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Driving home from school this week, as usual the service bus passed the grounds of a military barracks. I was reading Don Quixote but glancing out of the window briefly, my eye drawn to an avenue of trees therein, I noticed a uniformed soldier hurrying through them, rifle in hand, the straggler in some exercise.
The bus swept by the front of the barracks building, and I noticed a couple of navy blue clad officers chatting casually in front of the obligatory bust of Ataturk on the tarmacked parade ground. My eyes went back to the story, but suddenly my attention was distracted by the one of the two Turkish teachers sitting next to me.
“Did you see that?” he asked. “They were making a soldier crawl in front of them!”
I looked out quickly but too late. We’d passed the military area and were approaching our destination. I hadn’t seen the crawling soldier, but the thought of him groveling on the ground before the officers sickened me.
“Disgusting!” I commented.
The Turkish teachers laughed. “You are such a radical!” said one.
“Don’t you think it’s disgusting to make a fellow man crawl?” I asked.
“Of course. You are right,” they replied, but immediately slipped back into the casual conversation they’d been having before.
But even though I hadn’t seen the crawling soldier, the image crawled in my mind, and I remembered (again passing in a bus on the way to school) seeing an officer slap a saluting soldier hard across the face for not opening a gate quick enough, groups of soldiers on their knees in the fenced off compound keeping the grass short on the lawn by plucking the blades with their hands, and the lines of young guys I’d seen queuing dismally up outside barracks, shortly to have their heads shaved and their individual clothes replaced by drab olive green uniformity for the next year and a half. Conscripted whether you like it or not.
Young Turkish students who ask about my military service are usually gobsmacked when I reply that I have never been in the army, and that conscription in England was abolished in the early 1960’s.They’re even more shocked to learn that a job in the British army is pretty lucrative, whereas Turks receive nothing but the privilege of serving their country and learning to jump to attention, salute and meekly obey the orders barked at them by arrogant fascists.
Not surprisingly, Turkey has many draft evaders. Those who are caught are taken straight into military service, and usually accept it as a fair cop’. But should you choose as a matter of principle not to do your time in the army, you do time in prison instead. Conscientious objection is illegal.
For some, however, ‘might’ does not equal right, and there are now approximately fifty declared conscientious objectors in the country, following the example of Osman Murat Ulke, who, in 1995, was the first conscientious objector to be prosecuted in Turkey for his refusal to perform military service. Since then, released and arrested several times, he has so far served 43 months in prison. At present “no longer in custody” Osman faces the prospect of being imprisoned once again at any moment as a deserter who has not responded to call-up.
This was Osman’s statement on his first arrest:
“In view of my deepest convictions and way of life, it is impossible for me to take part in military service or any other compulsory service. Furthermore I refuse to acknowledge any kind of hierarchical authority. In my opinion the army is the clearest form of institutional power, which makes it a personal enemy I seek to combat and destroy. This is why I consider conscientious objection as the first step on the path I have to follow to preserve my self-esteem. Turkey is based on an authoritarian culture that pervades all dimensions of life at work, in the private sphere, and especially strongly the political arena. It is therefore not surprising that a large part of the population turns a blind eye to the war that Turkey is currently waging and continue in their way of life. The myth perpetuated about the role of soldiers as protectors of their country and fellow citizens from the outside enemy has turned them into one of the most commonly used instruments of oppression in their own country. I cannot say how big a difference I and those who think like me can make, but I do know that no coercive measure will ever force me to become a soldier.”
And this year gay activist and conscientious objector Mehmet Tarhan was arrested and imprisoned by military police for ‘non co-operation’ and ‘insubordination’. He was forcibly undressed and forced to wear a military uniform. His trial has been adjourned until May 26th.
Here was the statement he prepared in 2001:
“It is thought that the bombs that are thrown upon Afghan people are the result of the killing of hundreds of people in USA while flies are crashing to Twin Towns on 11th of September. It is expected that all over the world should cooperate in the attack against Afghan people. I curse every kind of violence and I believe that joining or approving any kind of violent event is a responsibility that would open the door for new violent events and new traumas for every approving people. I think that wars are created by states for their power and primarily it is the denial of the right of living of people. Whatever the reason is, to deny the right of living is a crime and no international agreement can legitimize it. That is why I declare that I will not be an agent of that crime. I will not serve for any of the military apparatuses.
I miss a humanity that is purified from violence and power struggles, a humanity that is borderless and in peace with nature. The fact that it does not exist now does not change my ideas and my struggle to create it.
I do not believe in the necessity of the state and I do not feel any belonging to any state. I never want to strengthen military forces by actions called as the duties of citizenship. The state claiming I am a citizen of it wants to use me for military service, to turn me into a death machine and to make me a part of the crime that I explained by compromising me in itself. The aim of the state is to reproduce its power and itself. I will not let it happen and I will protect my beliefs. I perceive the rotten report that is provided for me because I am a gay as the sign of the decadence of the state itself.
As an individual, I will not serve for any kind of military or other apparatuses of any state. I admit that to excuse for this is an insult to myself and I refuse every kind of state permission or deferences of the state.
So, I totally refuse to serve in the military service. I quest everybody not to join to the army, not to let any kind of bureacratic operations, to refuse control mechanisms of the state such as MERNIS and tax number. I quest everybody for solidarity by non violent
The way to stop the war is to destroy its human resources.
Every kind of violence is a crime of humanity.”
In 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Countries which voted in favor of it were: Afghanistan, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Burma, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Denmark, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, France, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Iceland, India, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Liberia, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Siam, Sweden, Syria, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela.
Article 4 of the declaration states that “No one shall be held in slavery or servitutude.”
Article 5 states that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
And Article 20 (2) states that “No one may be compelled to belong to an association.”
Compulsory service in the military forces conscription contradicts each of these articles.
In their 1930 Manifesto against Conscription, such notables as Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, H.G.Wells, Bertrand Russell and Thomas Mann stated:
“Conscription subjects individual personalities to militarism. It is a form of servitude. That nations routinely tolerate it, is just one more proof of its debilitating influence.”
In the world now there is NO military conscription in the following countries:
Antigua and Barbuda
Papua New Guinea
Trinidad and Tobago
United Arab Emirates
United Kingdom of Great
Britain and Northern Ireland
United States of America
Surely it is time for the rest of the countries of the world to join this list, put an end to the degrading practice of forced conscription, and take a step closer to the sentiments of Article 1 of the Declaration of Human Rights which states: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
In the words of Percy Bysshe Shelley:
Of virtuous soul commands not, nor obeys:
Power, like a desolating pestilence,
Pollutes whate’er it touches, and obedience,
Bane of all genius, virtue, freedom, truth,
Makes slaves of men, and, of the human frame,
A mechanised automaton.
MICHAEL DICKINSON is a writer and artist who works as an English teacher in Istanbul, Turkey. He designed the cover art for two CounterPunch books, Serpents in the Garden and Dime’s Worth of Difference, as well as Grand Theft Pentagon, forthcoming from Common Courage Press. He can be contacted through his website of collage pictures at http://CARNIVAL_OF_CHAOS.TRIPOD.COM