Sunday, 10 November 2013

Celebrating the departure of a village lad off to complete his military service

Living in Turkey, we are obviously aware that all Turkish males are obliged to complete compulsory military service. But until recently I was not aware of the importance that the Turkish people themselves place on this event.

A few days ago I was invited to accompany a Turkish friend from the village to attend lunch at a family's home in the village. The lunch was prepared in honour of the family’s son who was about to leave home to do his compulsory military service.

In Turkey, compulsory military service applies to all males from twenty to forty one years of age. Women are not conscripted. They now complete 15 months, although there is currently a proposal which if the Cabinet pass into law will reduce this time period to 12 months. It is anticipated that this ruling may take effect from March 2014.

The exceptions to this obligation are for those who are engaged in higher education, who can first complete their programs and then may serve reduced time, or for Turkish citizens who reside outside Turkey who in some instances can pay a fee to be exempt from their mandatory military service.

Refusing the obligatory military service due to conscientious objection is illegal in Turkey and is punishable by law.

By attending this gathering I began to understand how the villagers feel about conscription. The family were so proud of their son who was about to go off to complete his military service. Completing the conscription carries a symbolic value. It is regarded as a passage of rite to manhood, and traditionally families do not consent to their daughters marrying a man who has not served his time.

In honour of the son who is about to leave home, they open their doors to family, friends and neighbours to attend a lunch. What a lunch it was I loved it.

Having first removed our shoes at the door, as is the custom in Turkey, we sat in small groups on the floor chatting and laughing together. A cloth was then placed in the middle of each circle of people, followed by a huge tray of different sorts of homemade food, and a spoon for each of us with which to tuck in. We were served with chicken soup, lamb stew, rice with chick peas, salad and lots of bread. Plus rice pudding and halva. It was all delicious and the camaraderie of those present was fantastic. Some ladies helped to cook, others were serving the food and more were washing up.  There must have been around forty people sharing this family’s joyous occasion. I had the most wonderful time and I was so grateful to the family for allowing me to attend this event.

I have seen men who are about to leave home to attend their term in military service driving around Fethiye proudly displaying the Turkish flag covering the roof and boot of their cars. I was also at the airport in Dalaman one day when around twenty family members and friends accompanied a lad to see him off to do his service, taking loads of photographs to commemorate the occasion.

Personally I am in favour of compulsory military service, I feel that it probably would do youths of other countries a lot of good to learn discipline, share some hardships and learn some team work. But then I’m an old fashioned girl with old fashioned values. I was honoured to be invited into this family’s home and share their pride.

I have mentioned before that we have a sizeable goat herd which comes by our house most days. When we first started coming to our house in Uzumlu for holidays they were accompanied by a young lad who we guessed to be in his late teens. Every morning he would take the goats up the mountain and stay there with them all day long, until early evening when mother (we assumed) came to the bottom of the mountain and shouted for him to bring them back down.

Shortly after we moved here permanently he disappeared and the goats just came out in the evenings with several family members accompanying them for an hour or two. Now we could be wrong, but our guess was that the lad had gone away to complete his military service.

This summer he re-joined the family, but is no longer on his own all day with the goats, but is supported by the rest of the family in the mornings and evenings. It is as though he has earned their respect, and rightly so he is a lovely guy. He left the village a boy and has returned to the village a man.

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