Military Memories of My Father, I

I found with the help of my mother a notebook about my father’s military service. On the cover page, “Mehmetcik’s Handbook (Mehmetçiğin El Defteri)” is written.  Also, there is a verse written by hand;

            “Ömür bir yapraktır ( Life is a leaf)
Elbet bir gün solacaktır (That is supposed to be faded)
Ama bu hatıralar(But all these memories)
Ömür boyu sürecektir
” (Are to continue evermore)

My father was born in 1968, and he enlisted in his master troop (usta birliği) in babamınaskerkimliği1988 (as I understood from the other pages) that is when he was 20. It is easily said that as a young man at that age, he did not go university, or enjoyed from any youth adventures, instead, he underwent a military service, such a service that is not unforgettable evermore. Speaking generally when I look at a single notebook is of course sort of problematic, yet it is not hard to say that this circumstance was general in that years for an average young man living in Turkish state.

However, this paper aims to understand the military memories of my father. From the first verse, what I grasp is a modest submission. My father was not interrogating the circumstance, for example, he did not question, “Why am I here?”, yet he considers that his military service is as natural as the life’s itself. However, the other pages complain about yearning yet again there is no any sign of critique but obedience.

mehmetciğineldefteri2What makes him obedient though he yearns is his patriotism. In a notebook which includes İstiklal Marşı (Independence Anthem of Turkey) in the second page, my father also writes some sentences like, “Askerlik vatan borcu yapacaksın/ Sevgilinden belki ayrı kalacaksın” (Military service is a national obligation that you must do/ Maybe you’ll be far apart your lover” that clearly give clues about his submission and patriotism. I may not seem strange to a reader, however having been known that my father is a part of a minority group in Turkey the scope of the research may differ. All the signs in this notebook make sense in terms of indicating the assimilation of minorities in Turkey and nation-building process in it. What could make my father unilluminated about his origins and his identity? What could make my father so eager to participate this national military service?  Though, just one generation before him, I mean his grandfather had a completely different sense of his identity, religion, origins, history and so on. This can lead a different and a broader topic of the nation-making process of Turkey or in Hatay where my family lived and lives.

What also caught my attention is that the amateur poems in this notebook had been written by my father. Before that, only one exception that is about love, I haven’t known that my father has this kind of ability. I called him and asked. His said, “Everything is written in the military service.” My father knows Arabic. His grandfather did not know Turkish. I don’t remember but I suppose in his childhood, my grandfather was talking Arabic and later he learned Turkish. The interesting point is the achievement of Turkish language in terms of spreading so quickly. In other words, I suppose also the very first words that he heard were Arabic. However, his poems are not only Turkish but also pretty resemble traditional Turkish folk poetry. These are very amateur yet hold some sort of traditional rhyme and the syllabic meter.

In the military service, my father used to do? Of course, the did what military service necessitated, education, compulsory congregations (içtima), shaving and so on. However, in free times? One page of the notebook he used to listen Müslüm Gürses, a very famous Turkish arabesque singer. My father noted his lyrics. In my own personal history, I always saw my father as an authoritative and a rational person. I did not or could not see his emotional side in his youth. The sentences he had noted from Müslüm Gürses’s son are like:

(…) Bu şehirde ne varsa hepsi sana benziyor (What exists in this city are all resembles you)
Sen yoksun diye inan dertliyim kederliyim (Just because you are not here, I am pained and mournful)
Gelmezsen kahrolurum yıkılırım sevgilim
(If you do not come, I am grieved and break down)

In a poem my father also writes about some famous Turkish women; Hülya Avşar, Arzu Okay, Türkan Şoray, Banu Alkan are some of them. He wrote that even though they had been his companions, he would not want his military permit that ends his military service (tezkere).


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