"He had always dreamed of doing his military service; now his dreams will come true," said the mother of a young disabled man who is ready to become a real soldier - at least for a day. Murat Demirtaş, 24, who has both physical and mental disabilities, goes to a special school for the disabled in Istanbul's Beykoz district. He is only one among 150 disabled young men who participated in a symbolic farewell ceremony on Monday organized by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality in Üsküdar. All of them will serve a symbolic one-day military duty on Friday and will be given discharge papers.
"Since early childhood, Murat has desperately wanted to be a soldier," his mother, Nilgün, said. "He always cried when he saw photographs of his brother serving in his military uniform."
The event is held every May since 2009. It takes places during a special week for people with disabilities in Turkey. Traditionally, young men come together with their families to celebrate that they will soon serve their country in the military. Turkey, unlike many other European countries, maintains compulsory military service, which brings every family into contact with the armed forces.
Ersin Algül, 32, suffers from spina bifida. He says he has mixed feelings about his one-day duty: "I feel sorry for our soldiers in the southeastern region, but I am also happy because I will wear a military uniform for the first time." He was referring to ongoing counterterrorism operations by Turkish security forces against the PKK. It is normally impossible for Ersin to serve in the army as his serious condition leaves the nerves in his back without any protection.
Faruk Okka, 27, who has a mental disability, admits to being "worried" about his upcoming service. In his regular life, he attends a music group in the city's Sultanbeyli district twice a week, and has to stay at home the rest of the time. None of those young men, each having a different type of disability, are eligible for military service.
Emine Yağlı, a teacher at one of the municipality's schools for the disabled, said: "With this program, we aim to tell people that there is no obstacle in life to achievement. We also aim to ensure that our disabled students are not deprived of such patriotic feelings." The banners they carried perfectly summed up the aim of the event: "Duty in the Army one day, pride every day."