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Thu, 27 Dec 2007

The Initiative for Conscientious Objection in Cyprus

Finally it is here, the Turkish Cypriot community has an organized push to get the right to conscientious objection recognized. Let's face it, north Cyprus is a place where the compulsory military service is considered to be a major obstacle to all young males' path to independence in life, path to forming a family and joining the workplace. Thousands of us have been leaving the country or spending unreasonable (and often fake) amounts of time in school to avoid it. Even the most notorious nationalists (!) and patriots (!) are known to have done everything they can to keep their sons out of the military service for as long as they can. The military service has always been an insulting, traumatic, dehumanizing and demeaning experience for young Turkish Cypriots. To further complicate the matters, the laws governing the military service were changed often to reflect the political (to brainwash, militarize etc) and economic (to funnel foreign currency from those Cypriots living abroad) origins of the service. This has made it very unfair to those who chose not to leave the island by providing options for payment to cover the whole or part of the service — imagine being a young Turkish Cypriot male who struggled to survive in the horrible socio-economic situation of north Cyprus just to have to do from 18 to 24 months of military service while you watch your friends who left the island 1 do none at all or with the newer law only a month of service by paying a hefty but reasonably affordable sum of money. It is as if those in power want you to leave the island! It has also been unfair to different age groups too, for example, I happened to continue my studies without a pause and therefor fell in a group that registered for paid-alternative after year 2000 and, therefore, I am required to do one month's service, while people slightly older or those who paused their education and registered before year 2000, can pay and avoid it completely 2. As you can see, this is already a lenghy paragraph and I can go on a lot longer about the absurdity of this issue. However, I won't. The point I want to make is that despite the fact that this has been a major annoyance and problem in the Turkish Cypriot community, it has taken until 2007 for an organized effort to emerge.

What does this tell us? It tells us the atmosphere of fear and social/political/economic pressure is very effective in suppressing dissidence in this area. This is not suprising since the Turkish military is controls north Cyprus with an iron fist (what else can we expect in a territory that it occupies?) and the history of conscientious objectors in Turkey is that of constant harrassment, court-hearings, inprisonment, torture and "civil death" 3. There are thousands of Turkish Cypriots who live under self-imposed exile due to their refusal (or inability) to do military service because of conscientious or other reasons. However, there is only one publicised case, that of Salih Askeroglu (often listed as a Turkish CO since he raised his objection to the Turkish military in north Cyprus), and since this case was an anomaly, we can not use it as an example of what would happen to other people who declare CO and stay in the country. This leaves us with the situation in Turkey as the only example to form our expectations and therefore, expect a very grim reception.

The initiative originates (but is not limited to) a group of activists that are organized as the "New Cyprus Party Youth" (YKP Genclik) and while keeping a relative independence (as opposed to other youth organizations who act as branches of the mother party) are closely linked to New Cyprus Party (YKP) who has created many anti-militarist campaigns in the past such as the campaign for demilitarization of Nicosia. It also has a history of bravery despite pressure amounting to direct acts of violence (bombings, machine gun firings etc). It has gathered young activists from other groups and people who are simply interested together and has held two public meetings. The initiative is being organized under a larger umbrella titled "refuse it" (reddet, http://www.reddet.org )which includes rejection of militarism, homophobia, discrimination, racism, occupations, wars and nationalism amongst its goals. It is using internet effectively to include those who live abroad (such as myself) in its organization and also to reach larger audiences. It is notable that it has picked a clear aim as a first step, the legalization of the right for conscientious objection by ammending the relevant article of the constitution (of "TRNC"). I realize that this is probably not an achievable goal but it is a concrete goal with clear legal basis in the international law and in particular in European Union norms that Turkish Cypriots are now part of.

It is my style to write unstructured articles and this is clearly shaping out to be one of them. I will pause here and mention various other pieces I wrote in the past that are related to this:

It is hard to tell how much we can achieve, or how long we will last, however, I am certain that this first step we are taking is a very important one and will change the future direction of this topic. The courage of friends who are doing this while living in Cyprus is commendable.

1. I am not trying to imply that those who leave the island have an easy life. In fact, many had to endure inhumane conditions in countries they have emmigrated to.

2. Not that I have any intention of knowingly paying the military any money or doing even a second of military service.

3. European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) used the term "civil death" and explained it as "The numerous criminal prosecutions against the applicant, the cumulative effects of the criminal convictions which resulted from them and the constant alternation between prosecutions and terms of imprisonment, together with the possibility that he would be liable to prosecution for the rest of his life, had been disproportionate to the aim of ensuring that he did his military service. They were more calculated to repressing the applicant’s intellectual personality, inspiring in him feelings of fear, anguish and vulnerability capable of humiliating and debasing him and breaking his resistance and will. The clandestine life amounting almost to "civil death" which the applicant had been compelled to adopt was incompatible with the punishment regime of a democratic society."

http://www.echr.coe.int/Eng/Press/2006/Jan/Chamberjudgment%C3%9ClkevTurkey240106.htm

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