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Nonviolence in Turkey: CO and Non-violence | <a href="http://canbaskent.net">Can Başkent</a>

Can Başkent

logic and the rest...



0. Introduction

Tonight, I am extremely happy to be a small part of the David Dellinger lecture here in New York City.

I will briefly talk on non-violence in Turkey, more specifically non-violence via conscientious objection. Due to the time constraints, however, I will not give a historical background of the 18-year-old conscientious objection movement in Turkey. Instead, I will provide a brief outline of the militarist violence in Turkey, and then focus on what conscientious objection movement -- the biggest (both in terms of size and duration) and most discussed non-violent movement in Turkey - was able to achieve under these circumstances.

1. Organized Violence in Turkey

Without any dispute, I believe, most of the people in the audience, would agree that the army is the biggest, oldest, and strongest form of organized violence. Then what about this biggest, oldest and strongest form of organized violence in Turkey? As the official Turkish General Staff documents put it "The history of the Turks whose political order was developed in line with its military order dates before 4000 years." [1] (Grammar mistakes are due to the official English pages of General Staff)

It might also be significant to note that the linear army classification and hierarchy that are still used throughout the world is thought to be developed by Turks in Central Asia thousands of years ago. Therefore, it is not difficult to observe that, as military authorities also put it, the army has a political power in Turkey pretty much equal to that of the parliament which was shaken by three military coups in the last 50 years. How? Well, because Turkey has the second largest standing force in NATO, after USA; and the 9th largest armed force in the world after China, USA, India, Russia, North Korea, South Korea, Pakistan and Iran. In order to maintain this military situation and the position of the country, the military conscription have always existed in Turkey.

As Michel Foucault put it in the first volume of "History of Sexuality", 'where there is power, there is resistance and yet this resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to the power' [2].

The resistance against the implicit and explicit violence of the armed forces, created its own forms of resistance, following Foucault. There are zillions of books mentioning the human right abuses in the armies. Speaking of Turkish army, only a small amount of the ill-treatments, abuses and tortures within the military forces are documented and thus the Turkish State is sentenced to pay high amounts of money to the victims or to the families of victims each year due to the respective trials in the European Court of Human Rights in the Hague, the Netherlands. Apart from this "legal" resistance, there is also a socio-political resistance against militarism in Turkey.

2. Nonviolent Actions in Turkey
2.1 Conscientious Objection Movement

As I underlined before, CO movement can be thought of the biggest non-violent movement in Turkey. However, we have hardly had 60 objectors in the past two decades. Considering the severe consequences, you may claim, this is even more than expected. Fair enough.

So, let us now focus, what the movement has achieved so far.

The very first achievement of the movement is the alteration of pre-existing conceptual political understandings within the social and political bodies, in terms of power relations especially in conflict situations. The methodology which was adopted by the antimilitarist movement is the familiar one: active listening, non-violent conflict resolution and, non-violent direct actions etc. Therefore, by performing aforementioned actions, the conscientious objection movement showed that a political movement can be honest and sound. As the aim of the movement - the demilitarization of the society - considered, this was an immediate consequence. However, that had an important impact. People believed in the movement. The most people did not consider the antimilitarist activists as mere deserters. It took some time to create that image, but it was worthwhile. We made the people believe that - to some extend of course - honest political movements can exist. Maybe for this reason, antimilitarist activists were never a target of organized fascism in Turkey - as far as I know.

Second, the movement put forward new forms of actions. They were mostly non-violent direct actions which are conceptually unusual compared to the mainstream political actions there in Turkey. For example, the movement organized 2 or 3 days long festivals with international or even sometimes overseas participants where in each festival several people declared their conscientious objection to the military service.

Moreover, the term, non-violence trainings, was also introduced to political scene by the antimilitarist movement mostly and consequently several trainings - both national and international - have been organized so far. In other words, a new method for political organizing has ben introduced. However, unfortunately, that did not develop much for some predictable reasons.

The last thing I would like to mention was the emphasize of the international support that the movement tried really hard to gain. From a simple "sending postcards" action to putting pressure on the members of national and international parliaments, the international support became an indispensable part of the antimilitarist movement in Turkey. In other words, the movement lifted the scale of the political issues from the national scale to an international level. Therefore, it emphasized the significance of diplomacy and peaceful conflict resolution together with the international solidarity among antimilitarist groups elsewhere in the world.

2.2 Other Movements

Obviously, CO movement is not the only non-violent movement in Turkey - but it is the one I know best. Let me know just point out some other significant non-violent forms of actions and movements in Turkey.

Ecological movements of villagers and peasents in Turkey were nonviolent. The most famous of them is the resistance of the villagers to the gold mines which were built just next to their villages. The anti-gold movement keeps going for around 10 years and was quite successful to gain the public attention, and recently it gained a further importance. They did quite radical actions: they blocked the motor-way, they refused to vote, they did not participate to the census (which all are minor offenses) and, they organized big festivals against the mine etc. Eventually they attracted very much international political attention, too - especially from Greens.

Apart from the grass-root ecological movements (which includes the anti-gold and the anti-nuclear movements), the second significant movement was Islamist movement. However, due to the well known issues with the politically correctness criteria, aforementioned movement was unable to gain much public support as it is not non-violent in itself, in my opinion.

3. Conclusion

There is an immediate correlation between antimilitarism and non-violence. I believe, the conscientious objection movement in Turkey very well established this connection. Therefore, in terms of political soundness and correctness, the conscientiour objection movement in Turkey, I believe, is one of the most consistent parts of the international struggle against the all forms of organized violence.

Thank you.

[1] Turkish General Staff web page, October 2007, http://www.tsk.mil.tr/eng/genel_konular/tarihce.htm
[2] Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality.