Murat Can Bilgincan reporting

Losing a Child to ISIS

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Ever since the terrorist group raided the Turkish consulate in Mosul, the name of the Islamic State has been engraved in the Turkish consciousness. However, ISIS had not just come out of a hat! In fact, months before the incident, ISIS was recruiting militants in Turkey. Here is an example…

They had been waiting for 15 months… As soon as the bus turned towards the station, they sprinted. Mothers’ eyes were seeking their returning sons, sitting at the other side of the window. Ayhan stepped out of the vehicle. All of a sudden, a pair of arms caressed him. The Mother wanted to kiss her son forever…

At home, not a single word would come out of Ayhan’s lips. Mandatory military service was tough. He had lost 3 of his private friends. As they heard more and more news about terrorist attacks in the Southeast, his parents had become unbearably anxious. Their son was not the same, but at least he had returned home in one piece.

Ayhan’s belief in Allah (God) had always been strong. His mother was covered, but calling the family conservative would be a stretch. In the battlefield, as the bullets whistled to his ears, Ayhan had become more religious. At the house of the Prophet, as Turks commonly call the barracks, he would pray whenever he had free time. He also started talking with fellow privates about religion.


While he was with the military, his father had lost his job. Ayhan had to find a job immediately. It wasn’t easy, but in a few months he started working at a factory. Because of his fragile personality, the older workers were constantly bullying him.

He wanted to travel to the Southeastern town of Urfa where he could learn from an Imam. Both his job and his father prevented him from going. Instead he joined a religious sect that gathered close to his home. The Leader’s sermons gave him goose bumps.

By now, Ayhan’s beard had reached his chest. His clothes fit the Islamic dress code. One day, his boss sacked him solely because he didn’t like the way Ayhan looked. Ayhan was unemployed, single and his age was approaching 30 fast…


His entire time was devoted to reading the Qur’an, praying and attending religious talks at the sect. The Mother watched the change in her son with fearful eyes. Finally, her worst fear became reality. The police was after Ayhan.

After listening to his testimony, the police had let Ayhan go. He would not leave home for a while. He told his mother that he had argued with his friends over a religious topic and that his punishment was house arrest. The Father tried to use this as an opportunity to figure out what his son was up to. “What do you think about Al Qaeda,” the Father asked. “They are monsters who exploit religion,” replied Ayhan. His father could sleep. At least for one night…

Leaving Home Again

He hadn’t been able to go to Urfa for religious education. This time he was determined to visit Iraq to learn Arabic. His father tried to stop him, but couldn’t. “I’ll spend the night at my friend’s place,” he said and left. Ayhan never came back. For the Parents, this ambiguous, painful wait was far different from waiting the return of a young solider.

Weeks later, the phone rang. The Father picked it up with excitement. It was him. Ayhan was calling from Syria. He was saying that he would complete his training in a few weeks and return home. Just as his mother attempted to grab the phone, the connection was lost.

Days turned into week; weeks turned into months… The Mother would sometimes go to the bus station and daydream about a bus bringing his son. However, devastated by civil war, Syria was not willing to give her son back.

Announcement of “Martyrdom”

One day,, an ISIS-affiliated website, announced that there were new martyrs. Two ISIS militants had died in Syria. A photo accompanied the announcement. One of the corpses in the photo was Ayhan. His mother had sometimes imagined that he could have achieved martyrdom as a soldier, but she hadn’t thought for once that he would die a terrorist.

It was in that Internet announcement that Ayhan’s family read the name ISIS fort he first time. That name was going to haunt them until the end of their lives. The announcement did not include details about how their son died. The Father wanted to know. He asked the sect members in their neighborhood. “Their vehicle was caught in cross-fire,” they told him. The desperate Father wanted to at least bury his son in his hometown. Nobody would help. He was about to accept his destiny…

A Vital Detail

Secretly, the Father would sometimes gaze at his son’s last photo. Until that very day, he had looked at the photograph at least a hundred times, as if under hypnosis. Somehow he had failed to notice an important detail. There was a rope binding Ayhan’s bloodstained hands. Why would his hands be tied if he had died in crossfire?

Suspicion took hold of the Father. He thought of the home arrest that Ayhan had been subject to. Perhaps this time his son was subject to a Syrian-arrest. Ayhan’s parents started to think that the Internet announcement was a lie. As far as they were concerned, their son was still alive. ISIS had tied Ayhan up, put him to sleep and had poured sheep’s blood on him to take a fake photo. The goal of ISIS was to make sure that the family would let go of their son…

Ayhan’s family doesn’t believe that their son is dead. They believe that they have lost their son to ISIS. However, they refuse to speak to our camera that could help them garner public support. As their hopes rapidly disappear, they are confessing that they have to forget their son in order to carry on with their lives.

NOTE: The objective of this article is to give a general idea about how a young person in Turkey could join a jihadist terrorist group. In order to keep the family anonymous, some details have been altered.

The original piece was published on, on 06.19.2014:

Author: bilgincan

Murat Can Bilgincan is a Turkish journalist and filmmaker who has worked for CNN and on PBS' "Frontline." Bilgincan holds a bachelor's degree from Yale College and a master’s degree from Columbia Journalism School. He teaches an independent journalism seminar at Koc University in Istanbul.

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