In the year 2010, in the heart of Yeouido Park, West Seoul, South Korea, an 84-year-old man named Suleyman Dilbirliği eagerly awaited a reunion with his adopted daughter, Ayla. The long-awaited meeting marked a poignant moment in their lives, as they had been separated for nearly 60 years. Despite no blood relation, their bond was unbreakable, a testament to the profound impact of the Korean War on their lives.
The story begins in 1950, amidst the chaos of the Korean War. Suleyman Dilbirliği, a sergeant in the Turkish military, was part of the UN forces sent to aid South Korea against the North Korean and Chinese forces. The Turkish Brigade, renowned for its bayonet and hand-to-hand combat skills, played a crucial role in battles such as Kunu-ri, Wawon, and Sillim-ni.
Ayla, whose name means “moonlight” in Turkish, entered Suleyman’s life during the tumultuous war. He discovered the five-year-old girl crying in the Kunu-ri forest and decided to adopt her. This touching narrative was later adapted into the film “Ayla: The Daughter of War” in 2017, capturing the hearts of audiences with its portrayal of their emotional journey.
Turkey’s decision to send military aid to South Korea during the Korean War was strategic. It aimed to gain recognition and strengthen its position as a potential NATO member, especially considering the looming threat from the Soviet Union. The Turkish Brigade, consisting of 5,909 personnel, arrived in Korea in October 1950 and quickly earned a reputation for its unwavering bravery on the front lines.
The Turki Brigade’s pivotal moment came during the Battle of Kunu-ri in November 1950, where they successfully repelled the Communist Chinese Forces, thwarting their advance into South Korea. Despite a regrettable incident in Songbul-gol, the brigade’s overall combat prowess earned them the prestigious Presidential Unit Citation.
Beyond their military contributions, Turkey extended significant humanitarian aid to Korea. By 1954, the Turkish government had rotated 15,000 military personnel to assist South Korea, making Turkey the fourth-largest contributor to the UN coalition forces. The toll on Turkish forces was heavy, with 2,365 casualties, making Turkey the third-largest contributor to casualties in the war.
The war not only claimed lives but also left behind orphans. In 1950, Turkey established the Ankara School, which served as both an educational institution and an orphanage. Ayla, then known as Kim Eunja, resided there after Suleyman’s reassignment to Japan in 1951. The heartbreaking separation occurred when Suleyman, attempting to take Ayla with him, was thwarted at the port before boarding the ship.
Suleyman’s quest to find Ayla persisted even after his marriage to Nuran. Despite the passage of time, his love for Ayla remained steadfast. Nuran, understanding her husband’s emotions, joined him in the search for Ayla’s whereabouts. Their efforts included reaching out to the South Korean Tourism Office, but the lack of Ayla’s original name made the search challenging.
The turning point came when Chuncheon MBC, a South Korean television station, learned of Suleyman’s relentless search. A documentary was planned, and Suleyman was located in Turkey. Subsequently, Ayla was found in Incheon, and a heartwarming reunion ensued. The emotional meeting at Yeouido Park, captured in the film “Ayla: The Daughter of War,” marked the beginning of a renewed connection.
The extraordinary tale of Suleyman and Ayla is a testament to the enduring bonds forged during times of war. Their story reflects not only the sacrifices made by the Turkish Brigade but also the human connections that transcend borders and time. Despite the challenges, Suleyman’s unwavering love and determination led to a reunion that touched the hearts of many, emphasizing the enduring impact of the Korean War on individual lives and the power of love to overcome the ravages of time and distance.