Pop star could be prosecuted after questioning Turks' militarism

WITH the death toll in Turkey's operations against Kurdish nationalists in Iraq rising daily, one of the country's most famous pop stars was in serious trouble this week after she questioned deeply-engrained Turkish militarism on prime-time television.

"I am not a mother, nor ever will be, but I would not bury my child for somebody else's war," said Bulent Ersoy, during a broadcast of Star TV's hugely popular Popstar Alaturka.

Visibly shocked, another presenter intervened to try to shut her up.

"May God give me a son so that I can send him off to our glorious army," Ebru Gundes said, adding a nationalistic phrase repeated without fail at every military funeral: "Martyrs never die, the fatherland cannot be divided."

But Ersoy, a transsexual who was banned from television by a military junta in the 1980s, was not put off. "Always the same clichd phrases," she riposted. "Children go, bitter tears, funerals … And afterwards, these clichd phrases."

An Istanbul prosecutor promptly opened an investigation into her for alienating the people from military service, a crime punishable by up to three years in jail. The broadcasting watchdog announced that it was considering banning Ersoy from the screen.

These were predictable reactions in this profoundly nationalist country where criticising the conscript-heavy army is a risky business.

From an early age, Turkish schoolchildren are taught that "all Turks are born soldiers". School textbooks warn children that a man who has not done his military service "cannot be useful to himself, his family, or his homeland". Not recognised by the law, Turkish conscientious objectors face a potentially infinite round of trial and imprisonment.

Yet, while Ersoy's comments earned her Turkish media opprobrium, the packed audience in Star TV's studio applauded her warmly.

It is just the latest sign that, after 24 years of war against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and 40,000 deaths, people are beginning to question the state's traditional tendency to see the Kurdish issue merely as a matter of security.

Turkey declined yesterday to give Baghdad a timetable for the withdrawal of troops fighting Kurdish guerrillas in northern Iraq, resisting pressure from the United States and other allies to end the latest offensive quickly.

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