Peasant Autonomy
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Story 136

Şanlıurfa Province, South-eastern Turkey – 1980

Soldiers at the border

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Brandon Evershed)

Şanlıurfa, Turkey.

"You almost cannot believe how charming our village looks. There, you find delightful orchards and golden wheat fields. A path meanders through the meadows to the pine forest. It smells like thyme and myrrh. In the background, you can see the mountains with their big boulders."
Kenan is blinking his eyes when he tells about his village; it’s like he is dreaming. "You should come at least once," he tells his friend Ziya. "It is a promise," Ziya answers. He knows the story of Kenan by heart, but he still loves to dream with him.

Kenan and Ziya are recruits in the Turkish army. They are stationed in Eastern Turkey. They have to guard the border with Syria to stop the smugglers. Every night, Kenan has to go to one of the foxholes, where he keeps watch with his friend. There are many fleas, and it is so cold and humid there that all the boys get rheumatism in their knees.
In front of them stretches a minefield. Behind it runs the border. When they see something move in the dark, they have to shoot it. Then, they hear horses neigh, seized by panic, and throw off their packs. The smugglers shoot back. A shoot-out can last fifteen to twenty minutes. When the firing ceases, they carefully go to take a look. Then, they see a dying horse with two bags of tea next to him and one or two killed smugglers with black traditional trousers.

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: SunriseOdyssey)

Şanlıurfa, Turkey.

Parallel to the border runs a 'security road.' Here, the commander drives his jeep at irregular times to check that no soldier is sleeping or chatting secretly with other soldiers by the field-phone. When he sees something he doesn't like, he releases his rage.
Sometimes, a soldier is hit by the fire of the smugglers. He is then rushed to a hospital. From time to time, a soldier is even killed. Other soldiers become crazy.

During the day, the soldiers sleep. A few hours before his duty starts, Kenan gets up and goes to his friend Ziya. Ziya’s situation is a little better than Kenan’s. Just like the other soldiers, he comes from a village, but he is the son of a schoolteacher which meant that he learned to type. As a result, he became the 'clerk' in the camp. He types the letters of the commander and writes reports when there has been a shoot-out.
Just like all soldiers, Ziya misses his village. He loves to listen to Kenan telling how smoke crinkles up from the chimneys of the farms, how the village smells of fresh farm bread, and how the birds sing lustfully. Together, they will struggle through these terrible years.


In the book Reckless (2013), the Turkish author Hasan Ali Toptaș tells the story of peasant boys who have to perform military service in miserable conditions.

Go to:
= the next page: 'Take me back' - Gaomi District, Shandong Province, China – 1985, story 137.
= the Table of contents, story 136.