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Conscientious Objection in Turkey

International CO Day, 15 May, in many countries will focus on the theme "possibilities for nonviolent solutions for the conflict in Turkish Kurdistan". But Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Çiller has declared her intention of achieving a military solution by then, and as a result the situation is hotting up for Turkish war resisters.

The Turkish army, reporting a shortfall of 50,000 conscripts, has now adopted a get-tough policy. The quarter of a million men "registration evaders" — 22 per cent of the total eligible for conscription — have been given an ultimatum to report by the end of February or face "draconian punishments". In January, serving soldiers had their discharges postponed until after the local elections in March.

In Izmir, Savaş Karşitlari Derneǧi is seeking to re-establish itself after its application for registration was rejected in November. But its former chair, Aytek Özel, is now awaiting trial in Ankara. He gave himself up to the military court in February and, according to his lawyer, has been tortured.

The authorities had wanted Aytek since December 1993, when he was interviewed on the private television station HBB. Erhan Aykildiz and Ali Tevfik Berber, the journalists involved in the broadcast, were arrested shortly after the same interview, and are currently serving a two month sentence in military prison. There is another warrant out for the arrest of Menderes Metetli, a CO who participated in the same programme.

Two other TV journalists also face charges after interviewing serving soldiers about their views on the extension of the military service. And this, despite beginning the broadcast with a declaration of loyalty to the army.

Further arrests are expected in March, when the three-month ultimatum from the Minister of Defence expires. Before then, any draft evader who reports for duty will get away with a fine. Afterwards, those who have not reported are threatened with a prison term between six months and three years.

Even in recent years, the Turkish army — the largest in NATO except for the US Army — has had no shortage of conscripts: it has operated a scheme whereby those who could afford it could pay just over £1,000 to have their military service reduced to two months of basic training. In 1992, the length of military service was reduced by six months (from 18-21 months to 12-15), with plans for further reductions.

Defence minister Gölhan assured the Turkish public that there was no need for extra soldiers for the emergency in the South-East (that is, the war in Turkish Kurdistan, where — according to official figures — about 2,000 Turkish soldiers have been killed since 1984).

There are three war resisters' associations in Turkey: the largest in Izmir had its registration refused last November; the others in Ankara and Istanbul are in the process of applying to register. Some members of these groups have publicly announced their refusal to do military service, and they have now been joined by Turkish students currently living in Germany and Britain.

War resister Osman Murat Ülke returned from Germany to Izmir on 25 February in the company of five supporters from Germany and the Netherlands. As well as accompanying Osman, the group visited anti-militarist and human rights groups in Izmir and Istanbul. The WRI Working Group on Turkey and Kurdistan also planned a second, larger delegation for 16-30 April. This has now been cancelled because too few people had registered to take part by the March deadline. WRI Working Group Turkey-Kurdistan, Rudi Friedrich, Brüder-Grimm-Str 63, D-63069 Offenbach, Germany. Tel/fax: +49 69 845016