Military service is deeply rooted in the Turkish culture, and is regarded as a sacred duty. Joining to the army is equated with being an honourable and virtuous person. In rural areas in particular, men who have not performed their military obligations are not well regarded, and what they say is not taken seriously.
The beginning and end of military service, which Turkish society in general attaches such a great importance, like the other major landmarks in life, marked with ceremonies. There are regional differences in the ceremonies for sending someone off and welcoming him back.
One of the most widespread practices all over Turkey is for young men who have received their call-up papers to be invited to dine by all their friends and relatives in turn. The young soldier-to-be mat also be entertained with his family. It is also customary for entertainment to be laid on during and after such celebratory meals.
In the province of Kars, such young men visit their relatives in the city and the surrounding villages to bid them farewell, during the course of which they are given gifts of money and pastries to keep them going on their journey.
In the village of Kırtıl in Silifke, the evening before young men are due to leave for military service, they invite their male and female friends to their homes and carouse until late. Money, known as ‘good luck money,’ is placed in the young men’s pockets.
In the village of Verimli in the Ankara region of Kızılcahamam, elderly men and women say, ‘This is so you should stand guard for me’ as they hand over their ‘good luck money.’
During send-off ceremonies at Seydişehir, the women divide the pastries they have prepared into three. One part is thrown into the water as ‘food for wolves and crows.’ One part is wrapped in the young man’s shirt and kept in a chest, and the third part is given to him to eat on the journey. Each time the young man comes home on leave a part of the piece lying wrapped up in his shirt is broken off and given to him to eat. After seeing the soldier off, the women all gather at a fountain and eat. No wooden spoons can be used during the meal, since it is believed that if anyone does so, the young soldier will receive frequent beatings during his time in uniform.
In the village of Şükranlı in Eskişehir’s province of Seyitgazi, the young man is made to cut wood in front of his fiancee’s house, if he has one, in the belief that this will help him get used to hardship.
As well as such farewell rituals as these, which concern a particularly important part of life, there is an equally wide range of ways of welcoming young men home after the completion of their military service.
In that same village of Kırtıl the soldier brings henna with him once he has been discharged. On the evening following his arrival back to the village, visitors who come to welcome him back burn the henna, known as ‘soldier’s henna,’ which is meant to bring with it good luck.
Another matter regarding the performance of military service is soldiers’ letters home, written with great longing and yearning for home. These letters usually begin with greetings, explain how things are going, and end with a tradition quatrain.
Greetings are extended to the all soldier’s friends and relatives. In the days when communications were not easy and letters were very much the only means available, married soldiers would find it difficult to express their feelings for their wives, who would be staying under their fathers’ roofs, out of fear that other people would read their letters. They therefore resorted to coded verses:
‘Go, my letter, go.
Learn of her and return.
We are two who once were one,
Ask her if we are three.’
This is an example of a soldier asking his young wife if she was expecting.
As well as these letters of general news, there are also humorous soldiers’ letters, generally sent to close friends.
There is great rejoining when a soldier’s military service comes to an end and he returns home. Friends and relatives visit him constantly for up to two weeks, and he is treated as a guest in his own home and not allowed to do any work. In some regions the young man is also given gifts during the course of such visits