outside and engage in military-style actions, such as holding
imaginary weapons, digging trenches, and shooting at imaginary enemies in
the night. He had been engaged to be married before going to the military, but
would not speak of his fiancee and did not care about his dream house that
was under construction. When his father asked him if he would like to get
married, he answered by saying “I killed my fiancee”. He then went on to say
that 7 days before he was discharged he was given the responsibility of killing
a captured female guerrilla and that she turned into his fiancee when she was
killed. He would rush into his brother’s bed in the night and tell him about
how one of his best friends exploded into pieces upon stepping on a mine and
how one religious cadet taught them about the code of honor and then died
with 8 others in one of their operations, and how one of his friend committed
suicide in Ankara after being discharged from the military, and how they all
are asking him for his company and how he cannot turn them down. He told
his family how he killed 35 people during his military service and how he
was brain-washed into committing these killings and how he had no choice
but to do so. “We were forced to enjoy the killing. I now know that the people
I killed were human beings just like me.” He knew that he was one of tens of
thousands of young Turkish soldiers that were made the hunters of the
Kurds; his conscience would not leave him alone. He knew now that the
ones who made him commit these crimes were getting rich from this dirty
war and were enjoying their money while he could not even get a good
night’s sleep. He eventually lost the battle to his conscience and decided to
take his life on one October night while attending a wedding ceremony. His
body was discovered by his fiancee outside of the wedding hall with a bullet
in his head. As this dirty war continues, there will be many more Ali Riza’s
who will become the victims – unfortunately.

(The American Kurdish Information Network is grateful to a Kurdish doctor
for the translation of this article.)

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