Tuesday, February 5, 2008

No Country For Young Men

PHOTO FROM Today's Zaman
Pvt. Ramazan Yüce with his mother following his release.

Following an attack in Dağlıca in Hakkari province last October, eight Turkish privates were captured by the PKK and later released in what was a carefully orchestrated public relations move by the PKK. DTP members had visited northern Iraq to secure their release, but upon the soldiers' release, the soldiers' release was used to evidence DTP collaboration with the PKK and the eight soldiers were accused of treason. To further complicate matters, the Turkish General Staff released a press statement denouncing press accusations that the men are being charged not for misconduct, but because they embarrassed the military.

From Today's Zaman:
Van military prosecutor Hakan İleri has asked for permission from the General Staff to investigate whether Lt. Col. Onur Dirik had any responsibility in the attack by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in October of last year, during which eight soldiers were taken hostage.

The eight Turkish soldiers were released earlier this month pending trial on charges of disobeying orders, including main suspect Pvt. Ramazan Yüce, whose lawyer filed charges against Dirik for breaching security at the time of the incident. The Van prosecutor was acting on the complaint filed by Yüce’s lawyer.

The charges in the file on Dirik, who was in charge of the Dağlıca battalion at the time of the incident, include causing the killing of more than one person and the kidnapping and injury of many others by reason of negligence and failing to take measures to prevent the attack.

If the military authorities allow it, a criminal investigation will be launched into Dirik.

The charges brought against the Dağlıca commanders include the following: Although an attack was imminent according to the depositions of 13 eyewitnesses, radio communications and thermal camera records, the commanders failed to take the necessary security measures. The military staff that was responsible for seeing to the safety of the Dağlıca battalion only included privates. No soldiers were deployed in the neighboring hills to protect the battalion. Two posts for artillery and a grenade launcher were vacant at the time of the attack since no soldiers were commissioned to use them. Dirik did not approve a request to bring a Cobra helicopter from a nearby military headquarters to protect the battalion. The PKK’s ability at the time to use heavy artillery to carry out this attack over such difficult terrain stemmed from a lack of sufficient intelligence and security measures.

The claims from Yüce and his lawyer filed against the lieutenant colonel were not the first suggestions that it might be necessary to further investigate the responsibility of higher-ranking officers in the incident. Reports and documents on the case acquired by some Turkish newspapers have also suggested that some very strategic mistakes were caused by the negligence of higher-ranking army officers.
For additional background on the hostility the privates face, see Doğu Ergil's column in Today's Zaman:
The first response, which shook us all, was a statement by the justice minister, who said that he was not happy the kidnapped, captive soldiers were still alive. He was not alone in his sentiment: Rather than being taken captive by a terrorist organization, they should all die. By staying alive they have damaged our national pride!

Later, the soldiers were released as part of a propagandistic gesture by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Few of us were happy at their freedom because we were embarrassed at being humbled by a terrorist organization. After all, we were the mighty Turkish nation, and our army is the second-biggest and strongest in the NATO alliance. Yet in this confused state of mind we did not ask why and how a battalion that was battle-ready and on the frontline could be ambushed by a peasant organization, lose 13 soldiers and allow eight of their own to be dragged tens of kilometers away without any punitive pursuit.

Those responsible for this scandal have not yet answered to the people they serve or their representative organ, Parliament. No official statement has been released regarding the dismissal of the commanders who faltered so badly. Yet the military prosecutor has sentenced all the freed soldiers to several years of imprisonment and one of them to life in prison on grounds of treason.

The so-called "traitor," Ramazan Yüce, is of Kurdish origin. The military failure has been blamed on him by labeling him as a PKK mole. Yet until the moment of the ambush he was entrusted as a wireless operator and thermal camera watchman. Yüce defends himself by saying, "If I was a PKK member, how could I be trusted with these critical duties?" He is also on record as stating that he heard the approaching PKK on the wireless and located them coming with loaded mules on the thermal camera -- and informed his superiors. No one can answer why proper counter-measures were not taken.

Yüce is also accused of not firing on the enemy. He said he did so until the nozzle of his rifle swelled and became inoperative. The prosecutor does not believe him, but the weapon is missing because it was taken away together with the soldier by the PKK.

The prosecutor also claims that the soldiers surrendered immediately. But military statements that appeared in the press revealed that the battle dragged on for 36 hours. The soldiers in the ambushed outpost were a part of a battalion. Why did neither the battalion nor other relief forces come to their rescue?

These questions may be increased and ridiculous accusations like "leaving the post of duty to go to a foreign country (sic) without official permission" may be mocked. But this does not change the seriousness of the melodrama the prosecuted soldiers are suffering through. They are dishonored, their families are embarrassed and they are punished for a war that is the making of years of neglect on the part of old men who demand that they sacrifice their lives.

Would they ever think of coming back from captivity if they knew they would be so brutally denigrated by their countrymen and superiors alike? These young man are facing long prison terms, and one of them life imprisonment, only to satisfy the wounded ego of their nation and its ruling elders. No, no one has the right to ridicule the country's youth from whom so much sacrifice is demanded with so little in return.

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