Turkish soldiers’ funerals become stage for protests

Friday 04/09/2015
War fallouts. Turkish Lieutenant-Colonel Mehmet Alkan shouts during the funeral of his brother, Captain Ali Alkan, on August 23, 2015, in Osmaniye.

Istanbul - Funerals for Turkish sol­diers killed in the rekin­dled conflict against Kurd­ish rebels have become focal points for anti-gov­ernment protests, as critics accuse President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of exploiting the clashes for political gain.
“There is a rising flood of an­ger against the government at the funeral ceremonies for martyrs,” Mehmet Altan, a writer critical of Erdogan, observed in a column for the Gazete360 website, using a term describing the soldiers killed in battle.
Altan said the government, stung by ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) losses in the June 7th election, made a complete turna­round when it dropped peace talks with Kurdish rebels. “We know why those who said ‘solution’ until June 6 started saying ‘war till the end’ on June 8,” he wrote.
In one spectacular funeral pro­test, a Turkish Army officer, in full uniform, railed against the gov­ernment during the funeral for his brother who was killed by rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
During the funeral in the south­ern city of Osmaniye on August 23rd, Lieutenant-Colonel Mehmet Alkan pushed through the crowd of about 15,000 to the flag-bedecked coffin. Visibly upset and crying, Alkan, recorded by television cam­eras, shouted, “Who is the mur­derer?”
In a reference Erdogan and the government starting peace talks with jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan in 2012 but abandoning the process in July, Alkan asked: “What has happened that those who spoke of a solution yesterday now speak of war?”
Alkan expressed anger at pa­triotic statements by politicians which are seen by many as an effort to woo right-wing voters. Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said his aim was to become a “martyr for my re­ligion, my nation, my fatherland”. Without mentioning the minister by name, Alkan said, “it’s outra­geous to walk around in palaces with 30 bodyguards, get into an ar­moured car and then say ‘I want to become a martyr’.”
Alkan’s outburst triggered a del­uge of news reports and online comments, many expressing sym­pathy with the officer. The hashtag #hepimizmehmetalkanyarbayiz — “We all are “Lieutenant-Colonel Mehmet Alkan” — was among the top trends on Twitter in Turkey.
Commentators close to the gov­ernment, however, called for the Alkan’s dismissal from the army. Both the military and the Interior Ministry began disciplinary action against Alkan.
With more than 50 soldiers and police officers killed in PKK at­tacks since July, funerals for secu­rity forces members have become an almost daily occurrence. Gov­ernment officials often attend the funerals to show support for the stricken families, but have faced sharp criticism. Deputy Prime Min­ister Yalcin Akdogan fled a soldier’s funeral in August after the crowd of mourners booed and threw water bottles at him.
Since the PKK’s rebellion started in 1984, some 40,000 people have been killed in Turkey and millions driven from their homes. A cease­fire as a result of talks between the government and Ocalan in the spring of 2013 brought hopes for lasting peace, but fighting started again in July 2015. The government says it is determined to “finish” the PKK, as one official has put it.As Turkey is facing November 1st snap elections, the question is whether the funeral protests represent a strong anti-war and anti-govern­ment groundswell. Erdogan has said Turkey will continue to con­front the PKK militarily, declaring that “the blood of martyrs” would continue to flow.
“They think Turkey wants war but, no, it doesn’t,” Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, former chairman of the Islamist human rights group Mazlum-Der, told the anti-govern­ment Zaman daily, referring to lead­ers in Ankara.
The government says it is react­ing to a terrorist threat but critics accuse Erdogan and the govern­ment of fanning tensions in the Kurdish region in the hope of shor­ing up support for the AKP. Gerger­lioglu said Erdogan saw losses of the military in PKK clashes as “ac­ceptable deaths”.
It is unknown whether the up­surge of fighting will help the AKP at the polls. Mehmet Murat Posteki, a pollster seen as being close to the government, said the AKP and the main opposition party, the secular­ist Republican People’s Party (CHP), could see their share of the vote rise, while the right-wing National­ist Action Party (MHP) and the pro- Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) were facing losses.
Another prominent pollster, Adil Gur, said the AKP was within reach of recapturing the absolute major­ity of seats in parliament that it lost in the June election.
But others say the AKP has been unable to strengthen support, while the HDP can expect further gains in the election. Such a result would make it very unlikely for the AKP to regain its majority. Ozer Sencar, head of the Metropoll polling in­stitute, said on Twitter that “the AKP does not have a chance to rule alone” after the November election.