Soldiers can arrange to meet
Between nightmare and suicide - soldiers after the war
"I fought for my life and when I got home I realized that I had long since lost it." This is what an American soldier said after his return from the Vietnam War. Regardless of which side you fought on: The actors of the war madness come back as ragged victims on a second battlefield, on which they almost always lose. A normal life after the war will no longer exist for them.
Gunnar Köhne and Klaus Scherer got to know Turkish soldiers who survived a brutal fight against Kurds in their own country. And they can't cope with that.
This is the grave of Corporal Ali Riza Aker, who died by suicide after the war. That was, his father tells us, last October. He's been coming here every day since then. At home he tells us the story of his son. Everyone was proud when he went to the military. But when he came back he had become a stranger to them.
HÜSAMETTIN EKER: (Father)
"I found him with black rings under his eyes, alone in a café in the city. I had been looking for him for days because he hadn't answered. He just stared in front of him, didn't talk at all. We came home where his fiancée and friends wanted to party with him. He went into his room and didn't want to see anyone. He sat there like a robot.
One day we went into the field when he suddenly said: 'Father, what am I doing here, I have no business here.' 'Where are you going?' I asked. 'Back to my friends,' he said. I thought he meant the military and said, 'What are you doing there?' I didn't know then that he wanted to die.
I said, 'You can't go back there, you have to find rest.' Then he said very sternly: 'Father, now listen to me, I killed 35 people.' I said, 'My son, it happens in war.' Then he said: 'But these people were just like me.' And left me standing. "
He went home and shot himself in the head. The end of a war trauma - a trauma that very few soldiers suspect at the beginning of their service life. Because none of the commanders told them. This is the case in every war, including here, in the mountains in southeastern Turkey.
Hundreds of thousands of Turkish soldiers went through this war. Thousands perished, on the side of the army and opposite, on the side of the PKK, the Kurdish guerrillas. But wars don't just leave corpses behind.
Visit to the Military Academy of Medicine in Ankara, an army hospital. Here are those who survived the battle, but at a high cost. What you can see here are external injuries, what you cannot see are the injuries to the soul. But these are also known to the military: thanks to a secret study carried out by the General Staff itself, a study - as it is called - of stress disorders in connection with the conflict. The most frequent finding among the surveyed patients is - quote - "antisocial behavior". Symptoms include: no longer believing in the future, moving away from those around you, feeling that you are always ready, feelings of guilt, outbursts of anger.
We have an appointment in Istanbul with a young employee who knows what is meant by all of this. He does not speak openly, because what he describes could be seen as a disintegration of military strength in a country during the civil war. The man was an army officer and he talks about what war makes of people:
"Our first mission was a patrol through a village. Shots rang out, we took cover. Then I crawled up to one of them and saw that he was dead. Three shots in the chest. I just lay there and stared. Then comes anger . And joy when you count the corpses on the other side. At some point it's like a game: We won, you lost. "
“I became a hateful person who just wanted to kill. And I started to dream that my family is with me, a shot is fired and they are all on the ground. I see that they are dead and I wake up, each one Night, always the same dream. "
"Later I wanted to get revenge for all the bad experience. Either that or kill me. I was so violent that I yelled at my mother just because she woke me up. I smashed my stereo. Even my brother whom I was talking about love everything, I hit so much that we had to take him to the hospital. "
The search for explanations leads us to the University of Istanbul, to a professor of psychiatry. Such symptoms, she says, are typical, typical of soldiers.
PROF. SAHIKA YÜKSEL: (Istanbul University)
"When you fight, you have to be suspicious, constantly assessing dangers. This is exactly what the soldiers can often no longer remedy after the war. That means that their suspicions continue to work, every gesture is interpreted as an attack."
We ask what she thinks of the study, why the military did it.
0-tone (transl.) PROF. SAHIKA YÜKSEL:
"They want to keep control, including over the weaknesses of the army. This is the first study by the military that admits such problems. I find that remarkable, even if no one officially confirms it. I asked about the study but got no answer . Keeping things secret is also a way of suppressing something. When someone comes to us because of nightmares or aggression, the first thing we ask is whether they were in the military. "
We meet another former soldier who would like to tell us more, in a city apartment near Izmir. One experience in particular never lets him go:
0 tone (transl.)
"I saw my friend being shot. Then he called my name, he called: Help me, help me. I can still hear these calls and I'm afraid to go out into the street, I can no longer work. I think everyone wants to kill me. It has been going on for four years. Someone who hasn't been there can't get a picture of the war. Only when you've been there you know. That's what I think. Me lashed out at me, couldn't think anymore. The commanders only said: Take this away. "
Press hype in Ankara. The military chief, General Karadaye, appears in the army clinic - a man who pays tribute to the sacrifices the soldiers have made to their homeland. For him it was also a successful PR appointment. After twelve years of war - officially still just a kind of special operation against a few PKK terrorists - after twelve years of war, a little realism is good. Especially since more and more people in the country - albeit sometimes very quietly - make their wish for peace clear.
This is a Friday mother, one of the mothers of fallen soldiers. Their weekly meeting at the graves is an anti-war campaign.
These are the Saturday mothers, mothers of missing Kurds. Similar faces, similar warnings, finally to see that this fratricidal war has long since made no sense.
Meanwhile, here, between the poor huts in the slums of Istanbul, another war victim is waiting for his siblings to have some money back together, for his pills and for electric shocks, because the army doesn't pay for that.
0-tone (transl.) SOLDIER:
"I have tremors, a psychosis, says the doctor. When my brother came to pick me up from the military, we saw a burned-out jeep with two dead friends of mine sitting in it. If my mother can no longer hold me, they'll take me to the hospital I feel better after the electric shocks. The military should actually help me, I think, because we don't have enough money. Yes, they should actually help me. "
There was no response to our request to the army. We wanted to know how many soldiers who once went into action like this are likely to suffer from such problems today.
0-tone (transl.) PROF. SAHIKA YÜKSEL: (Istanbul University)
"As far as I know, nearly 300,000 recruits have returned from the war zone. I estimate that about ten percent of them have serious psychological problems. And even if the war were over today, it would last for years."
0-tone (transl.) HÜSAMETTIN EKER: (Father)
"You could stack my house full of gold bars, it wouldn't make me any less sad. Our son is dead, we no longer enjoy life. When I watch the news about the war on TV in the evening, I just get goose bumps. And go at night I sometimes go out into the field and scream everything I can think of, everything out of myself. "
Before we leave, he shows us the engagement picture of Ali and his bride and the place where he wanted to build a house for them. He'll build it anyway, maybe for his second son when he comes back from the military. Because he will go like everyone else, his draft notice will come soon.
Injured souls, this time in Turkey. There are currently over fifty wars and armed conflicts worldwide.
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