Turkey’s president has exhorted Turks to support their soldiers in Syria. But a televised scene showing a traumatized 6-year-old cadet girl, who wept as he proclaimed she would be honored if killed in combat, is not coming off well.
Clips of the encounter between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the first-grader, Amine Tiras, was drawing a backlash online Monday, with some critics calling his treatment of such a young child inappropriate.
“Her Turkish flag is in her pocket. If she becomes a martyr, God willing, she will be wrapped with it,” he said after calling her onstage. “She is ready for everything, aren’t you?”
She had started crying before the president made his statement.
Erdogan has dispatched Turkish forces to the border area of Syria to battle Kurds he considers Turkey’s enemies and has been rallying his country for the fight, including in daily public speeches.
The girl, according to Turkish news agency reports, had been attending the provincial congress of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party in a military-style uniform Saturday.
She wore a maroon beret and a Turkish flag in her pocket, and had made a soldier’s salute during Erdogan’s televised speech, when he spotted her in the audience.
The maroon berets are fighting in Afrin, a Syrian enclave the Turks are trying to take from the Kurds, and when the president noticed the girl’s beret, he called her to the stage.
“Look, look, look, what is there? Girl, what are you doing there?” he called out.
She held her salute, but her face began to crumple in anxiety as she was lifted out of the crowd to meet the president.
“Here are our maroon berets. Look, we have our own maroon berets,” Erdogan said as she crossed the stage.
Erdogan kissed her on both cheeks, but by then she was in tears.
“But maroon berets don’t cry,” the president said.
Amid the applause, supporters in the audience chanted: “Chief, take us to Afrin,” news agencies reported. Erdogan thanked the volunteers but said the Turkish Army had professional soldiers to do the job.
Erdogan’s remarks to the girl on Saturday drew criticism from some on social media, who felt that the talk of martyrdom was inappropriate for a child so young.
“Oh my God, I am shocked. Could Erdogan have said the same thing for his grandchild?” one user wrote on Twitter.
The mainstream press, which has been increasingly under the thumb of the government, did not focus on the girl’s tears. Many newspapers showed images of Erdogan with Amine under his arm. One had the headline, “She is ready for anything.” Other news agencies reported that Erdogan had consoled the girl as she cried.
Edited by: JV Staff
(Sydney Morning Herald)