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.