2012-12-10

Investigations launched as concern mounts over soldier suicides

There have been 954 suicides in the military over the past 10 years, prompting government officials to call for investigations and reform to address the problem.

By Alakbar Raufoglu for SES Türkiye -- 10/12/12

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Mert Evren Akdag is one of the three soldiers who have died in suspicious circumstances across Turkey over the last few weeks.

  • Chief of the General Staff, General Necdet Ozel, announced the military would launch a special investigation into suicides within the army. [AFP]

    Chief of the General Staff, General Necdet Ozel, announced the military would launch a special investigation into suicides within the army. [AFP]

The 20-year-old native of Eskisehir was performing his military service in Izmir's Bergama district, where he was found dead on November 30th, according to media reports.

Akdag reportedly fell into depression for unknown reasons, tied a necktie to an iron pipe, and hung himself while other soldiers were sleeping in the barracks. Akdag's friends claimed he became introverted and rarely talked with anyone during the last 10 days of his life.

The incident garnered public attention as reports about the suspicious deaths of Ismail Akca and Emre Tanık, who were performing their military service in the southeastern provinces of Sirnak and Kahramanmaras, appeared in the media recently.

As investigations around all three cases continue, concern over the rate of suicide attempts prompted officials in Ankara to call on military leaders to improve the military's suicide-prevention programs.

"The Turkish Armed Forces cannot accept such incidents and will take the necessary measures [to prevent them]," Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said during a December 4th press conference while commenting on Akdag's death.

Over the past two-and-a-half years, 175 soldiers have committed suicide, according to the Parliamentary Human Rights Investigation Commission's records, which recently held a special meeting to discuss the growing number of suicides.

"This number has reached 934 within the past 10 years," Ayhan Sefer Ustun, head of the Commission, told SES Türkiye, noting that suicide attempts are usually related to problems with intimate relationships, work, finances and the law.

On Thursday (November 6th) the Chief of the General Staff, General Necdet Ozel, ordered a special team to investigate the causes of an increasing number of suicides within the military.

The team will prepare reports after talking with the friends and acquaintances of the soldiers who committed suicide, their commanders and other staff in military facilities where the suicides took place.

In a statement on Friday, the General Staff said the suicides are the result of family problems, personal relationships, drug addiction and financial difficulties in civilian life, rather than bad treatment in the military.

The statement said conscripts' mental health is evaluated prior to serving, and those identified as a suicide risk are determined not fit for military service. Meanwhile, all active duty soldiers are provided with psychological help through 337 advice and counseling centres and a 24/7 hotline.

As a result of precautions, support networks and other services, the suicide rate has been cut in half from 32 per 100,000 in 2002 to 15 per 100,000 in 2011, the General Staff stated.

"Before identifying the reasons behind suicides, before legal and administrative investigations have been officially revealed, making the public angry through comments and evaluations that leave the military subject to suspicion is not right," the statement read.

In the meantime, analysts like Tolga Islam, head of the Rights of Conscripts Initiative, a group that prepared a special report on soldiers' suicides, call on the government to launch an independent investigation over the latest suicides, rather than military.

"Transparency is very important here. A closed investigation is not an option as people need to know what is going on and why these 20-year-old men choose this path," he told SES Türkiye.

Islam believes that most of the suicides are the direct result of physical and psychological mistreatment or bullying in the Army.

"This is not new in our Army," he said. "Suicide attempts have risen over the last five years. But the question is why didn't the military leaders investigate it before."

Umit Kardas, a retired military judge and current faculty member at Fatih University's Law School, believes that soldier suicides are "a systemic problem" that can only be dealt with through structural changes in the military.

The military, he suggested, should transition from a conscript army to a professional army, something that has been on the national agenda for the past several years.

"Mistreatment and the lack of accountability for military personnel are problems by themselves. Almost 50 percent of the suicides happen because of this," Kardas told SES Türkiye.

Even in professional armies there is often a lack of counseling and other services for soldiers having difficulty adjusting to military life, he said.

"These problems are going to be much more widespread in conscript armies, where the soldiers have not chosen to be there but were forced to," Kardas said.

Other retired military officers, like Colonel Serdar Erdurmaz at the Turkish Centre for Strategic Analysis, said it is a mistake to attribute all suicides to mistreatment.

For Erdurmaz, the problem is largely psychological.

"The main cause is the tensions which come up with where they are stationed," told SES Türkiye. "If you are stationed in the region where terrorist attacks are a continuous threat and you have to be in the alert position all the time it causes a great psychological burden on the soldiers overall."

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  • Anonymous translation missing: en_GB, datetime, distance_in_words, almost_x_years

    Our top officials really took great trouble by launching investigations about soldier suicides! Recently 8,000 specialist sergeants had resigned from the army within 2 months. What is to be examined about these two events? You send the hard working ones to prison. You don’t give employee rights to some of them as if you are giving them from your own budget. These two facts mostly result from the attitude of the people governing this country. Only a small percentage may be due to their family and private lives.

  • Anonymous translation missing: en_GB, datetime, distance_in_words, almost_x_years

    They are being insulted a lot. High-ranking officers swear at them all the time. And furthermore they beat them.

  • Anonymous translation missing: en_GB, datetime, distance_in_words, almost_x_years

    Soldiers are under so much pressure that they don’t know what to do. They think that shooting or giving harm to themselves is the solution. That is why we witness such bad incidents. In other words, I think the only responsible party is the commanders themselves!

  • Anonymous translation missing: en_GB, datetime, distance_in_words, almost_x_years

    Will public servants get a pay rise in 2013? If so, how much?

  • Anonymous translation missing: en_GB, datetime, distance_in_words, almost_x_years

    We are thankful for the athletes, basketball players who represent our country abroad and succeed. I am not saying they do not deserve to be rewarded with golds and houses, but what about our soldiers and police officers who risk their lives and fight like heroes? They deserve everything.

  • Anonymous translation missing: en_GB, datetime, distance_in_words, almost_x_years

    As a person working for the Turkish Armed Forces, I think the solution is to quickly abolish conscription and switch to a professional army. Everyone should know their business. You cannot go on with the rank-and-file at this age. And we are tired of telling these. Some of the conscripts create trouble on purpose, some of them are really problematic. We do not want to deal with these anymore. These young people shall be provided with treatment in civil life. We need to get professionalized as soon as possible considering the fact that being a soldier is a profession that requires discipline. Furthermore, a person, who performs these tasks on a permanent basis, would become specialized and experienced, and can defend his/her rights better. There are many things to write, but our authorities certainly know better.

  • Anonymous translation missing: en_GB, datetime, distance_in_words, almost_x_years

    I was a soldier there, too. A soldier does not have any value for them. This is the reason for everything. Fellows, this country belongs to all of us. If the beds are not tidy, sergeants beat the crap out of soldiers. Whatever you can imagine. This should be regulated somehow.

  • Anonymous translation missing: en_GB, datetime, distance_in_words, almost_x_years

    They are trying to overbear the poor, saying “Justice is the basis of the state”. We want rights for junior high school graduates. Regards.

  • Anonymous translation missing: en_GB, datetime, distance_in_words, almost_x_years

    Compulsory military service should be abolished.

  • Anonymous translation missing: en_GB, datetime, distance_in_words, almost_x_years

    Brother.

  • Anonymous translation missing: en_GB, datetime, distance_in_words, almost_x_years

    Regarding soldier suicides, although I did not see it myself, I can predict the situation of our brave soldiers who fight against terror under difficult conditions. My advise is that some activities can be organized to cheer them up such as concerts by their favorite singers. Making psychologists available to them would also help solve problems terror regions. I think they should also know that suicide is not welcomed in religion.

  • Anonymous translation missing: en_GB, datetime, distance_in_words, almost_x_years

    We should definitely switch to a professional army. Those poor young people are sent to the East at the age of 20 after an inadequate training. What can those children do there?

  • Anonymous translation missing: en_GB, datetime, distance_in_words, almost_x_years

    Will the eligible age for paid military service be reduced? Citizens are now waiting for a clear announcement. A clear explanation should be made so that people can deal with their homes and jobs accordingly.

  • Anonymous translation missing: en_GB, datetime, distance_in_words, almost_x_years

    I served in the 66th division as a third lieutenant during the martial law period. Parents send their sons to the barracks as if it is their homeland. And young boys serve in the military with devotion to their nation, but the chain of command breaks at such a point that those young people, despite their devotion to their homeland, falls into depression. They are exposed to all kinds of profanity, beating, punishment, etc …. That makes them forget about the homeland or anything. As a person, who has first hand experience about it, I want to tell you one of my memories. One day, during my military service, I saw our sergeant major, who was in charge of the canteen, brutally beating the tailor of our troop and I got very furious. When I asked him “Sergeant Major Osman, why are you beating my soldier?”, he said “Why are you so mad, my third lieutenant? He sewed a pant for me, which was just like the ones gays wear. Why do you get angry? These are our stocks.” That was the moment I lost my temper. I don’t know whether he is still alive, but back then I took Sergeant Major Osman into my hands and beat the hell out of him. I pointed my gun at his brain. There were dozens of soldiers, sergeants, officers surrounding us and they were all petrified. At that moment I felt as if my three kids were crying out. Look, suicides happen at such moments. Of course, there might be exceptions, but I say that the authority given to sergeants must be limited. There is no meaning in giving the names here. I’ve relieved so many soldiers of mine. I’ve seen many incidents where soldiers committed suicide, escaped or shot their commanders. I’ve cried and laughed together with those boys. I’ve told them to love their homeland anyway. I’m still in contact with many of them.

Name: Anonymous - Have your comments posted immediately!


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