In some countries, you have child soldiers, but in Turkey, there are baby soldiers. In fact, every Turk, the myth says, is born as a soldier. Children say that every day in their pledge to the flag before they enter school: besides saying they are Turks, honest and hard working, they state they were born a soldier. To become a grown-up Turk, every man has to act in accordance with that fact of birth and fulfil his military service. No exceptions allowed. Is a gynaecologist going to help bring about change?
The lawyer for a group of people who are being prosecuted for supporting conscious objector Enver Aydemir, asked the court to allow a gynaecologist to speak as an expert witness. If the court allows it, the gynaecologist will speak out about how Turks are born: as babies, or as soldiers. An important matter in the case. The defendants are being prosecuted for a press statement they released to support Enver Aydemir, in which they wrote that ‘everybody is born as a baby, nobody is born as a soldier’. That’s a violation of the law that prohibits ‘alienating the public from military service’, decided the prosecutor.
Enver Aydemir has been in and out of prison since 2007, when he refused to do his military service. He’s free now, but his legal agony is not over yet: he has to appear before a higher court and could be jailed again. He says as an obedient Muslim he can not serve in a secular army. According to European treaties that Turkey is party to, his right to refuse military service based on religious or conscious objections, must be recognised.
His case was supported by a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights earlier this summer, in the case of Armenian citizen Vahan Bayatyan. The latter refused to do his military service, arguing it’s against his religious beliefs as a Jehova’s Witness. The ECHR ruled last year that Armenia is guilty of violating the European Convention on Human Rights on freedom of thought, conscience and religion – the first time the court convicted a country for a violation of that freedom in the context of conscientious objection. This summer the court ruled that the Armenian state has to pay him €20,000 for damages, costs and expenses for the time he spent in jail.
The ruling of last year is important for Turkey too. Turks don’t always like to admit it, but not all Turks believe they were born as soldiers, and the country has about 300 conscious objectors. If Turkey took the ruling in the Bayatyan case seriously, they would change the law and make it possible for people not to do their military service and opt for an alternative civilian service. The unfortunate thing about rulings of the ECHR though, is that there is no way you can force a country to obey them. It’s a moral obligation, and as you can read for example here, Turkey doesn’t really have a tendency to take this moral obligation seriously.
I hope the gynaecologist will be accepted as an expert witness in the case about the supporters of Enver Aydemir. And that the supporters will not be convicted of ‘alienating the public from military service’. It might help to broaden the freedom of speech, and thus the possibilities to share the reasons why you could choose not to do your military service. To make people aware of the fact that, according to treaties that Turkey is a signatory to, you have the right to object based on your conscious or religion.
It might in the long run help to get rid of the myth that every Turk is born a soldier – I have always found that an appalling thought, and I often think about it when I see Turkish baby boys or my neighbourhood boys playing on the street. They are not soldiers. They are not destined to be ready to die for their country. They are human beings. Their conscious is one of the things that make them human, and they must be able to act according to it when it tells them not to take up arms and learn to kill.