BY PINAR TREMBLAY,
Indeed, Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) have always enjoyed the rhetorical statement “We have embarked upon this journey with our shrouds,” trying to signal to the public that they are willing to die for their cause. As patriotic as it may sound, when these words are paired with images of men wrapped in white cloth at AKP rallies, it could have a terrifying impact on minors.
A family health official, who works for an AKP municipality in Istanbul, told Al-Monitor, “We witness children between the ages of 4 and 14 frequently in two categories: Either they are acting extremely bold and aggressive in ways that could physically hurt themselves and those around them, or they are on the other side of the spectrum with a sincere phobia, what we call death anxiety. One child complained, for example, ‘I wake up suffocating.’ Later, we found that he was scared his parents would kill him so that he could become a martyr.”
The depth of the children’s fears and anxiety can be better understood after seeing the intense indoctrination of Turkish youths through the publications of the Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet). For example, in one Diyanet publication in April, there were three separate controversial cartoons.
In the first one, a preteen boy asks his father, “Would you like to be a martyr, Daddy?” His father replies, “How blessed it is to be a martyr. Who would not want that, who would not want to reach heaven?” In the next one, a young girl salutes like a soldier and says, “I wish I could be a martyr.” Her brother replies, “Girls cannot join the army,” but the mother intervenes and says, “If you want it so much, my dear daughter, God will grant you that wish.” In the last one, a young boy and his father appear at a graveyard decorated with Turkish flags. The young boy says, “They must have suffered so much before falling martyrs, right, Dad?” The father replies, “Son, martyrs don’t suffer in the way that you envision.” Alongside each of these drawings there is a quote from the Prophet Muhammad.
Turkish State Television (TRT) has also been doing its part. In November 2015, TRT aired a documentary claiming to document the Syrian civil war. In an effort to portray Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as the evil against Islam responsible for all the atrocities, the producers interviewed several Syrian refugees. One of them was a young girl who had lost her father in the war. The interviewer asked her, “What would you do if you had to fight?” She replied, “I would blow myself up at a checkpoint.” Turkish opposition parties made this section of the program the focus of a parliamentary inquiry in March, and after the Gaziantep bombing, the young girl’s image appeared on social media with harsh criticism about utilizing taxpayer money to advocate self-sacrifice.
It is quite ironic that in a country where Pokemon was banned due to its harmful effects on children, there are now thousands of imam hatip schools where children are indoctrinated to walk to their deaths without fear. There are several videos of school plays or other activities from these schools where kids sing and march declaring they wish to be martyrs.
After the attempted coup, nothing could abate the martyrdom zeal in Turkey. At every possible instance, Erdogan and his men told people that they wish to be martyrs and that they are even jealous of those who reached this status, adding that every inch of Turkish soil should be washed with the blood of the martyrs. Watching all this passionate rhetoric combined with a formal education system focusing on self-sacrifice, one cannot help but be fearful of its possible consequences for Turkey’s future.