How is it to be a conscientious objector from Turkey in Europe?
(15.05.2021) My name is Beran Mehmet İşçi. I am from Turkey and of Kurdish origin (Zaza1). I am a conscientious objector, author and poet. In November 2018, I declared my conscientious objection in Turkey. Due to the situation there, I had to hide for a while. But there was always the question of how I could continue my life. Seeing no other option, I finally decided to move to Europe and to apply for asylum. In February 2019, I arrived in Germany and applied for asylum.
In the course of my political activities, which I continued after arriving in Germany too, I am now taking part for the second time in a project for the International Day of Conscientious Objection, 15th May. Every year it is prepared and conducted worldwide by various organisations worldwide. On the occasion of this year’s 15th of May, I want to describe as briefly and succinctly as possible the difficulties I face here in Germany.
In the first two weeks in Germany, I was looking for more information about the asylum procedure and a lawyer. I was not of the fact that these were important issues because of the situation in the refugee camps in Turkey. After about two weeks, I met with my lawyer to get legal information and gave him power of attorney. He more or less predicted what would happen.
But it was more important to get information from other refugees. Because of the large number of refugees from the Syrian civil war, the attitude of European states and societies towards refugees had changed, regardless of where they came from. I had the opportunity to observe that the situation and attitudes of people were very different from the experiences described by migrants who arrived in the 80s and 90s. Now it is my turn to talk about how I experience the situation, which I have been able to observe for about two years, with all its positive and negative aspects.
After the talks, I reported to a branch of the Federal Office for Migration in Karlsruhe and applied for asylum. After spending the night there, I was transferred to the city of Heidelberg. There my data was queried and fingerprints were taken. I was told that I would then be transferred to Bavaria, which happened after about three days.
Then I was sent to an asylum centre for 800 people in Donauwörth, a small town in Bavaria. It was not just an asylum centre, but rather a whole complex. It also contained buildings for the Federal Office for Migration, the Central Foreigners Authority (ZAB) and a small medical centre. That’s why the interview I had with the German authorities for my asylum application took place there.
A few months after I had left this facility, this camp was reported about in various media and newspapers in Turkey. People who were in the camp were labeled as terrorists and denounced. This also meant that anyone who was there as a refugee and managed to leave the camp to start a new life outside had to keep this under wraps because of nationalist and Islamist Turks. Finally, the media, under the control of organisations supported by these people, had targeted these refugees as terrorists and enemies of the state.
According to the general sociological definition, terrorists are people who try to achieve their political goals by recourse to armed force against a state. It is ridiculous that the very people who do not take up arms, like me and all the other conscientious objectors who were there in the camp, are now labeled as terrorists by Turkey.
About a month after transfer to this facility, a meeting with a Federal Office official and a translator took place in April 2019. It lasted about four hours. I was not subjected to pressure or repetitive questions from the official in charge, as I described my life chronologically. Consequently, the official did not have much to ask.
I was not subjected to much pressure or coercion in the hearing. However, I must point out that the attitude of the officer in charge towards me was demanding and authoritarian. I felt this especially acutely once I described various social and political events that had occured in Turkey. Then the official tried to exert influence, pointing out that he had “enough information about the country you come from.” He then said, “You can continue with your story.” He informed me that I should only report things related to personal experiences.
Based on my knowledge of the requirements and guidelines of the asylum procedure, I already knew that the assessment of a person is only based on the events that the person has been exposed to. However, several armed clashes took place in Turkey, suicide bombings like the one in Ankara that killed 100 people, some of whom I knew. That concerned, and I said I was therefore obliged to cite these events, trials and political developments. It is these conflicts, the deaths and the brutality that determined my personal development, these events influenced my perception and led me to become a pacifist and consequently a conscientious objector. In a society where there is no war, no hostility or no brutality, one would not expect the emergence of an anti-war attitude nor pacifism or anti-militarism.
Almost everyone is against war and rejects it. But a person who experiences the horror that results from this chaos hates war. Therefore, I wanted to show in the interview which political backgrounds were decisive for my conscientious objection by talking about my personal political life and my role models.
About six months later I received the decision from the Federal Office, a refusal. Now I saw that what I wanted to say was not understood. Even if it was understood, it was not considered sufficient for asylum. Some of my statements were transcribed only half-heartedly. The human rights violations, of which the European Union and the German Parliament are well aware, were not addressed or acknowledged.
The decision of the Federal Office for Migration referred to the secular constitution of the Republic of Turkey of 1982 and assumed that Turkey was a free and democratic country. Yet the authorities knew as well as I did that the 1982 constitution was the result of a military coup. It contradicts secular, democratic and free conventions. Thousands have fled from the inhumane attitude of this state. To believe that Turkey is nevertheless a democratic country ignores the military coup that has produced nothing but brutality and massacres. It is sad to note the position taken by German authorities.
The decision also stated that as a conscientious objector I had not been subjected to any fundamental human rights violation as set out in accordance with international human rights conventions and agreements. The Military Service Act was in line with European Union regulations. The basis of refugee protection was the persecution and human rights violation of a person. I was therefore not granted asylum.
As I reported in the interview, conscientious objectors in Turkey cannot work legally, cannot study, cannot get a passport, cannot get married, cannot recognise their children. So conscientious objectors in Turkey are not only refused the right not to kill others, but their right to work, to education, freedom to travel, to marriage and to have children are also denied. Conscientious objectors call this fate ‘civilian death’..
Moreover, in Turkey men who have not done military service are not considered male members of society. Men are not allowed to marry if they have not done their military service. The social pressure is appalling. As a conscientious objector, I was horrified at the human rights violations and persecution I was subjected to.
The Federal Office’s decision also states that I could choose the substitute payment for completing military service. I could have used the human traffickers’ fee for that. That way I wouldn’t have to do military service. In this way, my conscientious objection was not taken seriously. Such an attitude shocked me, especially in view of the fact that the officer had stressed several times that he knew the situation in Turkey well. For anyone who knows Turkey, who follows its politics, such a line of argument is completely incomprehensible.
Anyone who pays the substitute payment to do military service in Turkey still has to do one month military service. So even if it is no longer six months of military service, I would still be exposed to situations that I cannot accept as a conscientious objector: wearing a uniform, training at with guns, receiving and giving orders. A persecution or a violation of human rights can last for an hour or a hundred years. It is unacceptable that shortening the time of a human rights violation should make its existence lawful. In the end, my problem is not whether military service should be for six months or just one month. The problem is military service itself.
In the Basic Law of Germany, Article 4(3) states: “No one may be forced to do military service with weapons against his conscience.” In view of this, the officials of a state where this problem was solved decades ago should be sufficiently informed about what conscientious objection means. However, when the issue is raised in an asylum procedure, the attitude is clearly to simplify the values of the applicant who pays a high price for his conviction.
Even if there were no obligation to do military service, it would go against my conscience and moral values to pay money to the army. In this case, I will not kill people myself, but I help others and the institution of the military to do so. I do not fire a bomb on the front line myself, but I have paid for the bombs that are fired by others. People die with the money I pay, whether they are armed or civilians. I support the concept of total refusal, which is being discussed among conscientious objectors. In other words, even if there were no conscription and no money to pay, I refuse to serve in other state institutions instead.
This is a controversial issue among conscientious objectors. First of all, it has to be about the right to conscientious objection. Nevertheless, it is clear to me that I could not accept doing alternative service if it were introduced. I do not want to lose my freedom to a place I do not want to be in, to a job I do not want to do, to a profession I do not want to devote time to.
In view of all this, it is obvious that I, like all other conscientious objectors, have been subjected to human rights violations. I quoted the German Basic Law above. I had to find out: A state claims that someone who is deprived of a fundamental right in their country is not deprived of their fundamental rights. That is a bit confusing. But unfortunately this is what is happening.
The notice also states that there are also many “loyal Kurdish” soldiers in the army who have reached very high positions professionally. However, it does not say what attitude the Kurds face who are not loyal, who oppose the state and the government. So the statement of the authority is: If they were a loyal Kurd, they might not have a problem at all.
This discourse reflects a sanctioning and oppressive mentality. Moreover, although I explained during the interview the reasons for my conscientious objection, it is simply attributed to my being a Kurd, and it is said that this lacks political relevance.
In the interview, I said that if I had to join the military as a Kurd, I would have to use violence against my own people, against armed people or even against civilians. This is one of the reasons for my refusal. But the only thing the German authorities made of it was that as a Kurd I do not want to enter the military.
I had to mention the conflict. Turkey has been in conflict with the Kurdish people for 40 years and the majority of the opposition organisations is Kurds.
We all remember the reactions of the European Parliament, the European Union, states, media and the public in Europe when Erdoğan launched the military operation across the border in Syria. Almost everywhere on the continent it was said that this was an attempt to massacre Kurdish civilians in Syria. It is difficult to understand the difference of the discourse then and now. I think that back then the reactions were not about the death of civilian Kurds, but about the fear of another large number of refugees. Even though I try to find good intentions behind it, I cannot help arriving at this conclusion.
Despite all these difficulties and conflicts, I have to say that I have not lost hope. It is paramount to keep this just struggle alive, to resist, not to stop, to shout out loud. I saved myself from a dangerous situation in Turkey. I did not come here to live a comfortable life, but stand for many who are deprived of their rights. I find it more ethical to speak up for thousands of people instead of living an easy life. There is nothing better than refusing to become a murderer.
I will continue my struggle until this right is given to all opponents of war and violence in the world. Conscientious objection is a human right. Not to recognise it is a violation of human rights. Once one person’s right is violated, the rights of all people in the world are violated too. From this perspective, I invite all people whose rights have been violated to defend their rights.
I congratulate all conscientious objectors around the world who have been subjected to various kinds of inhumane treatment and violation of their rights, on not consenting to become murderers. I would like to meet with you on 15th of May, in freedom.
Uninterrupted conscience, unconditional peace.
1 Zaza is a population group in Eastern Anatolia with three to four million people
Beran Mehmet İşçi: How is it to be a conscientious objector from Turkey in Europe? May 15, 2021. Published in the booklet "Conscientious Objection in Turkey", May 2021. Editors: Connection e.V., War Resisters International and Union Pacifiste de France