The cost of conscientious objection

As Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch continues in northwest Syria, the secular news outlet Diken has published an article examining the devastating price one Turkish citizen must pay for refusing military service as a conscientious objector.

Turkish citizens are required by law to serve in the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), usually for a minimum period of 6 months for university graduates or a year for non-graduates. However, in some cases, the army accepts a payment to exempt citizens. Conscientious objection is illegal, as is publicly criticising conscription.

Diken’s piece tells the story of Şendoğan Yazıcı, who refused military service as a conscientious objector in 2010, and is now due for trial in a case that could see him sentenced to three years in prison, stripped of his civil rights for the same period, besides a fine of over 26,000 lira.

Yazıcı is prepared to endure these punishments and an array of other pressures his stance has caused him, due to his strong ethical opposition to conscription.

“I don’t think any institution has the right to take over my life for a specific period of time without my consent,” said Yazıcı. “There is nothing more natural than not wanting to kill another human being.”

Yazıcı had already been handed a fine of around 22,000 lira in 2017 for draft evasion. The latest trial, starting on Feb. 1, is for “not completing his military service”, which is essentially the same incident.

Thus, Yazıcı could be tried an indefinite number of times for the same crime, Diken reports.

Besides the prospect of prison, Yazıcı’s personal life and career have been severely affected by his stand against military service.

Yazıcı described how gendarmerie officers in his hometown of Artvin in Turkey’s Black Sea region had started a campaign to turn his community against him and isolate him, frequently visiting village officials to ask questions about him.

He was also unable to work formally, since it is considered a crime for employers to take on a person whose record shows that he has evaded serving in the military.