Home » Afghanistan » Pushing the limits of Turkish martyrdom

Pushing the limits of Turkish martyrdom


Speaking with a group of Turks in southwest Turkey recently about the Kurdish issue, I was told bluntly by a 30-year-old partner in a successful real estate business: “I hate Kurds.”

The man subsequently amended his statement such that the object of hatred became “terrorists” rather than a full 20 percent of the Turkish population. The lexical overlap of the two terms was however underscored when he reverted to a discussion of “Kurdish” insistence on making martyrs out of Turkish soldiers.

The Turkish word for martyr, şehit, is the subject of a national rhyme—“Şehitler ölmez vatan bölünmez”—according to which martyrs never die and the homeland will never be divided. Shouted at patriotic rallies and emblazoned on Turkish hillsides, the slogan wards off any secessionist aspirations harbored by members of Turkey’s largest ethnic minority—who, it bears reiterating, were formerly promised autonomy by none other than the iconic founder of said indivisible homeland: Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

The classification of indivisibility’s fallen foot soldiers as immortal martyrs may of course appear as a sacrilegious affront to the ostensible militant secularism of Atatürk. Novel taxonomic incongruities have meanwhile arisen with the dispatching of Turkey’s armed forces to deal with ethnicities undeniably unconcerned with dismembering the Turkish republic, and the national media resoundingly proclaimed a loss of 12 “martyrs” last month when a Turkish military helicopter crashed into a house in Afghanistan.

Not much media attention was paid to the four Afghan civilians who reportedly perished as a result of the accident, and who instead of being granted martyrdom were simply said to have “died.” Also relegated to a normal death were the 16 Afghan civilians slaughtered on March 11 by one or more representatives of the U.S. army.

The idea that Turkish soldiers can be martyred via non-combat related helicopter accidents abroad raises the possibility of many as of yet undetected paths to şehit-hood, and of future newspaper headlines such as “Turkish army lieutenant martyred by appendicitis.”

As for the singular victimhood continuously assigned to troops in southeast Turkey and the elevation of military operations to the realm of the sacred, the narrative peddled by the Turkish state and media naturally omits the history of Kurdish residents of the area who might be forgiven for a lexical overlap between the terms “terrorists” and “military.”


1 Comment

  1. Kal Masri says:

    Terrific, poke-in-the-eye, jab-to-the-groin, no-hooey type of writing that is hallmark of Ms. Fernandez! Keep ’em coming. Better yet, and if you have not considered so far, can you please start a writing academy just so you can spawn off as many “Belenistas” as possible? We need more of you, many more of you poking monster eyes out around the globe. Terrific.

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