Booklet Conscientious Objection in Turkey, 2021
(15.05.2021) In Turkey, the first conscientious objectors publicly declared their objections in the early 1990s and stood up against war, the military and compulsory service. At first there were only a few who decided to go public, like Vedat Zencir, Tayfun Gönül or Osman Murat Ülke. In the meantime, far more than 1,000 conscripts have declared their conscientious objections. Furthermore, hundreds of thousands have evaded military service, using other ways or hiding. Faced with prosecution, several hundred have sought asylum abroad.
This booklet is published 30 years after the first public declarations of conscientious objection. It takes stock, describes the solidarity work for the conscientious objection movement from abroad and gives a voice to conscientious objectors, some of whom were active in Turkey for years and have now gone into exile, with an uncertain outcome.
At the same time the booklet is going to be published on May 15, 2021, the International Day of Conscientious Objection. Many other events, videos and actions will make the voice of conscientious objectors from Turkey heard around the world. Find out more at https://de.Connection-eV.org/CODay2021 and www.wri-irg.org/en/CODay2021.
Failure in legislation of the right to conscientious objection
By now Turkey is the only member state in the Council of Europe that has not recognised the right to conscientious objection to military service. Conscientious objectors are forced by many different sanctions to undergo military service. As a result of these sanctions, objectors are facing continuous arrest warrants; a life-long cycle of prosecutions and imprisonment, and a situation of “civil death” which excludes them from social, cultural and economic life.
Legislative steps were taken on compulsory military service and also on the length of military service. A new recruitment law reduced military service in 2019 to six months. Nevertheless, the submitted draft of a law on conscientious objection prepared by the HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) a few years ago was rejected by the votes of the government party and other parties. Proposals by the HDP were also rejected in the legislative process for the new law in 2019. As a result, there is nothing in it about the right to conscientious objection.
There is a special feature in Turkey: the substitute payment for shortening military service for conscripts. According to Article 9 of the Recruitment Law, military service may be reduced to one month subject to payment of an amount equivalent to about €5,000. However, since this still involves military training, the substitute payment is not an option for conscientious objectors.
Prosecution and civil death
Objectors are still criminalised as draft evaders. An arrest warrant, continuously in effect, is issued and due to this, objectors might get detained in any ID checks by police/gendarmes. After first detainment objectors are given an administrative fine. At the same time, they receive a new call-up and are thus still held liable to military service. Once the administrative fine has become effective, every new detainment entails a new Article 63 Military Criminal Code procedure, with sentences from 2 months to 3 years or issuance of a fine (which is actually more common).
Furthermore, facing a vicious circle of arrest, criminal proceedings and re-enlistment combined with a lifelong conscription exposes them to “civilian death”, a term coined by the European Court of Human Rights in Ülke v. Turkey (application no. 39437/98).
Conscientious objectors cannot work in the public or private sector, as it is considered a criminal offence to employ conscientious military objectors. Conscientious objectors are thus forced to remain unemployed or to work illegally in precarious jobs. Conscientious objectors also have no right to vote or stand for election. Since any arrest will result in further prosecution, conscientious objectors must avoid activities in the social, economic, legal and cultural spheres: getting passports, driving licences, staying in hotels, travelling, using public transport, visiting government offices and much more. They are thus forced into an underground way of life. As there have not been any changes despite the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, most recently in June 2020 the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, which supervises the implementation of the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, took a position. We document the decision on page 6.
This situation also applies to conscripts who have refused to join the army but have not declared their conscientious objections yet.
In addition, public statements, e.g. at press conferences, actions or even in social media can be prosecuted. According to Article 318 of the Turkish Penal Code, “alienating people from the army” is punishable. Prosecution for “making propaganda for a terrorist organization” based on Article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law is also possible. In recent years both threats of punishment have been used against conscientious objectors and activists for peace and human rights.
The road to exile
The situation in Turkey is leading to more and more conscientious objectors seeking protection and asylum in other European countries. In Europe, however, they experience that persecution of conscientious objection is rarely seen as a reason to be recognized as a refugee. Usually, persecution is seen as a legitimate measure in Turkey to enforce conscription. Because of that they are threatened with deportation to the warlords in Turkey, which is an unbearable situation. The limits and possibilities of the asylum procedure are explained in the article on Conscientious Objection and Asylum.
A main focus of this booklet is on the reports of conscientious objectors who have gone into exile. They portray the everyday reality of militarism in Turkey. Beran Mehmet İşçi, Ercan Aktaş, Halil Savda, Mertcan Güler and Onur Erden make clear how important their decisions against war and violence are to them and what repressions they were consequently subjected to. Despite all the imprisonment, torture and repression they have suffered, the reports radiate something positive, pleading for a world without war, oppression, military and violence.
Many thanks to Tuğce Oklay, René Burget, Hans Gehring, Mertcan Güler, Thomas Stiefel, Suzanne Glaner, Osman Murat Ülke and Cemal Sıncı for the help and translation to made this publication possible!
Rudi Friedrich: Introduction to booklet Conscientious Objection in Turkey, May 15, 2021 Editors: Connection e.V., Union Pacifiste de France and War Resisters International, May 2021