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Turkey: Conscientious objector’s day - Security or freedom?
by Halil Savda
Conscientious objection, which started 200 years ago in other parts of the world, has only now become visible in Turkey. But the history of the Ottoman empire, with its myth of "the prophets army", and the history of the Republic of Turkey, with it’s myth that "every Turk is born a soldier", is actually full of stories of individual and collective evasion of military service, as if making fun of these very myths. My family history is also full of these stories. My grandfather Ali lived 7 years escaping the draft. He escaped from the military many times. In my grandfathers time there was no conscientious objector movement but he knew to act according to his conscience. I took a different path. Like other conscientious objectors, I declared my refusal to kill and be killed openly as a conscientious objector.
In Turkey this movement was started by Anarchists. In 1989, when Tayfur Gönül and Vedat Zincir announced their conscientious objections, Turkey was in a state of intense civil conflict. Villages were being emptied. Murders were being committed openly in the middle of the street that would never be solved. In conflicts that were happening, soldiers, guerrillas, and civilians were being killed. All of this was done under an empty nationalist rhetoric.
For this reason the slogan "we will not kill, we will not die, we will not be anyone’s soldier" shows the character and the intellectual background of the conscientious objector movement in Turkey. This slogan has to do with the war resistance, anti militarist and pacifist nature of this tradition. The slogan "refuse, resist, say no, don’t join the army" is the expression of a firm stance and brave resistance to oppression.
In the nineties conscientious objection became well known with Osman Murat Ülke. In Izmir and in Istanbul, the "War Resisters Association" was formed. Individuals of Socialists, Anarchists and war resisters provided a lot of support for this formation.
In the 2000s, names like Mehmet Tarhan, Mehmet Bal, Enver Aydemir, Inan Süver, and Muhammed Serdar Delice became know in the public discourse. Today, in the conscientious objector movement there are socialists, Jehovah’s witnesses, Islamists, Kurds, Women and even nationalists. The spectrum has grown a lot larger. The movement is now stronger, because the struggle draws support from every part of society.
In the future, the generals, with their epaulets on their shoulders and the fancy medals they hang around their necks, will not be able to write history; pacifists and men and women who are conscientious objectors will.
In the international conscientious objector conference, which happened in July 1993 in the Milas district of Mugla province with the participation of 90 people from 40 countries, it was decided that may 15th would be celebrated as world conscientious objector day. The first celebration of this day happened in 1997.
May 15th international conscientious objector day will be celebrated in Turkey, which has a 30 year history of conscientious objecting. The events, which will be spread out over a week, will start with brochures being handed out in Istanbul in front of Galatasaray High School. The events will be spread out over 9 days and the following topics will be discussed:
1. War and children
2. Conscientious objection from an Islamic perspective
3. The Politics of prisoners of war
4. Conscientious objection and the law
5. Suspicious Soldier deaths
6. Neither School nor Barracks
7. Where are women in the war
8. Militarism cannot be trusted
In the photograph exhibition, which will re-open, conscientious objectors will be shown. The events will end on may 20th with the march that will happen and the speeches given by conscientious objectors.
For one week, the relationships between security, freedom, and peace will be discussed. Less security, more freedom, less security, more peace! We live in a typical security state. Our demand for more freedom is a stance against this understanding and structure of "security". For example the Kurdish problem can be solved not with more security precautions but with more freedom and more peace. More peace and more bread... Because the livelihood, sweat, and money of the people is being given to weapons, soldiers, and the security apparatus. More security, more weaponization; less bread. The "May 15th Platform", which organized the events, said in its declaration, "As conscientious objectors, war resisters and anti militarists, we will express our stance against the war that is going on and militarism in general through the events that we organize, and develop this stance further." The declaration also notes that militarism persists everywhere and continues to have a large influence. Also it is noted that there is a militaristic law against "Alienating the people from the military", and people are thrown into jail for this. It has also become a tradition to make collective statements of conscientious objection on every conscientious objection day, and they will also happen this year.
Governments are giving us their security policies and apparatus as the only truth.
Conscientious objectors, war resisters, anti militarist men and women know that a free and peaceful world is possible and they will spread this message to us for a week.
Halil Savda: Dünya Vicdani Retçiler Günü: Güvenlik mi özgürlük mü? Column in Yeni Özgür Politika, 14 May 2012. http://www.yeniozgurpolitika.org/index.php?rupel=nivis&id=1695. Translation: Payday