Conscientious objection in Turkey

"Patriotic service is a right and duty for every Turkish citizen", states article 72 of the Turkish constitution. Military service is thus a seemingly inevitable part of a Turkish man's life, and the thought that a man who is not physically unfit would not serve in the country's military can almost not be voiced in public. Turkey as a military-nation and the myth that "every Turk is born a soldier" has been carefully crafted since the early times of the new Turkish republic, and only recently does this myth begin to show cracks.

A conscientious objection movement

In December 1989, Tayfun Gönül was the first person to publicly declare his conscientious objection, soon to be followed by Vedat Zencir in February 1990. Both cases received quite a lot of public attention, and in December 1992 the first Turkish War Resisters Association was set up in Izmir - the beginning of what can maybe be called a conscientious objection movement.

In the following years, several young men declared their conscientious objection, and in 1993 the International Conscientious Objection Meeting (ICOM) in Ören in Turkey injected a lot of enthusiasm and energy into the young movement.

Initially, the movement mainly faced prosecution under Article 155 (now 318 - see Article on page 4), but no conscientious objector went to prison for his objection. This only changed with the arrest of Osman Murat Ülke on 7 October 1996 (see right column). However, even during the time of Osman's imprisonment the Turkish government avoided to imprison other declared conscientious objectors, although some tried to provoke their arrest.

In March 1999 Osman Murat Ülke was released from prison, back to a clandestine life. Since then, several other conscientious objectors spent time in prison - Halil Savda, Mehmet Bal, Mehmet Tarhan - only to be released after several months into a life amounting to "civil death".

Nevertheless, up to now more than 60 people have publicly declared their conscientious objection, demanding a right that Turkey does not want to recognise.

Progress?

Initially, the ECHR judgement in the case of Osman Murat Ülke raised hope that soon the situation could be resolved. However, recent developments are less positive - especially the obstructive behaviour of the Turkish state when it comes to the implementation of the ECHR judgement in the case of Osman Murat Ülke.

But Ülke's case is not the only negative indicator: in the case of a Jehovah's Witness objector, the Military Court of Cassation in Ankara ruled on 29 May 2007 that repeated punishment for 'persistent disobedience' is lawful - again in complete ignorance of the judgement of the ECHR in the case of Osman Murat Ülke. The court does not even see a need to argue its case against the ECHR judgement.

However, in its communication with the Council of Europe on the implementation of the ECHR judgement, the Turkish government said that a law is under preparation that will put an end to the violation of human rights that Ülke and other conscientious objectors faced and still face. Nobody knows this draft law yet, and it has to be noted that nowhere does the Turkish government mention that this will recognise the right to conscientious objection. It might take more ECHR judgements to convince Turkey that conscientious objection is a human right...

More information: http://wri-irg.org/co/turkcampaign-en.htm

List of declared Turkish conscientious objectors

1 1989, December Tayfun Gonul ISTANBUL
2 1990, February Vedat Zencir IZMIR
3 1993, January 16 Erkan Calpur IZMIR
4 1993, January 16 Atilla Akar IZMIR
5 1993, January 16 Yusuf Dogan IZMIR
6 1993, March Yavuz Atan ISTANBUL
7 1994, May 17 Gökhan Demirkiran ISTANBUL
8 1994, May 17 Arif Hikmet Iyidogan ISTANBUL
9 1995, September 1 Osman Murat Ülke IZMIR
10 2000, May 15 Ugur Yorulmaz ISTANBUL
11 2000, May 15 Timuçin Kizilay ISTANBUL
12 2000, May 15 Hasan Cimen ISTANBUL
13 2001, October 27 Mehmet Tarhan ISTANBUL
14 2001, October 27 Erdem Yalcinkaya ISTANBUL
15 2003, January 22 Mehmet Bal MERSIN
16 2003, January 24 Erkan Ersoz ISTANBUL
17 2003, January 24 Sertac Girgin ISTANBUL
18 2003, January 24 Emir Uner ISTANBUL
19 2003, January 24 Mustafa Seyhoglu ISTANBUL
20 2003, May 15 Sami Serkan Kazak ISTANBUL
21 2003, May 15 Ahmet Cem Ozturk ISTANBUL
22 2003, November 20 Tugkan Tug IZMIR
23 2004, May 15 Mahmut Elkus ISTANBUL
24 2004, May 15 Cemal Karakus ISTANBUL
25 2004, May 15 Ersan Ugur Gor ISTANBUL
26 2004, May 15 Yasar Oner ISTANBUL
27 2004, May 15 Inci Aglagul ISTANBUL
28 2004, May 15 Ebru Topal ISTANBUL
29 2004, May 15 Yontem Yurtsever ISTANBUL
30 2004, May 15 Nazan Askeran ISTANBUL
31 2004, May 15 Hurriyet Sener ISTANBUL
32 2004, June 28 Dogan Ozkan ISTANBUL
33 2004, June 28 Sinan Dundar ISTANBUL
34 2004, September 5 Omer Sezer ANKARA
35 2004, September 5 Imdat Sanli ANKARA
36 2004, September 5 Ismail Sabanci ANKARA
37 2004, September 5 Salih Arikan ANKARA
38 2004, September 5 Hasan Akyurek ANKARA
39 2004, September 5 Levent Duranyan ANKARA
40 2004, September 23 Ceylan Ozerengin ISTANBUL
41 2004, October 4 Sahin Ozbay ISTANBUL
42 2004, October 28 Necdet Ozaktin ISTANBUL
43 2004, November 26 Halil Savda CORLU
44 2004, December 18 Veli Akdag IZMIR
45 2005, January 3 Necati Balbay LULEBURGAZ
46 2005, May 14 Ferda Ulker IZMIR
47 2005, May 14 Ayten Demir IZMIR
48 2005, May 14 Yahsan Catak IZMIR
49 2005, May 14 Hilal Demir IZMIR
50 2005, May 14 Bulent Bektas IZMIR
51 2005, May 14 Ayse Girgin IZMIR
52 2005, May 14 Mehmet Od IZMIR
53 2005, May 14 Fikret Yetisener IZMIR
54 2005, May 14 Eylem Baris IZMIR
55 2005, May 14 Ercan Aktas IZMIR
56 2005, August 3 Figen ISTANBUL
57 2005, August 3 Erkan Yertutan ISTANBUL
58 2006, May 15 Ahmet Ozdemir ANKARA
59 2006, November 15 Ismail Saygi ISTANBUL
60 2007, April 19 Gökhan Aydin KOCAELI
61 2007, May 13 Ahmet Aslan ISTANBUL
62 2007, May 20 Özlem Mollamehmetoglu ISTANBUL