Conscientious objection, which means the individuals rejection to doing military service for moral choice, religious belief or political ideas, appeared first in 18th century England
among the members of a religious order named ‘Quaker’ who rejected resorting to violence due to their religious beliefs. Turkey was introduced with conscientious objection
in 1990, when Vedat Zencir ve Tayfun Gönül announced that they were conscientious objectors. In 1996 with the arrest of Osman Murat Ülke, the head of Izmir Anti-war
Association, under the 155th item of the Turkish Penal Code for committing the crime of ‘disinclining the public off the army’, the issue became the order of the day. Ülke
was in jail for 701 days for conscientious objection, which is also considered as an act of civil disobedience. In January 2006, on the case of Ülke, ECHR decided that Turkey
infringed upon the ban on torture and maltreatment, personal security and freedom, respect to individual life and the freedom of thought, conscience and religion items of
the European Convention on Human Rights. In Turkey there are approximately 600 thousand soldier fugitives and 59 conscientious objectors. Among 46 member of the
Council of Europe there is no alternative to military service only in Turkey and Azerbaijan, which is currently working on an alternative civil service legislation draft.
Ersan Uğur Gör, whom we interviewed for this issue, made his conscientious objection public in the Militourism Festival in 2004. Gör, who met activism through University
Students Coordination in 1995, has been taking part in anti-militarist organizations since then. When he went to Sivas to support Mehmet Tarhan’s court case, they wanted
to take him under custody claiming that he was a soldier fugitive. He was taken into custody despite his resistance and was sued for ‘showing resistance’ to the police. Gör,
who had previously worked for Istanbul Antimilitarist Initiative, Solidarity Initiative for Mehmet Tarhan, also worked in organizations such as , Militurizm Festivals, traditional
conscientious objection rice day activities, we’re facing it Campaign, Antimilitarist Meeting, Mehmet Loves Barış Campaign, and Conscientious Objection Conference. Currently,
he is working in Conscientious Objection Platform.
A lot of people wonder why one would choose to be a conscientious objector
instead of living comfortably ? What will you say about this ?
As military service is obligatory for men in Turkey, the prerequisite of a comfortable
life is conducting that service. When I made my conscientious objection public, I was
aware that I was set on a long and painful journey. I knew that I would never be
peaceful if I had done my military service, held a weapon, learned how to use a
weapon, maybe shot at a creature, humiliated others and was humiliated myself,
filled with militarist elements and returned back to my own life. Whereas now I know
that I am not a spare part for the militarist structures and feel the relief of it. Twenty
years ago there were some stories my grandfather used to tell me. During Dersim
Revolt he was a soldier in the region and took part in putting down the revolt. Even
after fifty years, he would cry telling us that he had to kill a Kurdish woman. He still
had the weight on his conscience. As an individual, even if I cannot change the world,
I am doing my best to keep my thoughts, discourse and praxis integrated and live
accordingly as much as possible. It was also an option not to make
the objection public and survive within the cracks of the system
as a soldier fugitive but I wanted everyone to know that they
should not count on me when making some ‘sacred’ plans.
What do the concepts like nation, homeland, citizen mean
to a conscientious objector ?
In my understanding, nation includes all the creatures living around
the world. Being on top of the food chain, we consider ourselves
the owner of the world. As for homeland and citizen, I see them as
the vehicles of the official ideology. I do not adopt these concepts
as I think that they will entail an infinite number of demands
such as obligation, commitment and a recipe on how to live.
We should fight against them.
Last January, at the Conscientious objection Conference
held in Bilgi University, we had the opportunity to listen
to the experiences of conscientious objectors from different
countries. What can you say about the situation of
conscientious objection activists in Turkey in
comparison to their counterparts in other countries ?
The activists in the countries which took conscientious
objection as a basic human right with the liberatory
wind of the 60s are naturally in a different position.
Yet, I can tell that we show similarities with the
activists in Greece and Israel. We experience the same
difficulties in terms of reaching masses, organization
and support but the organization of the activists in
those countries is more pervasive and institutionalized. Recently, the fact that
conscientious objection supporters are faced with lynch and courthouse raids have
shown what kind of a taboo military is. Furthermore, in Turkey there is a crime
entitled ‘disinclining the public off the army’ which poses a threat to activists.
Is each conscientious objector an activist at the same ?
In my opinion, each conscientious objector is an activist in his/her life milieu.
Contentious objection movement has been trying to express itself for 20 years in
Turkey. Since objectors are people who announce their decisions publicly and do not
hide, it is possible that they talk about conscientious objection with the people they
meet sooner or later. I think that even the act of explaining what conscientious
objection is in a plain language is related to activism. Among the anti-militarists
there can be people who formerly took part in militarist structures, physically
challenged people, women and gays who are not obliged to do military service.
Does being a conscientious objector or an anti-militarist
activist affect your private life, the flow of your life in any
positive or negative way ?
First of all I need to be cautious as I do not want to spend
my life in prison. Like any other fugitive I face many hindrances
in social arena and am being pushed to underground. I take
the prevention of traveling as an abuse of my rights. The
problems that I had with my family because of my objection
are still continuing. The day after I made my objection
public, my parents told me that they would commit suicide
if I did not do my military service and they cried for
days. That period was really tough for me as death
appeared on both sides of the equilibrium. Then, I realized
how deep the affects of militarist manipulation was on
society. I am aware that I am just a fragile individual
who puts a spoke in government’s main mechanism. I know
that any moment something to ruin or end my life might
happen to me and I feel the terror of it from time to time.
In spite of this, my effort to live my life not in the way
the government defines but the way I believe eradicates
In Turkey, the family members and friends of young men who are
going to do their military service send them off by throwing them
in the air with the cheering “Our soldier is the greatest soldier”.
Conscientious Objection Platform