Friday, June 18, 2010

Aydemir Continues to Fight for Conscientious Objection

The case of conscientious objector Enver Aydemir has become a rallying cry for activists pushing Turkey to recognize a right to conscientious objection from military service. Of the 47 countries in the Council of Europe, Turkey joins Belarus and Azerbaijan as the only three countries that do not recognize conscientious objectors.

This week an Ankara court heard the cases of 19 supporters of Aydemir currently on trial under a variety of charges related to a demonstration they held on Jan. 6 in which the group issued a press release. Among the charges were alleged violations of Article 315 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), making it illegal to discourage or alienate the public from military service. The charge is often brought against conscientious objector and those who defend them. Two of the 19 charged in Ankara were convicted under the provision.

After claiming conscientious objector status in 2007, Aydemir was detained and held for three months in prison as a deserter. After giving a speech in Istanbul this December at the Covention of the Platform of Conscientious Objection for Peace, Aydemir was detained and arrested once more and subject to another three months in a military prison.

Following this second detention period, Aydemir was jailed once more when he was taken back to his military unit and refused to wear a uniform. Released from an Eskisehir prison on June 9, the Turkish military issued an "incapability report," stating that Aydemir was unable to serve due to a social personality disorder.

In a press release issued in association with the Human Rights Association in Istanbul, Aydemir and his attorneys argued that Turkey's failure to recognize the legal validity of Aydemir's conscientious objector status constituted a violation of international law.

Despite the European Union raising the issue with Turkey in accession negotiations, the Copenhagen Criteria does not address the subject and Turkey has not signed relevant international law creating such a right. However, in 2006, in the case of Osman Murat Ulke, the European Court of Human Rights did find that the way Turkey punishes conscientious objectors by basically stripping citizenship rights constutes a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

For other cases of conscientious objector status, including the EU position on the issue, see past posts.

UPDATE I (6/27) -- On Saturday, Sendogan Yazici became the 121st Turk to claim conscientious objector status. From Hurriyet Daily News:
In a press conference in front of the Turkish Radio and Television’s Istanbul Radio building on Saturday, Yazıcı, supported by the “Conscientious Objection Platform for Peace,” said he was refusing to touch a weapon so as to “contribute to a peaceful world for my children.”

Yazıcı, a 36-year-old with two children, said he was aware of the consequences of his action, but was happy to be a part of the conscientious objection movement.

Addressing journalists after Yazıcı, Ezgi Aydın, a member of the platform, said the recent military operations in the southeast are making families and the youth worried about their future.

“Conscientious objection is a right,” she said. “We call on everyone to claim their rights. Use your free will not to kill or be killed – do not spill your brothers’ blood.”
It will be interesting to see if increased dangers in the southeast (and other parts of the country), as well as opposition to the state's response to the recent upsurge in PKK violence, make claiming conscientious objector status a more frequent phenomenon and just how the Kurdish conflict might transform the issue, for better or worse.

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