Understanding the Past with Oral History: The Korean War from the Perspective of the Veterans of KadirliCevdet Kırpık, İbret Dal
The Korean War began on June 25, 1950, when North Korean soldiers crossed the 38th parallel and attacked South Korea. United Nations forces, led by the United States, fought against North Korea, which was backed by the Soviet Union and China. Turkey gave support to South Korea in response to the call from the United Nations and was one of the countries sending troops into battle. More than 5,000 Turkish soldiers served in Korea following the autumn of 1950. A total of 50 of these Turkish soldiers were from Kadirli, a town and district in Osmaniye Province. In this study, information about those who served in the war from this district was compiled. In addition, the author conducted an oral history study with three surviving veterans from Kadirli. Findings were obtained through descriptive analysis. The findings yielded extraordinary information about the veterans’ journey to the Korean War, their experiences during the war, their return to their homes, and their lives in Kadirli after the war.
Geçmişi Sözlü Tarihle Anlamak: Kadirli’den Katılan Gazilere Göre Kore SavaşıCevdet Kırpık, İbret Dal
Kore Savaşı, 25 Haziran 1950’de Kuzey Kore askerlerinin 38. paraleli geçerek Güney Kore’ye saldırmasıyla başladı. Sovyetler Birliği ve Çin desteğindeki Kuzey Kore’ye karşı, öncülüğünü ABD’nin yaptığı Birleşmiş Milletler kuvvetleri savaştı. Türkiye, Birleşmiş Milletlerin çağrısı üzerine Güney Kore’ye destek verdi ve savaşa asker gönderen ülkelerden biri oldu. 1950 sonbaharından itibaren Kore’ye beş binden fazla Türk askeri gönderildi. Bunlar arasında elli asker de Kadirli’dendi. Bu çalışmada savaşa adı geçen ilçeden katılanlara dair bilgiler ortaya çıkarılmış olup bunlardan üç gazi ile sözlü tarih çalışması yapılmıştır. Bulgulara betimsel analiz yöntemi ile ulaşılmıştır. Bulgularda gazilerin Kore’ye gidişleri, savaş sürecinde yaşadıkları, dönüşleri ve savaş sonrası Kadirli’deki hayatlarına dair sıra dışı bilgiler elde edilmiştir.
Turkey participated on the side of the United Nations in the Korean War that began in the summer of 1950. A brigade was sent from Turkey to fight in the war, including soldiers from the Kadirli district. In this study, 3 of the 50 soldiers from the district were interviewed and communicated their views on the war.
When Japan withdrew from the Korean Peninsula at the end of World War II, the territory was divided into two countries along the 38th parallel. The northern part was occupied by the Soviet Union and the southern part by the United States.
Two separate governmental administrations have been established in Korea, one under the control of the Soviet Union and/or China, and the other under the control of the United Nations. On June 25, 1950, North Korean troops invaded South Korea’s territory under the guidance and support of the Soviets. A United Nations force was set up against the invasion, the main burden of which was borne by the United States.
Meanwhile, Turkey, whose territory was threatened by the Soviet Union and who wanted to join NATO, accepted the war on the side of the United Nations and acted with a sense of security. The Korean‒Turkish Brigade, number in excess of five thousand, was formed to be sent to war.
For the purpose of this oral history study, the authors conducted interviews with three people who had been soldiers sent to Korea. Among the total number of soldiers sent from Korea, 50 were from the Kadirli district, which was then part of Adana. The information obtained from the interviews was transcribed and coded, the interview texts were compiled by specific topics, and the results were studied using descriptive analysis methods.
Two of the veterans had traveled to Korea on the US ships that came off Iskenderun to carry Turkish soldiers. One of the soldiers, on the other hand, left on a ship departing from Izmir because he was late. Soldiers were sent on their way in large crowds which included family members. Veterans recall that the trip took about a month or a little longer. However, if we look at the news reported in the press with Brigade Commander Tahsin Yazıcı, it is clear that the actual period was shorter.
The starting point for Turkish soldiers in Korea was the city of Pusan. Turkish soldiers who entered the city on October 18, 1950, were greeted by governors and city officials who sang marches, accompanied by Korean and American bands, young girls with Turkish, Korean, and American flags, and children with flowers. From here, the soldiers were sent to Taegu.
Soldiers found it extremely difficult to find shelter, food and, most importantly, sleep, on the front lines. During their time in Korea, the soldiers were fed mostly canned food and stayed in tents and underground shelters. Soldiers from other countries also experienced similar situations.
The soldiers also relayed various information about the war environment, the effects of the war on the land and its people, and the climate, vegetation, and landforms of the Korean settlements. According to their impressions, Korea had a cold climate, and its geography was mountainous and forested. The Korean people were deeply affected by the war by being exposed to hunger, thirst, and general misery.
All three veterans actually fought in combat and were injured. The most seriously injured veteran was treated in Japan and the others in Korea. The soldiers said that at the end of their service they returned to Turkey by ship, landing in the port of Izmir where they were greeted by a large and enthusiastic crowd.
The veterans involved in the Korean War received medals, certificates, and diplomas from the authorities of the Republic of Korea. The South Korean state has always expressed its gratitude to the veterans in written documents.
It is understood that the public’s perception of and access to veterans has changed since the war, with the war’s veterans having gained renown. According to the stories told by the veterans, in the immediate postwar period, the public’s view of them changed, their real names were almost forgotten, and they were called “Koreans.” With the law numbered 1985, published on 27 April 1976, veterans were paid a pension by Turkish government. In this regard, those who actually participated in the war from October 1950, when the Turkish Brigade entered Korea, to the signing of the Panmunjom Armistice Agreement in 1953 in October 1950, were entitled to a pension.
This oral history study brought to light and recorded the individual memories, information, feelings, and thoughts of the selected veterans. These thoughts, memories, and feelings are probably not those reflected in the official documents relating to the Korean War. In this way, the authors obtained important information about the role of Turkish soldiers in the Korean War. The authors also uncovered information about the veterans on impact of the war in general and also specifically on the veterans’ lives.