Indeed, “in the past two-and-a-half years 175 soldiers and in the past 10 years 935 soldiers have committed suicide, whereas the number of casualties on the battlefield for the same periods are 233 and 818, respectively.” Hence, the number of suicides exceeds war losses. Does this mean that the “unidentified enemy within” is more fatal than the enemy without?
According to an editorial by Ersan Atar published in the Sabah daily (Dec. 9, 2012), in the 20 cases dealt with by the Military High Administrative Court (AYİM), 13 incidents of suicide have been tied to “beating by a superior officer.” Even in these cases, the deceased have been found “equally flawed” by the court. In general, the foremost causes of suicides appear to be insult and denigration by superiors, either physically or verbally.
Naturally, the General Staff has publicly expressed its discontent with the news and issued its version of the phenomenon: “In 2002, the number of suicides in the army was 32 per 100,000. In 2011 this number fell to 15 … half of what it used to be. … It is not pleasant to implicate an institution by [questionable] accusations.”
The response of the military is only normal. Yet, it has to be tested against reality. 2011 figures of the World Health Organization match those of the Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat): Turkey ranks 76th among 107 countries in suicide rates. Approximately four people out of 100,000 commit suicide; the rate for men out of 100,000 is 5.36 and for women 2.5. In other words men, kill themselves twice as often as women.
Scientists attribute this fact to a higher rate of pressure on men in modern life. Furthermore, men are more favored in the family. Sons are pampered until they meet the harsh realities of the (pre-industrial) workplace and disciplined compulsory military service.
The military claims that the rate of suicide cases is no different in the army than it is in the general population. Considering that it is 4 per 100,000 in general, the decrease that is presented as an achievement from 32 per 100,000 to 15 per 100,000 in the past 10 years is still exceptionally high.
The revelation of this reality has also alarmed the General Staff, and the top brass seems adamant about looking into the subject. Otherwise, what used to be a major crime treated by military courts that passed judgment on civilians for “alienating the public from military service” would be committed by the very institution itself. Fewer parents will be eager to send their sons to military service.
My generation should remember the oft mentioned post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) suffered by American soldiers during and after the Vietnam War. It is my belief that a similar phenomenon is under way in Turkey that could seriously hamper the peace process in the post-conflict phase of the Kurdish imbroglio. Why?
The Turkish army has been waging a war within the national boundaries for the past three decades. War is a process in which participants give and take lives. In order to engage in such an ultimate sacrifice or extreme behavior, one has to believe that the cause is worthy.
Although the “enemy” is an internal one, it has so far been systematically implicated with treason, partition and fifth-column activities for external foes. This justification has worked until recently. But this government made it clear that sooner or later peace will prevail. Enemies will become “brothers and sisters.” The people who have been accused as bloody murderers, terrorists and baby-killers are becoming parties to peace negotiations. This is quite confounding and confusing for the young men who are still dying and killing and for their families for sending their sons for the defense of the country.
Is this dilemma generating a considerable psychological pressure on conscripted men and partly contributing to their suicidal tendencies? Wouldn’t this confusion reinforce the resistance of the people on the street to make peace with the “enemy” that they have been conditioned to hate?