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Fol­low­ing sev­er­al recent sus­pi­cious deaths of draftees in army bar­racks, army and Turk­ish gen­darmerie con­scripts sub­ject­ed to vio­lence lead­ing all the way to mur­der is once again in the news.

Efforts by the author­i­ties to cov­er up the sus­pi­cious nature of these deaths by pre­sent­ing thems as “sui­cides”, “acci­dents” due to a lost bul­let, or again as “sud­den heart attacks” do not con­vince the fam­i­lies nor a part of pub­lic opin­ion. In fact, such cas­es have exist­ed for a num­ber of years and increase dur­ing tense peri­ods such as today’s, peri­ods marked by the polar­iza­tion with­in soci­ety, by an out­ra­geous nation­al­ism and racism. Dis­crim­i­na­tion has shot up in recent years and is at the ori­gin of these recur­ring deaths.

Happy is he who calls himself a Turk”

Pro­vid­ing exact fig­ures is almost impos­si­ble because even orga­ni­za­tions in civil­ian soci­ety and those deal­ing with con­sci­en­tious objec­tors have trou­ble obtain­ing and list­ing these cas­es in an ade­quate way.

The last avail­able offi­cial fig­ures date back to the peri­od run­ning from 1992 to 2002 and reveal that 2 220 sus­pi­cious deaths of con­scripts were record­ed… as “sui­cides”. Begin­ning in 2002, at the start of Erdoğan and the AKP’s “reign”, the num­ber of deaths in bar­racks was unof­fi­cial­ly on the rise but the offi­cial records are silent. No inquiries take place, fam­i­ly’s requests are not fol­lowed up, lost in the labyrinths between jus­tice and a bureau­cra­cy con­trolled by those in pow­er. Every­thing is done to keep these deaths unno­ticed. Noth­ing remains oth­er than the tes­ti­monies by rel­a­tives brave enough to speak up before the media and by elect­ed mem­bers attempt­ing to bring up the mat­ter in the Turk­ish Parliament

Accord­ing the the Asso­ci­a­tion for the vic­tims of sus­pi­cious deaths in the mil­i­tary (Askeri Şüphe­li Ölüm­ler ve Mağ­durları Derneği)„ and accord­ing to infor­ma­tion col­lect­ed in the media and in ques­tions raised in Par­lia­ment, these cas­es num­bered 69 in 2012, 59 in 2013, 43 in 2014 and 13 in 2015.

A few examples among so many others…

Fol­low­ing the death of Yıl­maz Köse announced by the Turk­ish Armed Forces as a “sui­cide”, an appeal was made by the fam­i­ly to the Euro­pean Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and received a favor­able response on April 1st 2014; Turkey was con­demned to pay­ing indem­ni­ties to his par­ents. Even if, accord­ing to this deci­sion, Yıl­maz’ life was val­ued at the mod­est amount of 10 000 €, the fact that Turkey’s guilt was rec­og­nized in the vio­la­tion of the right to life, accord­ing to arti­cle 2 of the Euro­pean Con­ven­tion, marked an impor­tant point.

On Jan­u­ary 24 2017, the ECHR reached a sim­i­lar deci­sion in the case of Davut Cen­giz, a youth from Diyarbakır. This time the indem­ni­ty was set at 15 000 €.

On Octo­ber 20 2018, in the Orbay bar­racks of Sarıkamış in Kars, a young con­script was mor­tal­ly wound­ed to the head by a bul­let shot by his col­league. Accord­ing to the author­i­ties “they were teas­ing one anoth­er.”

On Octo­ber 26 2018, Ahmet Çevik, the lawyer for the Asso­ci­a­tion of vic­tims of sus­pi­cious deaths in the mil­i­tary, referred back to the “sui­cides” of Ömer Faruk Demirkol, a sol­dier at the gen­darmerie sta­tion in Islahiye qnd of Mehmet Bozte­pe, a young con­script from Urfa, affect­ed in Ankara. He also drew atten­tion to the fact that all judi­cial pro­ceed­ings con­cern­ing susupi­cious deaths in bar­racks are dis­missed and reit­er­at­ed the need for the recog­ni­tion to a “right to con­sci­en­tious objec­tion”.

On March 6 2019 in Silopi, Şır­nak, dis­trict, Uğur Çak­mak lost his life while he was on guard. Anoth­er “acci­den­tal” death caused by “a bul­let from a col­league”. As was the case for Muhammed Altuğ, a con­script in Lice, Diyarbakır dis­trict, killed “acci­den­tal­ly” on June 25 2019, five days before the end of his tour of duty, again by anoth­er sol­dier…

As the Turk­ish Army is total­ly closed to deal­ings with the out­side world, one can eas­i­ly esti­mate that such cas­es occur much more often than the ones report­ed in the media.

It is no acci­dent if the sol­diers thus los­ing their lives are almost always Kurds, Ale­vis, Arme­ni­ans or mem­bers of oth­er oppressed and dis­crim­i­nat­ed minori­ties, with­in a monis­tic Turkey where “hap­py is he who calls him­self a Turk”.

If you speak in Kurdish, you are a terrorist

osman ozcalimliOne of the lat­est recent cas­es involves a young Kurd, Osman Özçalım­lı a con­script gen­darme for bare­ly a month, affect­ed to the Ali­ağa prison in Izmir. Osman lost his life in murky cir­cum­stances, short­ly after call­ing his father on the phone a num­ber of times, and telling him “they’re after me, they call me a trai­tor to the Father­land, I’m being threat­ened.” His father man­aged to reach Osman­’s supe­ri­or at the bar­racks, to con­vey his con­cerns about his son. The mil­i­tary man reas­sured the father “we have solved the prob­lem.” Prob­lem solved nonethess by the son’s death on the fol­low­ing day… The dec­la­ra­tions of the young man’s supe­ri­ors to the fam­i­ly are dis­joint­ed and con­flict­ing. The cause of death is giv­en once as a heart attack, anoth­er time as defen­es­tra­tion, or yet again as “Osman may have fall­en and struck his head”, as told to the father by one of the supe­ri­ors… The par­ents are first informed of a hos­pi­tal­iza­tion fol­low­ing a faint­ing spell, then of their son’s death, fol­low­ing which they are advised to declare a heart attack so as not to raise protests in the native vil­lage.

“I spoke to my son in Kur­dish over the phone sev­er­al times, he then was threat­ened, and was treat­ed as a ter­ror­ist”, says Osman­’s father. In a few words, this sen­tence lays out the full scale of the true situation.

Militarism kills

For mil­i­tarism, the essen­tial thing is to fab­ri­cate ene­mies, a well-known method in Turkey, and not only with­in its army…It then fol­lows how much eas­i­er it is to kill them…

Bar­racks are the set­tings for vio­lence. These young con­scripts are killed by their peers and by their supe­ri­ors. Osman Özçalım­lı was Kur­dish, there­fore, nec­es­sar­i­ly a “ter­ror­ist”. Uğur Kan­tar was Kur­dish-Ale­vi a “mis­cre­ant ter­ror­ist”. Just as Deniz Yurt­sev­er was guilty of the dou­ble crime of being Kur­dish and a Social­ist… As for Sevag Şahin Balıkçı killed by a stray bul­let on April 24, on the day com­mem­o­rat­ing the Armen­ian geno­cide, he was Armen­ian, a “gavur” 1non-Mus­lim, a pejo­ra­tive term.[/fotnote]

Acci­dents, suicides…One can won­der why a con­script with only 4 hours to go before the end of his mil­i­tary ser­vice would com­mit sui­cide? How many more young men will lose their life from a bul­let fired “acci­den­tal­ly” by a colleague?

A “sacred” duty you can buy

These sus­pi­cious deaths must be exam­ined in the con­text of com­pul­so­ry mil­i­tary ser­vice. I would like to point out that this prac­tice is no longer the rule in most coun­tries except for those based and orga­nized on extreme­ly mil­i­taris­tic and racist foun­da­tions, such as Turkey.

As a reminder, there is noth­ing fair and equi­table about this oblig­a­tion in Turkey – thanks to the paid exemp­tion from com­pul­so­ry mil­i­tary ser­vice, con­scripts with the means to do so can “buy” their way out of this “duty” qual­i­fied as “sacred”. Thus, the youths sent up to the front in the dirty wars waged by the Turk­ish State are always sons of fam­i­lies with mod­est means. Always the same ones. When they fall, their coffins serve as a stage for mil­i­taris­tic and nation­al­ist speeches.

In fact, author­i­ties in the Turk­ish Repub­lic still insis­tent­ly believe that by force­ful­ly con­fin­ing the youth in this coun­try into bar­racks, they can inoc­u­late them with a strong “nation­al con­scious­ness”.

Sacralization of militaristic values

Michael Howard, the British mil­i­tary his­to­ri­an known for his work on the soci­o­log­i­cal dimen­sion of war says that mil­i­tarism con­sists in the per­cep­tion of val­ues belong­ing to the mil­i­tary sub-cul­ture as being the dom­i­nant ones in a soci­ety. This is why states sim­i­lar to the Turk­ish one instru­men­tal­ize this par­tic­u­lar insti­tu­tion, using and abus­ing of mil­i­tary and dom­i­nant speech­es in order to shape per­cep­tions. In oth­er words, sacral­iza­tion of mil­i­taris­tic val­ues and prac­tices serve to shape the civil­ian space.

Young con­scripts aged 20, 21 die in the bar­racks. And soci­ety starts debat­ing around ques­tions such as “should he be con­sid­ered a mar­tyr?”, or “he wore a tat­too, yes or no does he deserve a reli­gious funer­al?” A soci­ety torn apart over such ques­tions can­not be any­thing but dis­tort­ed, polluted.

What can be done?

This mil­i­taris­tic mind­set is one of the great­est bar­ri­ers erect­ed before the pos­si­bil­i­ty to live in a coun­try where vio­lence, oppres­sion and war would no longer be present.

This is pre­cise­ly the rea­son why deep and seri­ous reflec­tion must be car­ried out on these mat­ters. Osman Özçalım­lı, the lat­est vic­tim, must not be for­got­ten as were the pre­vi­ous ones. Mil­i­tarism feeds on nation­al­ism and racism.

Each inci­dence of a life destroyed in the bar­racks must be brought to light. Oppo­si­tion media, at least those still resist­ing under dif­fi­cult con­di­tions, as well as pro­gres­sive politi­cians with some self-respect must tes­ti­fy to them.

Young Kurds, Ale­vis, Arme­ni­ans, social­ists must no longer set foot in these mil­i­tary bar­racks that serve no oth­er pur­pose than to insure the peren­ni­ty of a State tak­en over by a bel­liger­ent power.

Par­ents, do not send your chil­dren into mil­i­tary ser­vice! Do not entrust your sons to the army. Com­pul­so­ry mil­i­tary ser­vice is mil­i­tarism. And mil­i­tarism means death.

Even if the mil­i­taris­tic poli­cies seem to suc­ceed in famil­iar­iz­ing pop­u­la­tions with death, pre­sent­ing the lives of young peo­ple as “hav­ing sac­ri­ficed them­selves”, attempt­ing to trans­form these mur­ders into some­thing nor­mal and habit­u­al, we, anti­mil­i­tarists, con­sci­en­tious objec­tors, refuse to become accus­tomed to them.


Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges 
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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.