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(en) Ossi’s* case shakes Turkey; discussion on the abolition of compulsory military service begins! ]

Date Sat, 28 Jan 2006 23:59:05 +0200

Nowadays there is a huge discussion in Turkey’s media and political
arena on the subject of “conscientious objection” and compulsory
military service. The reason for that is a recent decision taken by
the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in the case of Osman
Murat Ülke [or as we call him “Ossi”]. ECHR convicted Turkey to pay
11.000 euros for a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention
on Human Rights (about the prohibition of degrading treatment).
[You can read the decision text of the court from here:
Ossi had rejected military service in 1995 and got arrested one year
later where he had spent 701 days till March 1999. He still lives
under the risk of arrest and torture. He still faces lots of
difficulties in his private life; on the other hand he
is still active in the anti-militarist arena.

A press conference was conducted on January 26, 2006
at 11 a.m. by Bahattin Özdemir on behalf of the
Contemporary Lawyers Association, Izmir Branch and his
lawyer Hülya Ücpinar on behalf of Osman Murat Ülke,
with the participation of O.M. Ülke himself, and Suna
Coskun, the lawyer of O. Murat Ülke and Mehmet Tarhan.
In this conference, Ossi read the following statement:


The point we have reached today is the result of a
very long process. I made my decision to become a
conscientious objector in the year 1992 and I
participated in the foundational efforts of the War
Resisters Association at the end of that same year. In
the years that followed, I was involved in an intense
and multifaceted endeavor towards the demilitarization
of social and political life in Turkey. In 1996, it
was time to publicly declare my conscientious
objection and a year and two months after that, a
warrant was issued for my arrest. I went to the police
station myself and got arrested. Between the years
1997 and 1999 I was released twice and both of those
times I went, not to the military unit, but to court,
by my own will. This way, I demonstrated that I am not
a “deserter,” that I am not avoiding the issue, and
that, on the contrary, I am willing to face it.

For me, conscientious objection has always been the
sine qua non condition of my loyalty to my identity,
character and convictions. According to my
observations and opinions that may sound too marginal
or illusive to the majority, a person is primarily
indebted to the whole of humanity and s/he does not
owe obedience to institutions that were formed despite
it. In fact, I see the command/obedience relationship
itself as an entire issue to be struggled against. But
we are not to discuss these right now; I just wanted
to add a side note concerning my motivation.

The European Court of Human Rights decision, which is
the reason we are gathered here today, has so far been
handled by the media in an extreme way and a reflex to
manufacture sensation. Turkey is at a cross roads at
this moment. The issue of conscientious objection, the
functions of this phenomenon inside social order and,
in addition, the ECHR decision which carried this
cross roads to the agenda, must be interpreted with

The European Court of Human Rights, prioritizing the
article 3 of ECHR [European Convention on Human
Rights], has revealed that there is a problem here in
terms of the general principles of law. Accordingly,
crime and punishment must be proportional and each act
can only have a single sanction. I would like to
particularly draw your attention to this point. Before
the discussion even gets to conscientious objection,
this is the point we are stuck at. Within the
framework of current laws, the state lacks the means
to try individuals who object compulsive military
service on the grounds of conscience. Thus,
immediately driving the discussion towards questions
such as “is compulsive military service becoming
abolished?” or “will the ECHR decision lead Turkey
into chaos?” etc., does nothing but confuse people. I
suppose authorities and legal practitioners will admit
that trying people over and over again for one act
that they consider to be a “crime” and putting them in
a vicious cycle that may last for a life-time does not
exactly chime with universally accepted legal notions.
And this is what the ECHR is saying. Taking this as a
point of departure, ECHR is giving guidance to Turkey
and pointing out that, first, this issue cannot be
solved via military regulations, and secondly, new
special arrangements are to be warranted for those who
object military service for conscientious reasons. The
decision says no more, and no less than this.

ECHR has not drawn a road map as to how conscientious
objection may figure into laws, but merely gave
guidance. I would have surely preferred that the court
had based its decision on Article 9 of the Convention
regarding freedom of religion and conscience and I
might object to the decision after evaluating it with
my lawyers. On the other hand, it also seems like the
state will absolutely go for appeals. That is, this
process is not yet over and different aspects of the
discussion will soon be opened and established.

But there is something I would like to tell the state
about the juncture we are at: The state must
immediately cease treating conscientious objectors as
insubordinate soldiers. This is a position that they
cannot afford to hold. Heroisms such as “Enemy
Europeans”, “coward traitors of the nation,” etc.,
cannot overshadow the very harm inflicted by Turkey on
itself and on the youth living in this country.
Immediate measures must be taken for Mehmet Tarhan who
is now held under very severe conditions at Sivas
Military Prison and whose health is under threat.
Delaying the problem and torturing Mehmet Tarhan will
obviously cause Turkey to lose as a whole. Mehmet
Tarhan has already guaranteed himself a winning
lawsuit at the ECHR with what he has had to suffer so
far. It is up to the authorities to avoid anymore

Similarly, I demand to see the consequences of this
decision in terms of my private life as well. Despite
what many newspapers claimed, I have not lived
“hiding” in these past years. I have lived my own
life, I participated as much as I could in human
rights efforts. For a state that really wanted to find
me, I was always out in the open. On the other hand, I
preferred not to appear on official records, as I did
not find it particularly meaningful to be taken in
“accidentally” or “coincidentally” either. I have
proved my own stance by going to court by my own will
on many occasions and giving a total of two years
(variably at the barracks or military prison) from my
life because of this. I see on the reader comments
published on internet editions of some newspapers that
conscientious objection is equated with cowardice.
What kind of coward would surrender oneself to the
hands of the strongest institution of Turkey, at the
lack of legal regulations to protect him, and risk
torture and mistreatment? In short, I have done my
share of the work and now I demand security for my
family and myself and a life I can organize with ease.
I especially demand with pressing urgency that my
father, who has serious health problems, is no longer
harassed. My father is not in any shape to handle this
kind of continuous harassment and he certainly does
not deserve it.
We shall all see what the following process brings. As
I have stated many times, the legal process is not yet
Thank you for coming.

Osman Murat Ülke


[Ed. Note: Ossi himself is an anarchist and not only a
conscientious also a total objector. For years he has
been working on anti-militarist and human rights
issues. In addition to this, in the early 1990s he was
among the people publishing the anarchist periodical
“Coelacanth” in Antalya. He still works as
correspondent of the German anti-authoritarian paper
Graswurzelrevolution. At the time when he was under
arrest, a solidarity campaign was organized by
anarchists and anti-militarists both in local and
international level just as happened in Mehmet
Tarhan’s case.]
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