Statement by Osman Murat Ülke                                 See Italian translation

26 January 2006


(A  conference was conducted on January 26, 2006 at 11 a.m. by Bahattin Özdemir on behalf of the Contemporary Lawyers Association, İzmir Branch and his lawyer Hülya Üçpınar on behalf of Osman Murat Ülke, with the participation of O.M. Ülke himself, and Suna Coşkun, the lawyer of O. Murat Ülke and Mehmet Tarhan.)




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 composure.


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 harm.


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 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 over. Thank you for coming.