— The Erimtan Angle —

In the past I have oftentimes remarked how in Turkey, military victims of terrorism,[1] receive the status of martyrs (şehid). The definition of martyrdom remains a moot case however – ranging from a strict religious perspective to a purely nationalistic interpretation. In large parts of Turkey’s popular imagination, these martyrs are heroes who sacrificed their lives for the sake of the nation. But, on a purely technical or semantic level, the true meaning of martyrdom in Islam remains unequivocal. The Islamic scholar A. Ezzati states clearly that the “concepts of martyrdom and Holy Struggle in the cause of Allah are interrelated. Both words have been frequently used in the Holy Qur’an. In fact, there is no martyrdom without struggle in the cause of Allah and for the cause of the truth”.[2]  In Republican Turkey, the ideological stance of nationalism had previously in many ways replaced Islam as the primary denotatum of identity and fulcrum of social cohesion. As a result, martyred soldiers were seen as heroes who had performed the ultimate sacrifice for the benefit of the nation by means of dying in the cause of defending the cause of Turkey and its territorial and ideological integrity as a nation state, inhabited only by “Turks” (meaning “citizens of the Turkish Republic”, as worded in the 1924 Constitution).[3] The conceptual misfit between using a religious term to describe a nationalist virtue oftentimes if not always manages to escape critical scrutiny in Turkey, everybody readily chiming in with the well-rehearsed refrains eulogizing martyrs and martyrdom. But in 21st-century Turkey, the situation has become more and more complicated in view of the now decade-long rule of the overtly Islamic and conservative AKP, led by the charismatic Tayyip Erdoğan. Should a martyr now be seen as a soldier who has died for the cause of the fatherland or is he instead a believer-in-arms who has performed the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of the “Holy Struggle in the cause of Allah”???  Is the Islamic paradise now literally crawling with military victims of the PKK terror or do the physical remains of these dead Turkish soldiers merely fill up military cemeteries on Turkish soil???  As such, it would seem that a public discussion of the terms martyrs and martyrdom is long overdue in Turkey . . .

 Indeed, Allah has purchased from the believers their lives and their properties [in exchange] for that they will have Paradise. They fight in the cause of Allah, so they kill and are killed. [It is] a true promise [binding] upon Him in the Torah and the Gospel and the Qur’an. And who is truer to his covenant than Allah ? So rejoice in your transaction which you have contracted. And it is that which is the great attainment. 

Surat At-Tawbah, 9/111

But now the Prime Minister has announced something truly revolutionary: “We are including civilians who died in terror events into the category of martyrs. Civilians who become invalid of die by reason of a terror event and their relatives will receive compensation and a monthly allowance. For example, Mizgin and Hatice who became martyrs in Batman and in Bingöl will be accounted for as martyrs by law”.[4]  The independent news provider bianet adds matter-of-factly that in ‘Turkish language, the word “martyr” is being used for those who died on active duty’.[5]  But as indicated higher, I think that today it would be difficult to continue defining martyrdom as simply the act of having “died on active duty”. Martyrdom will be linked to a government stipend (“compensation and a monthly allowance”) for the surviving next of kin, effectively turning the martyrs’ families into beneficiaries of the state’s munificence on account of the deceased’s exalted status. Martyrs are said to reside in Paradise, while their dependants on this mortal coil will be able to enjoy the benefits of an effective state pension. On the one hand, this principle would turn the whole of Turkey into potential martyrs or martyrs’ relatives, which in turn, would transform Turkey’s civilian population into potential salaried soldiers, whose sole martial actions would consist of their willingness to die for the cause of the Republic of Turkey or for the “Holy Struggle in the cause of Allah”, arguably. At the same time, the principle of the state rewarding the relatives of martyrs bears an uncanny resemblance to the practice of providing people who could prove that their lineage went back to the figure of the Prophet Muhammad via either Imam Hasan or Imam Hüseyin as Şerifs or Seyyids, with a government stipend. This stipend was overseen by the office of the Nakibüleşraf in Ottoman times.

Seyyid Mehmed Zeynelabidin Efendi (1721),

Chief of the Descendants of the Prophet or the Nakibüleşraf

Has Turkey now come full circle???  Founded as a nation state of Turks, meaning citizens of the Republic of Turkey, where religion has always been the business of the state,[6] Turkey will now become a nation of potential martyrs and/or martyrs’ relatives . . . ready to lay down their lives for the sake of Turkey (or alternatively, for the sake of the “Holy Struggle in the cause of Allah”).


[1] Or even of mechanical failure as in the case of the 12 recently “martyred” Turkish soldiers in Afghanistan Cfr. “Death in Afghanistan: Afghan Victims and Turkish Martyrs” A Pseudo-Ottoman Blog (22 March 2012). https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2012/03/22/death-in-afghanistan-afghan-victims-and-turkish-martyrs/.

[2] A. Ezzati, “The Concept Of Martyrdom In Islam” Al-Serat, Vol XII (1986). http://www.al-islam.org/al-serat/concept-ezzati.htm.

[3] “The name Turk, as a political term, shall be understood to include all citizens of the Turkish Republic, without distinction of, or reference to, race or religion”.

[4] “Erdoğan Scolds Media: ‘Are You Deaf?’” bianet (March 2012). http://www.bianet.org/english/minorities/137116-erdogan-scolds-media-are-you-deaf.

[5] “Erdoğan Scolds Media: ‘Are You Deaf?’”.

[6] “The Turkish Army: Guardian of Turkish Secularism???” A Pseudo-Ottoman Blog (09 August 2011). https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2011/08/09/the-turkish-army-guardian-of-turkish-secularism/.

Comments on: "News from Turkey: Civilian Population to become Martyrs in 2012" (1)

  1. gabriel said:

    I must say, as a good deal as I enjoyed reading what you had to say, I couldnt aid but shed interest after a although. Its as in case you had a great grasp on the subject matter.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: