25 years of solidarity with conscientious objectors from Turkey
(15.05.2021) How the world is changing! Resistance to military service has probably always existed, especially as desertion. Conscientious objection (CO), being the open rejection of military service, even beyond mostly Christian religious groups, began to develop no earlier than at the beginning of the 20th century, especially in countries of the northern hemisphere. The first right to conscientious objection took effect in Norway in 1921. In Germany it was introduced in the constitution as a reaction to the mass persecution and murders of opponents to war perpetrated by fascism in 1949. But also in other “Christian” countries it became more and more accepted, at last in Switzerland in 1992.
That conscientious objection could ever gain relevance in other cultural circles was still considered almost impossible in the 70s, when I was politically socialized. Today it is just the other way round. In Germany, there is nearly no such movement anymore after conscription was suspended because the majority of conscripts refused military service or were declared unfit and the military was professionalized. Now the question of conscientious objection is only relevant for some soldiers and reservists. In contrast, the importance of conscientious objection has been growing for years, for example in Islam-dominated Turkey.
In Offenbach we founded and established a counselling service for conscientious objectors in the late 1970s within the framework of the Deutsche Friedensgesellschaft-Vereinigte KriegsdienstgegnerInnen (DFG-VK), also because of our own experiences with the harassing examinations of conscience. This proved a welcome service that was gladly made use of. In addition, we were active in the anti-militarist peace movement. International co-operation with like-minded people has always been important for us.
When in Western Germany the procedure to be accepted as a conscientious objector was simplified we first concentrated on the role of the substitute service. We saw that this service only existed to meet the military service obligation, the conscription. At the same time this service is disenfranchised (forced) labour. Thus, it was clear that we also supported total objectors who refused the substitute service as well and were threatened with imprisonment because of it.
From the middle of the 70s we started to support groups and movements in other countries. At first we founded the Working Group Southern Africa in the DFG-VK, from 1990 on working as Working Group “CO in War”. In 1993 we founded the association Connection e.V. to strengthen this international work. Since then the work on Turkey has been one of our main foci.
Broad solidarity work
By no means were we the only organization involved in solidarity work together with anti-militarists in Turkey. In the following I will give an overview of the different activities, work areas and approaches taken by a whole range of different groups.
Dual citizenship and “Substitute Payment” - still a problem
At the outset, we had no contacts in Turkey, and information concerning our subject was also rare. So first we collected everything that was interesting in any way. The oldest document in our archives is a decision of the Administrative Court of Bremen from February 1985. A Turk (dual citizen) living in Germany had sued so that he would not have to serve 15 months in the German army in addition to the 22 months of military service he wanted to do in Turkey at that time. His complaint was rejected on the grounds that Turkey had not signed the relevant Council of Europe Convention on Avoidance of Double Military Service. Due to the suspension of compulsory military service in Germany, this problem no longer exists. In fact, even the completed substitute service in Germany was also recognized by the military in Turkey as fulfilment of the military service obligation. Considering that over 3 million people of Turkish origin live in Germany: If they only have Turkish citizenship or are dual nationals, men of the appropriate age are subject to compulsory military service in Turkey. If they comply, they usually lose their jobs and some of them also lose their residence status. To alleviate this dilemma, the Turkish state had created the possibility to perform a shortened military service and to pay a high sum, which then benefits the Turkish military (so-called Substitute Payment). In 1985, it was still two months of service and 17,000 DM (about 8,500 €). In 2011, the amount was 13,000 €, currently it is about €5,000. Since 2012, there is no shortened military service any more, but a distance learning program of the Ministry of Defence. Since 1995, it has been calculated that 1.2 billion € has been paid in this way. Every year, some 30,000 men from Germany alone pay the amount. Even though all this has nothing to do with conscientious objection, we still have a large number of inquiries about this topic to this day.
Asylum of conscientious objectors from Turkey in Germany
The first conscientious objector from Turkey in Germany was probably Aziz Koşgin, who publicly refused in 1991 and set up a special counseling center for Turkish conscientious objectors (Savaş Hizmetini Reddedenler Girisimi/SHRG) in 1998 in the DFG-VK, in Übach-Palenberg near Aachen. The Turkish newspapers that reported on this were confiscated (e.g. Devrimci Proleterya, Azadi). We worked intensively with him for many years. It is noteworthy in this context that Aziz was not a Kurd like the majority of conscientious objectors in the following years, but a Laz (a Black Sea ethnic group).
After Aziz and until today, there has been no small number of Turkish citizens who have declared their conscientious objection, doing so partly with us, partly autonomously on an individual basis and often with local support.
Later Mustafa Ünalan became equally important; he publicly refused on January 23, 1996, in the Berlin City Parliament, burning his military service pass. He then set up a Turkish-language counseling center as part of the DFG-VK Berlin. And finally, Cemal Sıncı (an Alevi Kurd) founded a Turkish conscientious objection organization (Frankfurt Savaş Karşıtları Derneği/FSKD) in Frankfurt/Main on January 28, 1997, together with ten friends. Cemal was already politically active in Turkey and during his studies in Germany. He was the first conscientious objector from Turkey to apply for asylum and with whom we intensively discussed every step of his asylum process. The declaration of conscientious objection should be as public as possible. Thus, in February 1998, there was an overcrowded press conference in Frankfurt, at which, in addition to Cemal and his lawyer, members of the German parliament from the Social Democratic party and the Greens (Uta Zapf and Cem Özdemir) were present in support. The press response in television and newspapers was really good. Due to his manifold political activities, he was the first conscientious objector from Turkey to actually receive asylum in April 1998. Cemal is still active with Connection e.V.
One focus of the work with conscientious objectors from Turkey in Germany in the 1990s was to organize public refusals. Such a public refusal took place for the first time in Frankfurt on May 17, 1995, with nine participants. This action was supported by Connection e.V., SHRG, Working Group “CO in War” and the Self-Organization of Civil Servants. Not only was the action prepared together with the potential conscientious objectors, but in a seminar beyond a common declaration, which brought about intensive discussion on the topic. The photo with the refusers breaking (toy) rifles was a powerful symbol that was also widely publicized abroad. In the following years there were several more public refusals, some with considerably more participants, e.g. in Marburg, Dortmund, Essen (29), Saarbrücken (20), Emden, Hannover, Frankfurt (2002: 39), Kassel (over 50!). These were not organized but supported by us.
In the 1990s, probably between 200 and 300 people from Turkey publicly declared their conscientious objection to military service in Germany. Of those who sought protection here, most were able to legalize their residence over the years. Many of these actions were not only documented in the local press, often with large articles, but in individual cases also found resonance in the international press (Austria, Switzerland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, USA, South Africa), and also in Turkey. Yes, there were considerably more conscientious objectors from Turkey in Germany at that time than in Turkey itself. But this movement resonated there as well. As a result, there were also public conscientious objection actions in Turkish cities, e.g. in Istanbul in 1996. And lest we forget, there were also public conscientious objections in the Netherlands, Great Britain, Denmark and France.
Not all of those who publicly refused at that time did so only with a view to their asylum procedure. But most of them did, and the majority of them were Kurds. There were probably also some who believed the rumour that their participation in such an action would help them gain asylum. We emphasized again and again in the preparatory seminars that this is only true to a limited extent. Because: In Germany, conscientious objection is not a reason for asylum, and so we still have a lot of hurdles to clear when supporting conscientious objectors from Turkey in the asylum procedure. Contact with the asylum seekers is often very difficult, since they are usually relocated to remote asylum camps. The asylum procedure, and especially the recognition criteria, are so strict and complex that even specialists can hardly understand them. Often it is their lawyers who contact us. In some cases, courts not only from Germany but also from Austria, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands contact us for information. And since many of the conscientious objectors from Turkey are neither granted asylum nor toleration nor the right to stay - they are deported. In these cases we try to mediate church asylum, or contact politicians and parliaments - and if it actually comes to deportation, we try to use our contacts in Turkey, so that the person in question has a contact person, for example in Istanbul, even if he is arrested immediately.
Conscientious objection in Turkey
For a long time we did not know that there were conscientious objectors in Turkey. It was only later that we learned about the first conscientious objectors, Tayfun Gönül and Vedat Zencir, in 1989 and 1990 respectively, and their declaration in the magazine sokak (street). Essential for us was Osman Murat Ülke, called Ossi. He was born in North Rhine-Westphalia and grew up in Pforzheim. At the age of 15, his parents put him in a “terrible boarding school” near Izmir in Turkey, from which he soon emancipated himself. After experiencing the extreme militarism of Turkish society, he decided to struggle against it. On September 1 (Anti-War Day) 1995, he publicly announced his conscientious objection in Izmir, burning his draft notice. With him was a War Resisters’ International (WRI) delegation from five countries. In the following years he found himself in a repetitive cycle of conscription, criminal proceedings, and prison. He appealed to the European Court of Human Rights - and was proven right in 2006. The court called his fate a “civil death,” awarded him compensation and demanded that the human right to conscientious objection, now accepted at both the European and international levels, be accepted by Turkey as well. The Turkish state paid the fine according to the decision to the European Court but didn’t legalize the status of Ossi. He is still living under the condition of “civil death”.
We supported Ossi in many ways. Thus we had already invited him before his public refusal several times for traineeships and round trips to Germany (together with Aziz Koşgin and Christian Bartolf, 1993 and 1995) in order to ensure solidarity for him for his foreseeable imprisonment. In 1995, he was here for the International Day of Conscientious Objection (the motto being: “Conscientious objectors need asylum!”). He was enabled to give a speech in German parliament, and a reception was held in parliament by Vice President Antje Vollmer (The Green Party), from which members of parliament/”experts” from the SPD and CDU distanced themselves, since conscientious objection was merely an “exceptional right”. Through the Central Office for the Right and Protection of Conscientious Objection (Zentralstelle KDV) contact could be made with all parties in the parliament. Ossi and Aziz brought their concerns to a meeting there, and the parliamentarians then became really active, for example Thomas Kossendey from the CDU. Of course, in practice, they too hardly achieved anything decisive. This also applies to the manifold worldwide activities for Ossi by Amnesty International in April 1997. With our support, three important prizes were awarded to the SKD or to him directly: in 1996 the Friedrich Siegmund-Schultze-Förderpreis (Protestant Church), in 1997 the Bavarian Peace Prize of the DFG-VK Bavaria and in 2007 the Clara-Immerwahr-Prize of the IPPNW (International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War), each of which was again accompanied by quite a bit of press publicity.
After him, we supported dozens of other conscientious objectors and made their cases public. Most of these we supported by conducting fax actions to Turkish authorities. On December 3, 1999, we placed advertisements in newspapers (Süddeutsche Zeitung and Evrensel as well as Özgür Politika) demanding legalization of conscientious objection. Those Turkish newspapers were then confiscated.
Ossi was also the one who, together with other conscientious objectors and supporters, helped to establish the first conscientious objection organization in Turkey in December 1992: ISKD (İzmir Savaş Karşıtları Derneği). The countless solidarity activities for Ossi and then for the others, who by no means came only from Germany, also ran through the ISKD.
In the 90s there was still a lively conscientious objection movement in Europe, to which also the Turkish belonged. So it was daring but logical to host the annual International Conscientious Objectors Meeting (ICOM) in July 1993 in Turkey, in Ören, on the Aegean coast. In the end, 90 people came from 19 countries, including Colombia. Communication was certainly not easy. So it remained a mystery to me until the end what drove the large number of Turkish anarchists’ interest was in the meeting, since without interpreters a conversation was simply not possible. But the interest in each other was all the greater for it, and as a result led to both a strengthening of conscientious objectors in Turkey and more international solidarity. There was also a remarkable amount of press coverage. For example, Rudi Friedrich gave a full-page interview to the daily newspaper “Aydınlık” (Light) on the human right to conscientious objection.
On November 8, 1993, SKD Izmir was banned; it had about 300 members at the time. Journalists who reported on conscientious objectors were arrested and their newspapers closed. The association was able to be re-established in February 1994, and a brochure “Military Justice in Turkey” (May 1994) was produced. Time and again, there were proceedings against the association, but the association was still able to continue the work. I was in Izmir for a month in 1999 and I still remember the rooms crowded with young people.
The SKD was later dissolved, but the contacts with those who were active at that time still continue on a private level.
In order to be able to support Ossi better, and subsequently to be able to spread information (also e.g. about prison conditions) and to coordinate solidarity activities, we founded an international alarm network in January 1994, which still exists today (together with WRI). If necessary, the respective contacts to media and politics can be activated.
On September 1, 1993, 40 people founded Istanbul SKD, and on May 17, 1994, shortly after conscientious objection activities, four activists were arrested and the association was closed. On September 1, they wanted to establish it again, but the police prevented it.
It was not until 2013 that the VR-DER (Vicdani Ret Derneği/Association for Conscientious Objection) was able to re-emerge in Istanbul. Today, it is the only one in Turkey. We have maintained a good contact with the association.
In 1993 there were also first contacts between the counseling center for Greek conscientious objectors, which existed in Germany at the time, and those in Turkey. There were also contacts at the ICOM 1997 on the Greek island of Ikaria. This led to a common understanding so that conscientious objectors from Turkey and Greece were supporting each other, e.g. in trials. Conscientious objectors from Turkey also got involved, for example, in 2009 on behalf of those in Israel with a protest in front of the embassy. This solidarity developed into the Mediterranean Meeting on Conscientious Objection, which took place in Cyprus in 2014, with participants from Cyprus, Northern Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Palestine and Egypt, among others. This then grew into a platform for mutual support.
“If you’re on your own, they’ll put you down” sang the German band Ton Steine Scherben. This is especially true for conscientious objectors. If life in a militarized environment is already hard to bear, nothing good can be expected from the concentrated power of the state, the military and the judiciary. It takes a support group. It takes publicity. All this must be organized long before the declaration of refusal. Then, building on that, international solidarity can take place. Even if it cannot be proven in a 1:1 ratio according to the action-effect theorem, we have repeatedly found that something can be achieved - even if it only means that the individual feels strengthened. This can be achieved by collecting signatures, petitions, fax campaigns, vigils in front of embassies and consulates, ideally coordinated in several cities or even in several countries at the same time. However, the physical presence of international delegations on site seems to me to be particularly important. Although it usually does not have much direct effect, it can make a difference. Observing trials is by no means a simple matter of flying there, being safe as a foreigner, holding up the flag and then reporting on it at home.
There have been a lot of proceedings against conscientious objectors - but you cannot be present at all of them. Dates are often being postponed. And then the hearings do not always take place in the big cities with airports. Often there are still 1,000 km to be travelled by bus.
So when a request comes from Turkey for an international delegation to observe a certain process, we usually consult on an international level and try to organize as many different people from different countries as possible. This can also be quite dangerous for them. Some could already be prevented from entering the country. That is why it is important to establish the appropriate infrastructure at home in advance, with emergency telephones, contacts with the Foreign Office, etc. At the same time, the structure in the country of origin must be set up. At the same time, however, the structure in Turkey itself must be clear: Who will accompany the delegation, whom will they meet, who will translate?
For the International Day of Conscientious Objection, in May 1994, there was to be not only a public refusal in Frankfurt, but in parallel one in Istanbul. To support the latter, Gernot Lennert and Christian Axnick of the DFG-VK Hessen went to Istanbul with Volker Thomas of the Darmstädter Signal, an organization of critical soldiers. The meeting with over 100 participants was broken up at the behest of the Ministry of the Interior, people were arrested and the association was banned. The three Germans were also arrested. Later they were released, but their papers were kept until the trial before the military court. It was a good thing that the alarm network existed - and it worked. The three were finally able to leave the country three weeks later.
A wide variety of reciprocal visits are also of great value for solidarity. There must have been dozens of them in the past years, both on an individual level and in an organized way. It has proved particularly useful to work together over a longer period of time, not only to get to know the people involved, but also to get to know the way they work.
Conscientious objectors have to live in illegality in Turkey. Since they have no papers, they cannot leave the country legally. Therefore it is the task of the supporters to draw attention to their situation and to organize solidarity for them. Thus, there were repeated invitations from other activists of the SKD, from lawyers, but also from refusers who still had valid papers. For example, the DFG-VK North Rhine-Westphalia planned to invite the conscientious objector lawyer Ahmet Hür and the conscientious objector Arif Hikmet Iyidoğan to Germany and the Netherlands for two weeks in January 98. Months before, they had already thought about what their program might look like. Of course, visits to groups of the DFG-VK with public events, Connection e.V., Pro Asyl, Republican Lawyers Association, medico international, the European Bureau for Conscientious Objection (EBCO), the War Resisters’ International in London, parliamentarians of all parties, Ministries of Justice, Foreign Office, European Parliament ... Certainly not everything could be realized and certainly not everything was successful. However, the confrontation with the subject is essential in such undertakings. And the visits are not only good for spreading information, but also for organizing solidarity. And they are also important for the people from Turkey themselves, so that they get an idea of who we are, how we work and what is feasible or not.
In the course of time, a number of newspaper projects have been established in connection with conscientious objection. These were founded either by conscientious objectors themselves or in cooperation with supporters. They had an enormous value for the propagation of ideas, the exchange and the cohesion of the activists. In the first two years, the SKD published the magazine Bakaya (Service Refugee), a magazine with an explicitly anti-militarist orientation, which Aziz Koşgin also helped to distribute in Germany. From January 1994 to the end of 1995, the really impressive Savaşa karsı Barış (War against Peace) was published, with 15 issues in a circulation of up to 2,500. Then it was confiscated, the editors arrested and put on trial. In 1996, the newspaper nisyan (Forgetting) was also created, about which I do not know more. In Germany, there were four issues of otkökü (grassroots, Turkish/German) from March 2001, essentially a project of Ossi as a supplement to the newspaper “graswurzelrevolution”. We produced KIRIK TÜFEK (The Broken Rifle) monthly from February 1994, in which we reported in German mainly about conscientious objection and its movement.
For the orientation of conscientious objectors living here, the booklet “Askere gitme! - Don’t join the military!” published by the DFG-VK North Rhine-Westphalia in 1990 was certainly important. In 1996, the booklet “Let’s refuse military service” was produced, in German and Turkish.
Reports about actions and cases were always found in ZivilCourage and graswurzelrevolution. But also the (normal) daily newspapers like tageszeitung, junge Welt, Jungle World, Frankfurter Rundschau, Welt, Süddeutsche Zeitung often reported in really serious and detailed articles.
Now most activities, statements and publications are published online. The main website about conscientious objection in Turkey is the page of the Association of Conscientious objection, www.vicdaniret.org. War Resisters’ International https://wri-irg.org/en/programmes/turkey-stop-cycle-violence as well as Connection e.V. www.Connection-eV.org/CO_Turkey are running own projects on it, too.
It should be clear: Anyone who has fled Turkey and is not allowed to work has no money. And this also goes for anyone who has to live in illegality in Turkey. And it is the same with the corresponding organizations. That is why not only we have collected money for certain projects again and again, but why we set up an extra solidarity account for this work in 2007. Money comes in, but it is not enough. So early on, together with the people from Turkey, we thought about which funds we could tap. Since we have had experience in this area for a long time, we have even held a fundraising seminar. We are also happy to make our experience and contacts available for new projects.
WRI Working Group “Stop the Cycle of Violence”
At the beginning of the violent clashes in southeastern Turkey in 2015/16, some of the activists in Turkey asked us for international support against the war. As a result, an international working group was formed under the umbrella of War Resisters’ International (WRI), comprising members from Connection e.V., Bund für Soziale Verteidigung (BSV), Internationaler Versöhnungsbund - Austrian branch, La Transicionera (Spain) and activists from Turkey. The working group called for a stop of the cycle of violence in Turkey. It organized a campaign against the war, sent a delegation to the war area, accompanied some criminal procedures against human rights activists in Turkey, and published several brochures and articles to raise awareness and support for the situation in the Southeast and the precarious situation of human rights activists. Most recently, the working group published a booklet on how people in Turkey can be supported from outside, i.e. from other countries, who are threatened with imprisonment and criminal proceedings.
Solidarity Work Today
Let us skip the next few years and come to the situation today. Many things have already been mentioned, and we do not want to repeat them. Therefore, only new things.
In Germany, there are still conscientious objectors from Turkey in the asylum process whom we are supporting, currently Beran Mehmet Işçi and Onur Erden. Together with them and their lawyers, we are preparing the next steps of the procedure in each case. We are trying to build up a support infrastructure in the area where they live and to organize press contacts and public appearances, e.g. at the Easter march.
Conscientious objectors from Turkey, even if they only have German citizenship, can be arrested at any time based solely on posts in social media when visiting their relatives in Turkey, for example. This has just happened to İlhami Akter - he refused in 1993 - who then fled on his own via Georgia. Also in this case, together with a solidarity group from Hamburg, where he lives, we tried to use all the contacts available (e.g. members of the Bundestag, Foreign Office, Mayor of Hamburg) to be helpful to him. Now he is happily back here and is writing a book about his fate, which we are helping him with.
The VR-DER has been working for years in three main areas: 1. counseling and support for current conscientious objectors, with appropriate actions 2. developing international pressure, for recognition of the right to conscientious objection, and 3. the situation of military conscripts (“suicides”). And finally, there are various charges against the association and active members of the association. Right now we are pursuing the idea of building up pressure again for the recognition of the right to conscientious objection. A Bulletin Conscientious Objection is now published every two months. For the association we have developed an extra donation campaign. In all these areas we mostly work together via video conferences.
On an international level, there is currently good cooperation with conscientious objectors from Turkey who have fled to other countries (Cyprus, France, Germany) and have a secure residence status there, resulting in this “book project”, for example. Here, too, communication, which is restricted by the Coronavirus, takes place mainly via video conferences.
Review and outlook
In the course of time, an almost unmanageable number of groups and organizations in Germany have been active on behalf of conscientious objectors from Turkey. First and foremost, of course, there are the self-organization approaches, with groups in Frankfurt, Aachen, Dortmund, Kassel, Hamburg, Berlin... Then the cooperation with the local groups of the DFG-VK, state associations (with particularly many activities in Frankfurt/Hesse, Dortmund/North Rhine-Westphalia and Hamburg) and then also the federal association. But also the Campaign Against Conscription (Berlin), the self-organization of conscientious objectors and the total objectors with their magazine Ohne uns and the counseling centers for conscientious objectors of the churches were repeatedly involved. Some organizations of the peace movement also showed fundamental interest in the topic, in addition to those already mentioned, e.g. IdK Berlin (Internationale der Kriegsgegner*innen), Zentralstelle KDV, Internationaler Versöhnungsbund, Bund für Soziale Verteidigung, grassroot groups, Greenpeace, Ohne Rüstung Leben, Kurve Wustrow.
When it came to supporting someone in the asylum process, a completely different spectrum usually opened up: Asylum and human rights organizations such as Pro Asyl, Komitee für Grundrechte und Demokratie, Republikanischer AnwältInnenverein, kein mensch ist illegal, refugee councils - and at the local level, especially when someone was to be deported: From the school class to the parish (Pax Christi), the soccer club to the master baker, everything was there. Of course, almost all conscientious objector organizations in the European countries - and beyond - were active in solidarity work, e.g. the US Vietnam War veteran Greg Payton visited our friends in Turkey and left a powerful impression there. They continuously reported on the individuals and also set up actions themselves. A pivotal role is played by War Resisters’ International (WRI) in the exchange and worldwide dissemination of information. They are based in London, where the area of responsibility on conscientious objection is currently coordinated by a person from Turkey. Through the Turkey-Kurdistan working group there, worldwide solidarity campaigns are organized and international delegations are assembled. EBCO, the European Bureau for Conscientious Objection in Brussels, should not be forgotten. This office is primarily concerned with the right to conscientious objection in Europe also the implementation of legal requirements. EBCO puts pressure on the Council of Europe so that it will not forget the scandalous human rights situation of conscientious objectors in Turkey. There are also good contacts with the Quaker UN office in Geneva. There, the task is to enforce the right to conscientious objection worldwide. And since conscientious objection is also a matter of human rights, Amnesty International must not be omitted from the list, as it repeatedly draws attention to the precarious situation of individual conscientious objectors worldwide, for example through urgent actions. Even if in the area of lobbying, with governments, European parliament, European commission, Council of Europe and the UN surely no fast break-through is to be obtained, however, appropriate UN resolutions build up a certain degree of pressure, which the Turkish government must argue against over and over again.
As experience has shown, not only conscientious objectors are persecuted in Turkey, but also their organizations and media as well as, in principle, anyone reporting on them.
Turkey has, after the USA, the second largest army in NATO with 375,000 active soldiers. It is a state within a state. And this army is permanently deployed. Not exclusively but with particular instensity in the Kurdish areas. And more and more beyond the borders: Northern Cyprus, Northern Iraq, Syria, Libya, Mediterranean Sea, Azerbaijan/Armenia - and also in more and more African states. The current six months compulsory military service is a mandatory prerequisite for this. While a few years ago young men were able to avoid service relatively unproblematically, this is no longer so easy today due to a better registration and reporting system. Thus, at certain times, there have been as many as three-quarters of a million military draft evaders. (In 2014, the Turkish Statistical Office reported “up to 800,000” military draft evaders). Today, there are still several hundred thousands. Recruitment is going on for all it is worth. In addition only some newspaper headlines: “Grandpa of the company” - 71-old men drafted (Frankfurter Rundschau - 13.6.05). / 71-year-old drafted (Die Welt - 5.3.08). / Turkish army calls up 80-year-old for service (Frankfurter Rundschau - 2.4.11).
And there are checks and searches everywhere in the country; for example, in 2013 from Oct. to Dec. almost 5,000 conscientious objectors were arrested during checks. Presumably, more than 1,000 publicly known conscientious objectors are also exposed to this danger.
Concluding remark: Even if the right to conscientious objection is certainly of enormous importance, on the other hand - as experience shows - it is a right which must be applied for and not everyone is granted this right. Substitute service is virtually a punishment for claiming that right. It would mean progress if not only universal pacifists were granted the right to conscientious objection, but if recognition of selective objection were also possible, so that Kurds, for example, would no longer have to shoot “at their brothers.” Moreover, we should keep in mind: The concern of conscientious objection is, of course, to end war - and this includes the abolition of conscription and armies. Only then can we live in peace.
And of course: conscientious objectors and deserters alike do need asylum! On June 27, 2007, Mustafa Alcali, a deserter from Turkey, hanged himself in deportation custody in Frankfurt/M. There is still a lot to do!
Franz Nadler: 25 years of solidarity with conscientious objectors from Turkey. 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