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Mert­can Güler is a youth from Turkey and belongs as some soci­ol­o­gists would define him, to “gen­er­a­tion Z”. He was born in 1992, in a mid­dle-class Turk­ish and Mus­lim fam­i­ly in Mersin dur­ing the “dark” peri­od in Turkey when I was still a stu­dent. In those days, I was an active mil­i­tant in the Kur­dish lib­er­a­tion move­ment, fight­ing under the Marx­ist-Lenin­ist ide­ol­o­gy with a rev­o­lu­tion­ary per­spec­tive, first in Kur­dis­tan, then over the breadth of Turkey, and final­ly in the Middle-East.

These were the days when “white Toros“1kid­napped off the streets politi­cians, jour­nal­ists, stu­dents, busi­ness men or women, Kurds and oppo­nents and, days lat­er, their life­less bod­ies were found in ditch­es on the side of the roads. From then to now, many beau­ti­ful peo­ple have fought for change. What is dif­fer­ent except for the fact that “Black Rangers“2have replac­er the “White Toros”? But that is an anoth­er dis­cus­sion top­ic…  

In those days, being Kur­dish, Ale­vi, com­ing from a work­ing class fam­i­ly, you felt con­cerned by what was going on and you found your­self in a sit­u­a­tion of rapid appren­tice­ship in which you inevitably came in con­tact with State vio­lence. Today, these youths that did not live through these peri­ods, youths who still have a con­science, also say “I say no to this estab­lished order”. This means, then, that all this State vio­lence, all these oppres­sive poli­cies, were use­less. All the suf­fer­ing, all the pro­hi­bi­tions they attempt to oblit­er­ate are stran­gling them like ivy, a bit more every day. 

Once again, through the inti­mate tes­ti­mo­ni­al of one of these youths, we will read here about this real­i­ty that some con­tin­ue to deny. We can say he is “just a soli­tary spike of wheat in the field. What can he achieve by him­self?” But this spike, mul­ti­plied with oth­ers in the field might whis­per to us some­thing even more pow­er­ful: “all those suf­fer­ings were not endur­er in vain…” 

I thus let one of the spike speak in his own words…


I will not become one of this system’s soldiers”

A French ver­sion of the dec­la­ra­tion of con­sci­en­tious objec­tion by Mert­can Güler, ini­tial­ly pub­lished on Con­nec­tion e.V. (Ed): Newslet­ter “KDV im Krieg”, Novem­ber 2020 edition


This is my con­sci­en­tious objection.

My name is Mert­can Güler. I was born in Mersin in 1992. My par­ents divorced when I was three years old. My father and my grand­moth­er with whom I grew up are typ­i­cal Turks who sup­port­ed Atatürk. I wish to tell my sto­ry in chrono­log­i­cal order.

Even if I knew noth­ing about it when I was a child, I already had the notion that I did not want to enter the army. I remem­ber at the age of six telling my grand­moth­er I would not per­form my mil­i­tary ser­vice. I was already afraid at the time. My grand­moth­er answered: “When your time comes, there won’t be any more con­scrip­tion any­way.” This was over 20 years ago, and con­scrip­tion is still applied in Turkey.

Dur­ing my stud­ies, we had to sing the nation­al anthem and recite the so-called “Our Oath” (Andımız in Turk­ish) every Mon­day morn­ing before class­es and each Fri­day evening when they end­ed. The Turk­ish nation­al anthem and oath include fas­cist ele­ments. The first three sen­tences of the oath state: “I am Turk­ish, I am right­eous, I am hard-work­ing”. Through con­stant rep­e­ti­tion, the Turk­ish State manip­u­lates the chil­dren with mil­i­tarism and fas­cism through­out the peri­od of their edu­ca­tion. It indoc­tri­nates them, in a kind of brain­wash­ing.

It may appear sur­pris­ing here in Ger­many to speak of fas­cism rel­a­tive to Turkey. The term is cer­tain­ly used in anoth­er con­text. In Ger­many it is close­ly asso­ci­at­ed to the Nazi peri­od. In Turkey, we under­stand fas­cism as the fact that the gov­ern­ment or groups sup­port­ed by the gov­ern­ment per­se­cute indi­vid­u­als and minori­ties, and oppress those with dif­fer­ent polit­i­cal or reli­gious opin­ions. This means they force peo­ple to share the same opin­ion as those in pow­er. Any crit­i­cism against social and State norms is rejected.

In my time, his­to­ry class­es con­cen­trat­ed on the Ottoman Empire and Atatürk. Although I attend­ed a pri­vate school, the Ottoman Empire was revered.

My inter­est in his­to­ry and pol­i­tics began when I learned more about the Nazi peri­od in the his­to­ry class­es at the lycée. I began to research impor­tant peo­ple and events. Dur­ing this research, my father would some­times come to see me, giv­ing me his advice and telling me what he knew.

My research last­ed until I began my stud­ies. Despite my lack of expe­ri­ence, I con­sid­ered that the gov­ern­ment was doing some­thing evil and that it had a reli­gious ori­en­ta­tion. And this impelled me to go on. The AKP gov­ern­men­t’s Islamist pol­i­cy is the reaon why I crit­i­cized Islam. Not only have we seen, but we have expe­ri­enced to what a degree Islam can prove bru­tal and fascis­tic when it comes to seiz­ing power.

Dur­ing my stud­ies, the Gezi demon­stra­tions occurred in 2013. My first polit­i­cal involve­ment and sig­nif­i­cant changes in my ideas began dur­ing this period

I remem­ber well how it all began. On May 28, I want­ed to drink a few beers with a friend while surf­ing on Inter­net or Twit­ter. Sud­den­ly, we saw videos of foot­ball fans in Istan­bul stream­ing through Tak­sim square in protest over some­thing. We, the younger gen­er­a­tion, who had had enough of the pres­sure, held the brief hope that the gov­ern­men­t’s days were over. What I describe here as “pres­sure” is the strict islamo-con­ser­v­a­tive pol­i­cy of the gov­ern­ment, gov­ern­men­tal med­dling in peo­ple’s lifestyles and the cult of islamist sects and communities.

In the days that fol­lowed, oth­er videos, pho­tos and reports on police ter­ror in Istan­bul were put online. What we saw was ter­ri­fy­ing. The vio­lence and ter­ror against civil­ians was dis­sua­sive. What moved us, and oth­ers, was the agres­sive action of the gov­ern­ment against nor­mal peo­ple and even those with no polit­i­cal moti­va­tion, in order to force sub­jec­tion to their own will.

Demon­strat­ing is a human right. But any­one who claims and uses the right to demon­strate in Turkey, if this goes against the ideas of the Erdoğan gov­ern­ment, can be beat­en by police offi­cers, tear gassed, struck in the head with gas grenades, shot in the face with plas­tic bul­lets, or killed with “legal” bul­lets. It may also hap­pen that they are tak­en into cus­tody arbi­trar­i­ly, tor­tured and even killed in the most extreme cas­es. It can also hap­pen that at four in the morn­ing, their house is stormed by offi­cers with sub­ma­chine guns and that a raid takes place because they par­tic­i­pat­ed in a demon­stra­tion. More­over, the gov­ern­ment can, the­o­ret­i­cal­ly and to this day, deprive them in prac­tice of every human right. The Erdoğan gov­ern­ment thus open­ly declares: We do what­ev­er we want. If you oppose us, you will be con­front­ed to the police and to the State’s anti-ter­ror­ist services.

Erdoğan want­ed to destroy Gezi park and build some­thing else. This park was the only green space in the cen­ter of Istan­bul. This is why eco-activists demon­strat­ed. Dur­ing the the demon­stra­tions in Gezi park, both par­ties, the gov­ern­ment with the secu­ri­ty forces and the peace­ful demon­stra­tors clashed in a num­ber of towns in the rest of Turkey. Dozens of peo­ple died, thou­sands were wound­ed, some of them seriously.

We knew we would be sub­ject­ed to vio­lence when we were in the street. Some of my friends had asth­ma attacks because of the heavy use of tear gas, one of them was struck in the eye by a plas­tic bul­let. All this occurred right next to me. I was for­tu­nate in not being struck by a plas­tic bul­let. While I was resist­ing in the street against State ter­ror, while I was shout­ing to arrest the Islamist gov­ern­ment, those that had been described to us in school as “mon­sters” – the peo­ple, the left­ists, the democ­rats and the Kurds – were stand­ing by my side. The State we had been pre­sent­ed all the time as being “sacred” was now against us.

He was close to us, Berkin Elvan, the fif­teen year old child who was mor­tal­ly wound­ed in the head by a gas grenade and lat­er died in the hos­pi­tal from his wounds. We could not imag­ine that State ter­ror would go that far. We demon­strat­ed agains it. We want­ed to march over to the AKP build­ing and demon­strate against it. Again, the police react­ed vio­lent­ly. In doing so, they proved they were not there to pro­tect the peo­ple, but the gov­ern­ment. We fled the gas grenades and the plas­tic bul­lets because the police was delib­er­ate­ly and inten­tion­al­ly tar­get­ing us. While flee­ing, we found shel­ter in a house and hid there until peace returned. As there was a risk of being fol­lowed, we each went home by a dif­fer­ent itin­er­ary. I kept look­ing behind me and feel­ing insecure.

Dur­ing the demon­stra­tions, anoth­er young man was exe­cut­ed by the police. His name was Ahmet Atakan. Of course, we also want­ed to protest in this case. Dur­ing that demon­stra­tion, I wore the Kur­dish scarf also called a puschi. I did not wear a mask and I was only there in order to demon­strate peace­ful­ly. I sus­pect my scarf inter­est­ed the police­men and they attempt­ed to pho­to­graph me from a dis­tance of approx­i­mate­ly 3 meters. When I noticed this, I turned away and tried to move else­where. At the end of this demon­stra­tion, the police attacked us and some of the activists were arrested.

I was dis­gust­ed to see how the Erdoğan-ori­ent­ed media (almost every media) behaved while our friends were sim­ply being exe­cut­ed in the street. I con­demn the media because they clear­ly lied, but this also allowed peo­ple to become even more aware of the truth. We, the activists, were pre­sent­ed in the medias as “ter­ror­ists”. I was there, but I was not a ter­ror­ist. The only ter­ror­ists I saw were the police. That led me to think­ing that the reports on the Kurds and also on oth­er minori­ties might well con­sist of lies also. Since then, I have stopped watch­ing tele­vi­sion because it is no longer believ­able for me.

After the end of the Gezi demon­stra­tions the gov­ern­ment launched a witch hunt. They raid­ed the homes of those who had par­tic­i­pat­ed in the demon­stra­tions. This fright­ened some peo­ple, but impelled oth­ers, such as myself, to continue.

Fol­low­ing these events, I under­stood that I had to resist in order to defend my fun­da­men­tal rights such as free­dom of expres­sion, of asso­ci­a­tion and of reunion both in order to sur­vive and to exist. I began research­ing and exchang­ing infor­ma­tion with Kur­dish and Ale­vi com­rades. I learned what they had lived through, why they had suf­fered. I could no longer remain inac­tive and I want­ed to do some­thing against such injus­tice. This no longer had any­thing to do with ori­gin, reli­gion or minor­i­ty. It was a ques­tion of humanity.

The Gezi demon­stra­tions divid­ed peo­ple. I put an end to my friend­ship with those who did not sup­port the protests. Peo­ple were molest­ed because they were only demand­ing their fun­da­men­tal rights. It was unthink­able for me to main­tain a friend­ship with peo­ple who con­sid­ered such treat­ment as legit­i­mate. This is why my cir­cle of friends became com­posed of left­ists and democ­rats. It was won­der­ful to protest for our fun­da­men­tal rights with peo­ple who were dif­fer­ent and had dif­fer­ent ide­olo­gies. I had nev­er expe­ri­enced such a feel­ing of uni­ty before. No mat­ter what their appear­ance, no mat­ter the type of flag they car­ried, when they need­ed help, some­one showed up. For the first time in our lives, we expe­ri­enced civ­il dis­obe­di­ence. I met peo­ple from dif­fer­ent orga­ni­za­tions. We orga­nized not only in real life but also online. It was pos­si­ble then to sim­ply add some­one as a friend on Face­book, even if you did not know him per­son­al­ly. You could also dis­cuss cer­tain top­ics online. This is how I dis­cov­ered con­sci­en­tious objec­tion and added as a friend Ercan Aktaş who now lives in France.

The thought of hav­ing to become a sol­dier some day, of hav­ing to serve this State and this bru­tal sys­tem drove me crazy. I have nev­er want­ed to kill some­one or to learn how to kill. But I had no idea if it was even pos­si­ble to refuse to per­form one’s mil­i­tary ser­vice. I knew noth­ing about con­sci­en­tious objec­tion. Thanks to the dis­cus­sion I had with Ercan Aktaş, I learned more and more on the topic.

In order to fight against a machine which is pro­grammed to kill us and to deprive us of our fun­da­men­tal rights, I told myself we need­ed to fight in an orga­nized man­ner. So I searched for an appro­pri­ate orga­ni­za­tion. This is how I came in con­tact with the HDP.

I had also crit­i­cized the gov­ern­ment online. While I crit­i­cized the AKP gov­ern­ment for its sup­port to Jihadists, I was glad of the lib­er­a­tion from ISIS by the Kurds and of the vic­to­ry in Ar-Raqqa in Syria.

I had bare­ly pub­lished arti­cles on this top­ic when my moth­er called me. Her voice was trem­bling. She was clear­ly fright­ened. She said she had received a call from the anti-ter­ror­ist units and that I had to delete my posts. I was fright­ened and dis-acti­vat­ed my Face­book account. In Turkey, there exists two types of per­se­cu­tion. The first is offi­cial and func­tions through accu­sa­tions, inquests, etc. The sec­ond is unof­fi­cial and goes through obser­va­tions and pres­sure. What I expe­ri­enced then clear­ly cor­re­spond­ed to the sec­ond type. At the time, numer­ous pres­sures were exer­cised against democ­rats and main­ly against the HDP. As an exam­ple, the bomb­ing of an HDP build­ing in Mersin. The bomb­ings per­pe­trat­ed in Suruç and in Ankara by Jihadist orga­ni­za­tions sup­port­ed by the State against HDP gath­er­ings also fright­ened me. At the time, there was also a bus leav­ing our town for the meet­ing in Ankara, In fact, I also want­ed to go but had to can­cel because of my exams. I could have been there and died also. It was as sim­ple as that. I no longer felt safe.

With my new ideas, I came into con­flict with my fam­i­ly. I became the fam­i­ly’s black sheep.

At the time, I felt close to a Marx­ist-Lenin­ist orga­ni­za­tion the name of which I do not wish to men­tion. I attend­ed their meet­ings for a while. But after a few ide­o­log­i­cal dis­cus­sions, I under­stood this was not for me. This became clear to me when we orga­nized a con­cert one sum­mer with a musi­cal group close to the orga­ni­za­tion. I saw how this Marx­ist-Lenin­ist orga­ni­za­tion ven­er­at­ed death, blood and weapons, which I reject. Then, they also made dis­crim­i­na­to­ry state­ments against peo­ple in the ranks of the LGBT, which I con­sid­ered unac­cept­able. I did not want to build a Marx­ist-Lenin­ist State like the one pro­mul­gat­ed by the orga­ni­za­tion. I real­ized I was much clos­er to the HDP. It has sim­ply accept­ed all kinds of peo­ple. This was in keep­ing with my idea of being an activ­its for human rights, minori­ties, con­sci­en­tious objec­tion and ecology.

There was a coup d’E­tat attempt­ed on July 15 2016. I tried to under­stand what was going on. Erdoğan had called on peo­ple to take to the streets. There was chaos. There were con­stant calls to prayer and to Jihad from the mosques. My fam­i­ly imme­di­ate­ly destroyed all my books, my mag­a­zines and polit­i­cal media. Of course, the fam­i­ly’s black sheep had no right to ruin the life of oth­ers. For me, it was like what the Jews must have felt dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.

That night, I took the deci­sion to leave the coun­try in which I grew up, the streets where I spent my child­hood, my fam­i­ly and all the rest.

The state of emer­gency was declared fol­low­ing the coup d’E­tat attempts. Arrests and attacks against mem­bers of the oppo­si­tion fol­lowed. 1 767 orga­ni­za­tions were closed down, thou­sands of peo­ple were fired from their jobs, hun­dreds of thou­sands were impris­oned and tor­tured. Many were kid­napped and killed. Even the HDP’s copres­i­dent, Sela­hat­tin Demir­taş was impris­oned. Arbi­trari­ness rules. The oppo­si­tion had no secu­ri­ty of life or of prop­er­ty. When trav­el­ling, peo­ple had to con­stant­ly go through police con­trols until they reached their des­ti­na­tion. Although I was not offi­cial­ly per­se­cut­ed at this time, I was wor­ried. At each police con­trol, I thought there might be a war­rant I was­n’t aware of. From one day to the next, arrest war­rants were deliv­ered. Peo­ple were then imme­di­ate­ly arrest­ed at the next con­trol. Inde­pen­dent­ly of this, the police has access to all polit­i­cal infor­ma­tion dur­ing an iden­ti­fy check. Dur­ing a state of emer­gency they could have tak­en arbi­trary mea­sures against me. This I also feared.

The above-men­tioned Marx­ist-Lenin­ist orga­ni­za­tion in Mersin was closed down. I heard this from some­one from the orga­ni­za­tion, anti-ter­ror­ist units showed my pho­tos dur­ing an audi­tion and asked about me. I knew my hour was approach­ing lit­tle by little.

I was exhaust­ed, psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly speak­ing. I could not sleep any­more. When I did, I had night­mares. I still remem­ber how I often had to go to the emer­gen­cies in the mid­dle of the night, because I had attacks. I was always fright­ened when I saw a police­man. Every time I saw the flash­ing red and blue lights of a police car from my win­dow, I though: “OK, this time, it’s for me.”

I told my fam­i­ly I want­ed to leave and I asked them for their help. They helped me and I am most grate­ful to them for this. By the end of 2017, it was more than time. I left Turkey. I now live in Ger­many and have nev­er been back to Turkey since I left. I don’t thinkk I will ever see my fam­i­ly again. Although I now live 3 000 kilo­me­ters away, I was accused because of my con­tri­bu­tions to social media and inquests were opened. The motive being that I would have “insult­ed Erdoğan, the min­is­ter of the inte­ri­or Soy­lu and the Turk­ish State”. To which is added the accu­sa­tion of “pro­pa­gan­da for a ter­ror­ist organization”.

I will kill no one. I will not become a sol­dier of this sys­tem, a sys­tem that wants to elim­i­nate me.

I do not want my body to be found in a casern because of my polit­i­cal opin­ions. I will not feed the Islamist gov­ern­ment with rub­bish about “mar­tyr­dom”. Why should I have to kill any­one, in any event? Why should I fight for the “Home­land” when the Home­land wants to expel me? Why is it “my Home­land” if I’m not even allowed to say what I think, and if I don’t have the right to exist? I refuse mil­i­tary ser­vice because of my con­science and because of my polit­i­cal and reli­gious opinions.

I have always refused and will always refuse vio­lence, espe­cial­ly in the Turk­ish army. I will not par­tic­i­pate in any armed and vio­lent organization.

What hap­pens in the Turk­ish army? Espe­cial­ly if you hold oppos­ing ideas or do not belong to the dom­i­nant stream, you risk being inim­i­dat­ed by the com­man­der dur­ing your mil­i­tary ser­vice. Indeed, secret ser­vice reports are known to arrive at the casern pri­or to con­scrip­tion. It is also pos­si­ble that one ‘appar­ent­ly” com­mits sui­cide. And no one can prove the con­trary. There are sev­er­al such exam­ples. More­over, one must fight when ordered to do so. To which you must add the brain­wash­ing marked by fanati­cism and nation­al­ism, which must not be ques­tioned. Per­son­al­ly, I do not want to fight for bor­ders, against so-called ter­ror or for the home­land, I belong to no orga­ni­za­tion fight­ing for such things and mak­ing use of vio­lence. I was born a human being and will remain a human being. Where­as mil­i­tary vio­lence trans­forms peo­ple into monsters.

Con­sci­en­tious objec­tion is still not rec­og­nized in Turkey, although it is a human right. Those who refuse to serve are first sen­tenced to a fine, then impris­oned. Any time you wish to stay in a hotel, the police show up dur­ing the night and demand that you sign a doc­u­ment forc­ing you to show up for mil­i­tary ser­vice with­in the fol­low­ing 15 days. If, at a giv­en moment, you wish to go to anoth­er town and are con­trolled, the same thing hap­pens, as is also the case dur­ing a sim­ple iden­ti­ty check on the street. In any event, you are not autho­rized to hold down a job. The Turk­ish State forces me into a civ­il death if I do not want to be a soldier.

This is a wound in Turk­ish soci­ety. Because the State and the Erdoğan gov­ern­ment have always admired vio­lence and mil­i­ta­riza­tion, peo­ple con­sid­er mil­i­tary ser­vice as a sym­bole of viril­i­ty and of patri­o­tism. But I say no to that. I call on the new gen­er­a­tion to refuse to per­form their mil­i­tary ser­vice, even though this is not an easy road.

Mert­can Güler

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.