Opposition MPs take suspicious death of Turkish Roma soldier to parliament's agenda

Opposition lawmakers have taken the suspicious death of a Turkish Roma soldier to the agenda of the parliament following reports that Caner Sarmaşık was facing racism and bullying from his commanders due to being Roma. Although the military ruled Sarmaşık's soldier as suicide, a Roma association said that he had been “murdered."

Caner Sarmaşık was performing his compulsory military service in Syria.

Duvar English

Two opposition lawmakers have filed separate parliamentary questions with regards to the death of a Turkish Roma soldier which they said had been reported to be suspicious.

The Turkish Defense Ministry said that the 21-year-old Caner Sarmaşık had committed suicide on April 29 while on guard duty. Sarmaşık was performing his compulsory military service at a military base in Syria and had only 45 days left until the end of his service.

The Sakarya Roma Association's president Orhan Tangel said Sarmaşık was facing racism and bullying from his commanders due to being Roma. 

“It turns out he was shot by a service pistol; this incident is not a suicide, but murder,” Tangel told Turkish media outlets, calling on the government to launch an investigation.

Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) MP Kemal Bülbül and main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) MP Özcan Purçu took the association's claims to the agenda of the parliament, asking Defense Minister Hulusi Akar if his ministry was investigating Sarmaşık's death.

“Was the ministry investigating the claims that the Roma soldier Sarmaşık was being exposed to racist mobbing of his troop commander in Syria? What kind of works is your ministry conducting to prevent citizens of different ethnicities, beliefs from being discriminated?” Bülbül asked in his parliamentary question.

Purçu filed a separate parliamentary question, saying that Sarmaşık had called his family just a week prior to his death and told them that he was “being exposed to his commander's hate speech.”

“He told them that he was being insulted for being a Roma...He told them that his commander had insulted him in front of his friends through the remarks of, 'You Roma people only know how to play a tin and perform; you cannot even memorize a text, gypsy.'”

“In the autopsy report, it says that Caner Sarmaşık has committed suicide. If Caner Sarmaşık's psychological state had deteriorated, why were his commanders unable to determine this? In this framework, was an investigation launched into the commanders who gave a soldier a gun and put him on guard duty despite the deterioration of his psychological state?” Purçu asked.

The CHP lawmaker also asked why Sarmaşık's coffin was not wrapped in a Turkish flag, as is the case for other deceased soldiers.

Europe’s largest Roma population lives in Turkey, where they have long faced discrimination and poverty. They typically scrape a living in the grey economy as street vendors, musicians and waste paper collectors.

The exact number of Roma in Turkey is unknown but the number is estimated at 4 million.