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International Conscientious Objectors Day — 15 May 1994

Conscientious Objection in Turkey: Arrest of 9 CO Activists in Istanbul

"Turkey is waging a war against the Kurdish people. This causes suffering both to the Turkish and the Kurdish people. A lot of young men die in this war. I would like this long war to end and to see the Turkish and the Kurdish populations finally living together in peace. Declaring my conscientious objection publicly is my contribution to ending the conflict." Mehmed Ekinci spoke these words at a press conference organised in Frankfurt (Germany) on International Conscientious Objection Day, as he and eight other Turkish and Kurdish men announced their decision to refuse incorporation into the army.

Another press conference took place in Istanbul. This time, five men made their conscientious objection public. One of them announced that he was speaking in the name of another 150 COs. International CO Day was also celebrated in Austria, Switzerland, Spain, France, Poland, Belgium and the Netherlands.

With the intensification of the war in Kurdistan, the Turkish military has taken various measures to counter an alleged shortfall of conscripts. Already twice this year, in January and April, serving soldiers had their discharges postponed for three months. In addition, a quarter of a million men evading registration with the army were threatened with up to two years jail sentences, unless they reported by 19 May.

Following such measures, public protest increased. Soldiers and students took to the streets, and women who refusing to send their sons to war created an organisation. The latest actions happened on International CO day, when over 160 people publicly declared themselves conscientious objectors, all this despite threats of repression by the Turkish army. Just the fact of publicly declaring oneself a CO is regarded by military law as a case of "stirring up the people against the army" and punishable with several years in prison.

The Turkish state reacted promptly to the public declarations on 17 May. The same day, nine people were arrested in Istanbul: two Turkish men who declared their conscientious objection at the Istanbul press conference, the chairs of SKD Istanbul and SKD Izmir, two Turkish women, and the three members of a German peace delegation. The two women and the German activists were released the following day. The foreigners' passports were confiscated pending a decision by the local authorities to either charge them or deport them (see update below).

This situation forces many COs and deserters to flee abroad. The organisation of Turkish COs in Germany (Savas Hizmetini Reddedenler Girisimi, SHRG) and other German peace groups exposed their cases at the press conference in Frankfurt. Aydin Yapici, one of the Turkish COs, spoke of his hopes: "When I was in Turkey, I used to dream about going to another, more democratic country. I finally managed to come to Germany. I assume that this country respects human rights. Because I believe this, I have decided to stay here and to refuse to do my military service. I am placing myself under the protection of Germany's basic rights".

Unfortunately, Germany is among the many countries which do not grant asylum on the basis of conscientious objection. Many European states do not object to seeing totalitarian countries force young people into the army, since they themselves practise conscription. It does not really matter to them that in some cases conscientious objectors or deserters face the death penalty for their action.

The organisers of the press conference made clear that they wanted to change the situation. By demanding the right of asylum for conscientious objectors, they are taking one step to end the atrocities of war.

(Rudi Friedrich, Connection e.V.)

Update on the CO arrests in Istanbul:

As of 25 May, the three German peace activists arrested on 17 May and released by the Turkish authorities the following day cannot leave the country. They have been summoned to appear before a military court in Ankara. They are accused of "stirring up the population against the army", but have not been formally charged. It is still not sure whether they will have to stand trial.

The four imprisoned Turkish COs will stand trial on 6 June. Three of them, Osman Murat Ülke, Mehmet Sefa Fersal and Arif Hikmet Iyidogan, are "only" charged with "violation against order of assembly". The appear in military court on 6 June when they might be released. However, the public prosecutor might still decide to charge

them also with "stirring up the population against the army" (article 155), which could bring longer imprisonment. Even if the three men are freed after the trial, they still might be called up to the Turkish army. The fourth prisoner, Gokhan Demirkiran, is in a very difficult situation. He has been charged with article 155 and faces a long jail sentence.

The WRI Turkey Working Group is considering sending an international delegation to Turkey once the situation becomes clearer.

Contacts: Savaş Karşitlari Derneǧi Izmir, 1468 Sokak No 14, Alsancak, Izmir, tel/fax +90 232 464 0842;

Savaş Karşitlari Derneǧi Istanbul, Büyük Parmakkapi Sk No 26 Kat 2, Beyoǧlu, Istanbul, tel/fax: +90 212 244 3121, email: skd-ist@info-ist.comlink.de;

Connection e.V. (also the WRI Turkey Working Group), Bruder-Grimm-Str. 63, 63069 Offenbach/Main, Germany; tel/fax: +49 69 84 50 16;

SHRG, c/o Aziz Koşgin, Zehnthofweg 18, 52068 Aachen, tel/fax; +49 241 83147.