Turkey: It all started with the Gezi protests
(15.05.2021) My name is Mertcan Güler. Although I knew nothing about it when I was a child, I already had the notion that I did not want to enter the army. I remember telling my grandmother at the age of six that I would not perform my military service. I was already afraid at the time. My grandmother answered: “When your time comes, there won’t be any more conscription anyway.” This was over 20 years ago, and conscription is still applied in Turkey.
In school, we had to sing the national anthem and recite the so-called “Our Oath” (Andımız in Turkish) every Monday morning before classes and each Friday evening after classes. The Turkish national anthem and oath include fascist elements. The first three sentences of the oath state: “I am Turkish, I am righteous, I am hard-working”. Through constant repetition, the Turkish State manipulates the children with militarism and fascism throughout the period of their education. It indoctrinates them, it is a kind of brainwashing.
During my graduate studies, the Gezi demonstrations occurred in 2013. My first political involvement and significant changes to my ideas began during this period. In the days that followed, other videos, photos and reports on police terror in Istanbul were shared online. What we saw was terrifying. The violence and terror against civilians was pervasive. What moved us, and others, was the aggressive action of the government against ordinary people and even against those without any political motivation. They were doing this only to realize their own desires. The Islamist-led policies of the AKP government are the reason as well as my increasingly critical perception of Islam. We not only saw but also experienced how brutal and fascist Islam can be when it comes to power.
Berkin Elvan1, a fifteen-year-old child was mortally wounded in the head by a gas grenade and later died in the hospital. This was too hard to take for us. We could not imagine that State terror would go that far. We rallied against it. We wanted to march over to the AKP building and demonstrate there. Again, the police responded violently. In doing so, they proved they were not there to protect the people, but to protect the AKP. We fled the tear gas grenades and the plastic bullets because the police were deliberately and intentionally targeting us. Eventually, we found shelter in a house and hid there until peace returned. As there was the risk of being followed, we each went home by a different itinerary. I kept looking behind, feeling insecure.
Afterwards, I understood that I had to resist in order to defend my fundamental rights such as freedom of expression, of association and of reunion both in order to survive and to exist. I began researching and exchanging information with Kurdish and Alevi friends from school. I learned what they had lived through, why they had suffered. In the face of such injustice I found it impossible to remain silent. I had to do something. This no longer had anything to do with origin, religion or minority. It was a question of humanity.
I do not want my body to be found in a barrack because of my political opinions. I will not feed the Islamist government with rubbish about “martyrdom”. Why should I have to kill anyone? Why should I fight for the “Homeland” when the Homeland wants to expel me? Why is it “my Homeland” if I’m not even allowed to say what I think, and if I don’t have the right to exist? I refuse military service because of conscientious, political and religious reasons.
Conscientious objection is still not recognized as a right in Turkey, although it is a human right. Those who refuse to serve are first sentenced to a fine, then imprisoned. If you refuse military service, when you stay in a hotel, when you travel between cities or when there’s a routine ID check on the street, the police ask you to sign a document forcing you to show up for military service within the following 15 days. You are not allowed to work anyway. The Turkish State forces you into a state of civil death if you refuse to be a soldier.
This is a wound in Turkish society. Because the State and the Erdoğan government praise violence and militarization, people consider military service as a symbol of virility and patriotism. But I say no to that. I call on the new generation to refuse the military service, even though this is not an easy road.
Mertcan Güler: It all started with the Gezi protests. 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