In 1989, for the first time in Turkey, Tay­fun Gönül and Vedat Zen­cir announced their con­sci­en­tious objec­tion through a cam­paign con­duct­ed by Sokak Mag­a­zine. Both were charged with the offense of “alien­at­ing peo­ple from mil­i­tary ser­vice” is gov­erned by the Arti­cle 318/1 of the Turk­ish Penal Code (TCK).

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In 1992, with the estab­lish­ment of the Anti-War Asso­ci­a­tion in Izmir, con­sci­en­tious objec­tion move­ment gained momen­tum. How­ev­er, new cas­es have start­ed to be brought against con­sci­en­tious objec­tors either.

The pres­i­dent of Anti-War Asso­ci­a­tion Osman Murat Ülke who declared their con­sci­en­tious objec­tion in 1995 was arrest­ed on 7 Novem­ber 1996 accord­ing to Arti­cle 155 of the Turk­ish Penal Code (TCK). Ülke was tried 8 times in a court on charges of “dis­obey­ing orders” and so, stayed 701 days in prison.

In 2006, Euro­pean Court of Human Rights con­demned Turkey in the case of Ülke’s tri­al and their pun­ish­ment con­sid­er­ing the Euro­pean Con­ven­tion on Human Rights (ECHR) under Arti­cle 3 of the “pro­hi­bi­tion of torture”.

Dur­ing this process, a mil­i­tary law amend­ment came with the reg­u­la­tion that “not to defend the idea of con­sci­en­tious objec­tion, but to declar­ing one­self as a con­sci­en­tious objec­tor” is a crime. Thus, con­sci­en­tious objec­tors began to be pro­tect­ed from Arti­cle 115.

Mehmet Bal, who declared their con­sci­en­tious objec­tion on Octo­ber 18, 2002 while doing mil­i­tary ser­vice, was impris­oned for 17 months in 2003/2004 due to same Arti­cle 155 of the Turk­ish Penal Code.

In 2001, Mehmet Tarhan declared their own con­sci­en­tious objec­tion. Tarhan was detained and arrest­ed on April 8, 2005 and sub­ject­ed to severe tor­ture as a result of being both “trai­tor” and “rot­ten” homosexual.

Mehmet Tarhan was tak­en to the dis­ci­pli­nary ward called “DISKO” (dis­co) in Sivas Mil­i­tary Prison. In here, their hair were forcibly cut. They were repeat­ed­ly beat­en and tried to be lynched. Tarhan tried to pro­tect him­self from these pres­sures by going on hunger strike.

Tarhan did not accept the “rot­ten report” that was asked to be giv­en because they were gay. They refused the report by say­ing “I regard this report as self-rot of the mil­i­tary order”.

After Mehmet Tarhan, İnan Süver was arrested.

Towards the end of the 2000s, with the social­iza­tion of con­sci­en­tious objec­tion, Enver Aydemir and Ser­dar Delice declared their con­sci­en­tious objec­tion. They were the first in Turkey to declare their con­sci­en­tious objec­tion due to reli­gious belief. They refused to serve in a “sec­u­lar” army. Both were tried in mil­i­tary courts and kept in prisons.

Yunus Erçep, Barış Görmez İlke, Fethi Demir­taş from the Jeho­vah’s Wit­ness­es who refused be armed fol­low­ing the promise of the Prophet Jesus “there will be no war“ were tried in a court and stayed in mil­i­tary prisons.

Law­suits that filed in 2016 against con­sci­en­tious objec­tor Ercan Jan Aktaş, Mer­al Gey­lani and Yan­nis Vasilis Yay­lalı under the Arti­cle 301 “Crimes against the Signs of Sov­er­eign­ty of the State and the Rep­u­ta­tion of State Organs” and Arti­cle 318 “Alien­at­ing Peo­ple From Mil­i­tary Ser­vice” are ongoing.

The severe expe­ri­ences faced by con­sci­en­tious objec­tors can be defined as “civ­il death” which was also stat­ed by ECHR in the case of Osman Murat Ülke. Con­sci­en­tious objec­tors do not have the free­dom to trav­el or stay. They can­not work in social secu­ri­ty jobs. Con­sci­en­tious objec­tors can­not con­tin­ue their lives at open house address­es, can­not work in any pub­lic job they want and final­ly can­not attend uni­ver­si­ty after a cer­tain age. They are sen­tenced to a bad life on their own far from the assur­ance of eco­nom­ic and social life.

Espe­cial­ly in recent years, high fines have been imposed on con­sci­en­tious objec­tors. Since they did not pay this mon­ey, their bank accounts were con­fis­cat­ed and blocked. Fol­low­ing this con­text, in 2008, the bank accounts of Yavuz Atan and in 2009 Burak Özgün­er and Şen­doğan Yazıcı’s accounts were blocked.

The case opened for Şen­doğan Yazıcı under Arti­cle 53/1 of the Turk­ish Penal Code points to a new sit­u­a­tion. Their tri­al for this arti­cle con­tin­ues. In case of being sen­tenced from this arti­cle, pos­si­ble results would be as in the following::

  1. Ban­ning from pub­lic office and civ­il service.
  2. Ban­ning from the right to vote and to be elected.
  3. Restraint of cus­tody and guardian­ship rights.
  4. Ban­ning from being a sup­port­er, mem­ber or admin­is­tra­tor of foun­da­tion, asso­ci­a­tion or polit­i­cal party
  5. Not being able to per­form the pro­fes­sion and art sub­ject­ed to the per­mis­sion of a pro­fes­sion­al organization.

In this way, “civ­il death” that con­sci­en­tious objec­tors in Turkey expe­ri­enced is com­bined with “legal death”. Thus, all liv­ing spaces of con­sci­en­tious objec­tors are being blocked and tak­en away from them. Through exclu­sion in the edu­ca­tion, expul­sion in the eco­nom­ic life, leav­ing with­out social secu­ri­ty, not being able to use the free­dom of trav­el and accom­mo­da­tion and being deprived of the right to vote, it is called to con­sci­en­tious objec­tors “you will either be a sol­dier, you will pay the mon­ey, or leave this coun­try and go”

Because of these harsh con­di­tions, in the last 3 years, dozens of con­sci­en­tious objec­tors aban­doned their cities, their lives and defect­ed to var­i­ous Euro­pean coun­tries. This heap escape continues.

Under above-stat­ed con­di­tions, remind­ing Turkey that its imple­men­ta­tions sub­ject con­sci­en­tious objec­tors to severe human rights vio­la­tions con­sid­er­ing the frame­work of inter­na­tion­al con­ven­tions and car­ry­ing out the nec­es­sary work has become urgent.

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Ercan Jan Aktaş
Objecteur de con­science, auteur et jour­nal­iste exilé en France. Vic­dan retçisi, yazar, gazete­ci. Şu anda Fransa’da sürgünde bulunuy­or. Con­sci­en­tious objec­tor, author and jour­nal­ist exiled in France.