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Northern Cyprus: New conscientious objection initiative

Almost 15 years after Salih Askerogul refused to perform military service, a new initiative for the right to conscientious objection has been formed in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The new Initiative for Conscientious Objection in Cyprus (north) "works to support and solve the problems of all persons that see militarism as an obstacle in front of peace, democratization and establishment of a truly civilian administration." The initiative "struggles for abolishing of laws that consider any anti-militarist stance as "alienating the public from military service" and therefore, illegal. There are no conditions that justify the right of conscientious objection -- which is a defense of life -- to be considered a subject of prosecution by the militarist establishment. It is also against the military court system which even the soldiers do not deserve, and works for its abolishing according to the principle of a single rule of law."

The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is internationally not recognised, and thus in a legal limbo as far as international legal standards and treaties are concerned. The only country that recognised the republic is Turkey.

The constitution of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus recognises freedom of conscience in Article 23, but does not explicitly mention the right to conscientious objection. However, Article 74 states: "National service in the armed forces shall be the right and sacred duty of every citizen."

The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus has an indigeneous 5,000-man Turkish Cypriot Security Force (TCSF), which is primarily made up of conscripted Turkish Cypriot males between the ages of 18 and 30. The TCSF is lightly armed and heavily dependent on its mainland Turkish allies, from which it draws much of its officer corps. It is led by a Brigadier General drawn from the Turkish Army. It acts essentially as a gendarmerie with a self-proclaimed mission of protecting the border of the TRNC from Greek Cypriot incursions and maintaining internal security within the TRNC.

In addition, the mainland Turkish Armed Forces maintain a Cyprus Turkish Peace Force (CTPF) consisting of around 30-40,000 troops drawn from the 9th Turkish Army Corps and comprising two divisions, the 28th and 39th. The Turkish Air Force, Turkish Navy and Turkish Coast Guard also have a presence in Northern Cyprus.

Conscription is regulated by the 2000 Military Service Law (59/2000). All men between the ages of 19 and 30 are liable for military service. The length of military service is 15 months. A reduced term of service is possible for those who are considered as Turkish Cypriot citizens and who reside abroad.

The new initiative works to establish the right of conscientious objection in the constitution itself, as it is now considered a "basic human right" by the modern civilization. The compulsory military service in Cyprus should be re-organized according to the European Union norms and United Nations advisory decisions. We demand that the 74th article of the constitution of the administration of the northern part of Cyprus which defines compulsory military service as "a duty to the homeland" of all citizens is changed to include a clause to the effect that allows the right of conscientious objection.

Sources: Refusing to bear arms: Cyprus, Northern or Turkish Cyprus, country report, 1998, and 2005 revision; Initiative for Conscientious Objection in Cyprus (north): General Aims, Principles, and an Open Call, December 2007; Constitution of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, "Cyprus." Jane's Sentinel: Eastern Mediterranean, issue 22, 2007.