There was a time when human life was valued in Turkey. That was a long time ago. Human life is no more precious, at least as far as the AKP government is concerned. The government has been promoting martyrdom for more than a decade now in an effort to build a militant notion of nationhood. The new notion is based on dying to save the nation, now defined solely on religion. In other words, Turkey is a nation born out of an invincible faith, namely Islam. Victory can only be achieved through faith and those who die in fighting for the faith are martyrs.
The government propaganda has peaked since June 2015, when a strategy of death was put in place. The government lost its majority in the parliament and a war was started to win the votes back. Ministers, the president and even the president’s wife rushed to praise martyrdom on every possible occasion.
Government propaganda did not spare children. On the contrary, children were considered prime targets. Last year Evrensel revealed numerous efforts by the government to indoctrinate children, beginning in preschool years. One of the efforts Evrensel revealed included a cartoon booklet published by Diyanet, the government agency overseeing all religious affairs. The cartoons glorified martyrdom: Martyrdom meant reaching heaven. Martyrs did not suffer when they were dying. They did not feel any pain. The prophet was mentioned, too, so as to make the propaganda indisputable. This outrageous effort attracted the attention of the press outside of Turkey but pro-government press in Turkey was not interested in covering this story.
Since 2015, promoting death became routine. Never before in the history of Turkey, a minister publicly said he longed to be a martyr. The president kept praising martyrdom: “Each of our martyrs is a seal that registers our eternal existence on these lands.”
One might wonder how far the government can go in promoting martyrdom. Earlier this month, the Minister of Defense offered his official vehicle for a boy’s circumcision ceremony in Kandıra, near Kocaeli. The boy sat in the car, used the car’s siren all the way for laughs, and was quite happy. All major government officers were present at the ceremony. The minister and major officers decorated the boy with gold coins. Pro-government media magnified the story. The boy deserved all the attention. After all, his father was martyred while fighting terrorists. More importantly, it was the president of Turkey who had promised the boy a major ceremony. The mother and the boy were quoted in the media praising the president for keeping his word. The ceremony worked well for the government.
The government is not acting alone in promoting martyrdom. Municipalities controlled by AKP are helping along. Pro-government television channels are running serials promoting militarism and death. Chambers of commerce controlled by AKP are also working diligently. The Ankara Chamber of Commerce alone took 32 thousand students to Çanakkale since 2005. Millions of people have been bussed to Çanakkale since 2003. All of this was done so as to promote martyrdom and a militant nationhood.
On 23 May, the Ankara Chamber of Commerce organized an event titled, “From Çanakkale to 15 July”. The message was clear from the title and from the speeches: Those who died during the coup attempt were martyrs. They are as important as those who fought the enemy in Çanakkale and saved the nation. The anachronism does not matter. What matters is martyrdom. Those who died defeated the coup attempt with their faith. This is how the nation can be saved. The event, thus, glorified martyrdom and equated the coup with the Battle of Çanakkale. The implicit message was that regime was as legitimate as the nation itself.
The regime seems to be fully committed to a strategy of death and martyrdom. On Sunday, the President of Turkey spoke of the martyrs again. He said, “Yes, we have martyrs. But, thank God, we are leading ten to one.” He was not speaking about a football match. What he meant was, for every soldier who is killed, ten are killed on the other side. He mentioned blood and revenge. What he did not mention was that the all of those who were killed were from Turkey. They were the children of the same country.
This is what is happening in Turkey now. A strategy of death is in place. Young people are dying. The government is promoting martyrdom so that young people can continue to die. The death toll is increasing. If this frenzy does not stop, Turkey will never recover.