Why do women in Turkey declare conscientious objection when women aren't due to obligatory military service?
On Monday mornings pupils in Turkish schools stand in troop formation and sing the Turkish national anthem, what I would describe as a military order. In high school a military officer come to all classes and give the obligatory lesson called Milli Guvenlik Dersi, “National security class”, about the military structure, the hierarchic degrees, sections and their duties. The pupils have to stand up in respect and give the soldier salute.
Turkey is a society characterised by militarism and the army plays an important role in the history of the Turkish National State. For a long time the headquarters of the army could attend the government meetings as a 'protector of the modern Turkey'. They could even 'warn' the government before their decisions. Still the army control the political atmosphere, but nowadays they don’t do it as much as openly like in the past. As always an enemy and fear is created by the state to justify the army, so that the people believe that we need the army to protect us. Today Turkey has two constant “enemies”, the Kurdish society and “radical Islamism”.
Militarism is a state control system. Its tool is organised violence and it’s institutions to use violence is army and police. But militarism can’t exist if it’s tools have a wide social acceptance.
For men in Turkey military service is obligatory from the age of 18. To be able to find a job for an ordinary Turkish man, he had to finish his military service, because the common opinion is that it is when a man finishes his military service he become a 'real man'. He learns 'life' in the military service. He learns what a 'woman' and a ‘man’ mean.
It is a crime to criticise the Turkish army and people who do is often called “traitors”. Before there was a special court called “State Security Court – Devlet Guvenlik Mahkemesi” and people who criticised the state, army and Ataturk were being judged in those courts. Now that court is dismissed and it’s replaced by law article 301. The law say “whoever contempt the Turkish state, Turkish nation, Turkish parliament and state institutions will be judged from 6 months up to 3 years with prison sentence”. An article that clearly is against freedom of expression. Last year 220 people (among them 184 journalists) were prosecuted and 33 of them got prison sentence or fine from this article. The court dismissed rest of the prosecutions.
The militarism has also been strong in the main opposition movement in Turkey. For long time the left movement believed and many of the still believe in armed struggle and had the same military structure within their organisations.
The organised struggle of anti-war began in the city Izmir 1992 when the first anti-war association was founded. It was also the start for non-violence, conscientious objection and antimilitarist-feminism. The anti-war movement was possible because a new political generation had started to look for a new way of thinking to fight the system and the war, which was going for a long time between the Turkish state and Kurdish people.
I joined the anti-war movement in 1997. In the movement the number of women were a bit more than men, but men were dominant. After a couple of years as activist me and other women started to question the situation. Why was it all the time men who were doing the speeches or preparing a press release article? For sure we were aware that experience in political activism were important and as women many of us didn’t have that experience at that time. But why did women speak less even when we say everyone had the equal right to speak?
The women in the association were working for an international women only anti-militarist seminar, which was part of association project. During the preparation meetings we started to gather regularly and we started to talk about ourselves, politics. Then we understood that we were feeling more or less the same in the association meetings and works, we weren’t feeling completely “existed” even when we had the space to be.
There is this term in Turkey: just war. It means violence can be acceptable to reach your aim. I remember once a very famous feminist answered a question about violence. She said that if a woman had being tortured several times by her husband and if that woman kills her husband I would say “ well done”.
We, women and feminist in the anti-war movement, wanted something else. We wanted both feminism and anti-war with the approach that there is no violence that is acceptable. This was the reason that feminist antimilitarist activist decided to get organised. I was a member of one of the organisations, An-fem.
Militarism is equally affects all of us, not only man's life. We knew that antimilitarism and feminism had the connection and in our first An-fem meetings we tried to bring the words together. We did readings and in the end we were clear: Every antimilitarist has to have the feminist perspective. Or other way around, every feminist has to be an antimilitarist. Antimilitarism is a struggle against militarism. Militarism exists itself in the society with patriarchy and discrimination. To be able to fight with militarism in our social life we should start to see how the sexism and discrimination is part of it and feminist awareness gives us the tools and possibilities to see and change them.
At this time conscientious objection struggle became visible and stronger. As it is only men who are obliged to do military service, we as women in the movement started to be perceived as supporters. Maybe that was 'natural' because of the character of the conscientious objection but we sensed that the direction where the conscientious objection movement was going was the patriarchy. 'The man' again was in the center of everything, he was the 'brave' one, he was the 'hero' who was taking risks.
The first news of a women conscientious objector came from Istanbul in 2004. Some other women supported her with their own conscientious objection declarations. The act to declare conscientious objection, as women, can be written or a public speech, either in a public place or making it public on the web. We in An-Fem supported the idea and made our declarations too at the day of conscientious objection, 15th of May 2005, many women who declare their conscientious objection do so in special days such as 15ht of May or 8th of March. What we wanted with our declarations was to bring awareness to conscientious objection and antimilitarist movement witch was becoming heroic and patriarchal which we were supposed to struggle with. By becoming conscientious objectors women could become more visible and not perceived as supporters like in our life as mothers, girlfriends and wives. The second aspect was to widen the concept of conscientious objection term as it should be the criticism of militarism, not only as refusing to go to military service.
Instead of refusing the army, we as women say we refuse this military system. When a woman declares her conscientious objection, her words are not only for the army, they are for this system which puts her into categories without her choice and expecting to act in these categories. I don’t have to go to army why would I refuse it. Because I have a serious problem with militarism, therefore I refuse to act in its system by rejecting being part of it.
We succeeded, the movement accepted this unique approach and we widened our approach about the criticism of militarism. For sure there were voices against this action and we are still discussing what the next step should be.
magazine link: http://www.bang.se/artiklar/2011/taktiksnack-2011-06-21