Turkey Highlights Child Propagandism During President-Led Rally

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came under fire and fierce criticism last week, after telling a young girl that she would be honored as a martyr if she were to die in battle for her country.  That was mentioned at a rally that Erdogan was leading to raise Turkish support for their troops that are currently based in border areas of Syria, fighting against Kurdish militias.

Erdogan spotted the young girl – later identified as six-year-old Amine Tiras – in the crowd, wearing a military-style uniform (for unknown reasons) and a maroon beret, similar to those of the Turkish Special Forces Command (colloquially known as the Maroon Berets). Erdogan called on her and she gave a military salute before being plucked from the crowd and brought onto the stage where Erdogan told the crowd, “Her Turkish flag is in her pocket. If she becomes a martyr, God willing, they will drape the flag on her. She is ready for everything.” After she began to cry, Erdogan told her “But Maroon Berets don’t cry.”

While Turkish media – under the influence of the Turkish government – focused on the rally and the girl’s bravery, many social media users and other international media outlets condemned Erdogan’s words as inappropriate to say to a child at best and drawing parallels to Hitler and fascist dictatorship at worst. Andrew Stroehlein, the European Media Director for Human Rights Watch, said in a tweet, Erdogan was “glorifying children’s deaths [and] promoting child soldiers” and condemned the act. The incident has also been condemned online for the use of children in war propaganda and is also not the first time the Turkish government has used children or child cadets in media to promote Turkish militarism.

Child propagandism during wartime is not a new strategy to promote and bolster support for troops and battles and has been used extensively in the past, largely due to the innocence the picture of children supplies, along with the easy manipulability of children. Turkey’s use of children as propaganda pieces in this war deny children their right to a safe and secure childhood and force them to deal with war themes that are extremely inappropriate such age and can be potentially damaging.

This particular rally was held to support Turkish troops in Afrin, who were dispatched to the Syrian border district in January to fight Kurdish militias, who themselves, are backed by the US in order to fight ISIS insurgents in Northern Syria.

Turkey has a long history of valuing and holding their military in high esteem, and in particular, valuing those killed in combat and honoring them as martyrs. Since sending Turkish troops into Afrin, the government has mounted a strong national support campaign for its military, holding a variety of rallies and erecting billboards and banners across the country.

Ashika Manu