with Mehmet Tarhan
by via ainfos, Thursday, May 26 2005
[The following interview which was done with imprisoned
anarchist total/objector Mehmet Tarhan is published on daily BirgŁn
newspaper (in Turkish) last weekend with some restrictions.]
does "total objection" exactly mean, could you explain by
with your own stance?
I consider the
total objection concept within the boundaries of
objection. Conscientious objection refers to the the individual
who refuses to serve in the army for religious, political, ethical
or other reasons. Conscientious objection may be founded on various
things, but in its essence, it is the freedom of people to organize
their lives towards their own wishes. Total objection roughly means
refusing any "civil" alternatives that may be suggested in place of
military service. The reason for this is that, by militarism, the total
objector does not only imply army service, but the entire web of hierarchical
and discriminatory relationships that lie in the core of social
life and relationships. I try to lead my life by trying to stay out
of this web of relationships.
in my declaration, and throughout
since my arrest on April 8, I have refused all options of deferral
of or exemption from service. Altough laws, regulations or agreements
do not acknowledge its legitimacy, I have no doubts as to the
the stance I developed against decisions being taken against
my will. Total objection is the demand to nullify the contract that
has supposedly been made between the society and the state or between
kind of reactions did you get when you said you were a total
you were taken in custody?
That I said I
was a total objector when I was taken in custody was just
astonishment. And I think some people thought I was crazy. After
a while I think people came to an agreement that I must have been a
terrorist. Some of the police officers mentioned paid military service,
but it was again met with surprise when I said I wouldn't pay for
it. >From the officers in the police station to the guardian in prison,
a lot of people said things like "If you eat the bread of this nation,
you should pay for it." I asked each of them to tell me who produces
that bread. Who is debt to whom? What is "nation"? The more questions
I asked, the less they decided to speak. The speaking prohibiton
brought to soldiers who guarded me during my transfers, obviously
reveals what the powerful feel about the total objector. I guess
3) Did you
find support while in prison or from within the barracks?
What were the
reactions against you?
generally get any negative reaction either from prisoners or
on duty both in prison and at the disiplinary jail in Tokat
where I spent a night. I received questions about the subject. I know
that the legal process is being followed with much interest. The fact
that I have not been subject to violence despite the encouragement of
the authorities, can be considered a significant sign of support in these
4) Have you
been subject to any negative treatment throughout your
Like violence or verbal harrassment.
I did receive
some negative reaction. Just at the time of the flag
people trampled the Turkish flag at a demonstration, and as a
result shovenistic rallying behind the flag began; a very nationalistic and intolerant mood continues], Kardak [Islets in Agean
Imia in Greek. A sovereignty conflict arose between Turkey and
Greece in 1996. It was brought up again recently] and the events in Trabzon
[a mob attempted to lynch 5 people who were distributing flyers
against the F
type isolation cells in prisons. Other lynch attempts ensued
when other groups tried to make press releases in different cities],
I was really frightened because I was branded as "a traitor"
"terrorist" and the people around me were manipulated. In fact there
was a lynch attempt during my first night in prison. There is a legal
procedure underway regarding this event. What really gives me hope
is that the
powers that be who manipulated the prisoners so as to keep their
own hands clean, did not succeed. Right now I am not experiencing any
problems with the prisoners. Conscientous/Total objection somehow garnered
the support of prisoners and military personnel who are in a way
victims of the military establishment themselves.
kind of reaction did you get from the circles close to you?
People who are
close to me were already somewhat prepared for something
since my declaration in 2001 and they were always by my side. My
sister is still in Sivas although I opposed it. I speak to my only brother
who went to military service and I know he supports me. We did not
disclose the matter to my mom until the first trial, and my friends did
not leave her alone all this time. In fact my friend Ilke is still living
with her. I wrote a letter to my mother after the trial and explained
her what happened. I was worried about her health but she's doing
fine now and she supports me. My family and friends did and are still
doing all they can for the campaign, I am grateful to all of them for
solidarity groups would be formed but I could not even dream
efforts would be spent and that such wide participation would
take place. This created an atmosphere that could almost make the prison
process bearable. The participants prove that despite all the repression
and denial, no one has the power to imprison the demand for peace.
This reinforces my belief for the day all of us shall be free.
7- When the
prosecution realized you were gay, you were transferred to
Everybody expected that you would be declared "unfit for military
service" [the word used in Turkish is "rotten] This did not
do you make of this? How do you this will affect the "unfit"
My transfer to
the hospital was officially justified on the grounds of
CMUK [Code of
Criminal Procedure]. But it is obvious that the true reason
is the fact that I am gay. I refused the examinations at the hospital
and I said that my homosexuality cannot be defined as a pathology.
I scratched the part of the document they tried to make me sign
which read "I accept all kinds of medical intervention" and I wrote
"I do not
accept any type of medical intervention" next to it and signed
it. I was
transferred to General Surgery for anal sex examination [probe
the anus to
see evidence of anal sex] and I refused the inspection there
as well. Also
I should relay that Sivas Military Hospital demands a photograph
[showing anal intercourse] for evidence. I explained that just
as heterosexuality, homosexuality cannot be proven either, that no
one has a
right to demand this and that it is not a desease.
obeservation (and it was more like locking up, because the hospital
was far from
being hygenic for a hospital) period, the medical board decided
that I was not "unfit"(rotten); that is, I was eligible for
This decision can be regarded as a revolution for military psychiatry.
Although I refuse it, I am defined as an "infantry soldier"
on paper and
so there is a gay infantry soldier present in the army right
now. But another point that begs attention here is that this is not
even mentioned in the detailed report presented to the court, and there
is a possibility that they decided I am not gay despite the statement
in my declaration. I don't have a clear idea as to how the report
presented to the court could affect the process of "unfit" status.
Because what I witnessed in the psychiatry service I stayed in was
that the hospital percieves all ailments or complaints as claims put
order to get unfit status granted.
every soldier (I can
all all except for criminal observation) who comes to the service is
drug called "concrete." This is a drug that can cause
in the body shortly after injection. The nurse to whom I asked
why they administered "concrete" to everyone, told me the drug
used as a
method of deterrence. In fact, the patients who came to the hospital
on their own will for psychiatric treatment, begged to be released,
after a couple injections. Frankly, I don't foresee that such arbitrary
military hospital procedures that take place in secrecy will change,
and the "unfit" status regarding gays or all the degrading policies
that rob us of dignity will end any time soon. The policy is so
who say they are gay are not found credible; those who provide
evidence are given "unfit" status and those who don't are
As long as gays who apply for "unfit" status accept the
think the process will continue as it is.
8- What is
the scale of heterosexism in the military? Did you
has always been a male institution and the army in Turkey
different. Unfortunately heterosexism is rampant everywhere not just
in the army. Such that you cannot even notice it is there. When they
were examining me in the infirmary of the military unit in Tokat, one
person asked me about the organizations I was affiliated with. The organizations
he asked about were different of course, but I told him many
of the organizations I had relations with up to now. I also included
gay organizations like Kaos GL and LamdaI.stanbul. I gave information
about these groups and of course mentioned that these gay organizations.
But they did not ask me if I was gay or not. It was just
everyone, and of course for me, to be heterosexual, such that
for them, the gay groups I worked with or the statement in my declaration
did not threaten my heterosexuality. I did not match the gay
type they had
in mind and they almost asked me to swear. Althought it sounds
funny, it is very degrading for me. The word "gay" comes out like
a whisper from
most mouths, before they ask me they first apologize. Of course
cussing is widespread in the army as it is in the rest of society
and you can
guess easily what kind of profanity they use.
9- Do you
have a message to those who show their solidarity with you
Frankly I did
not expect such a good campaign. Or such solidarity...
In a way, I feel pretty good and I owe this to seeing that
my voice was
received. I thank those who toiled and supported me and my action
I have more faith now that a time will come when all of us will be
free. In a letter I wrote to friend, I said that we are covered by a fog
now, that we call our to each other from within that fog, and when we
finally manage to dissipate that fog, we will be able to look each other
in the eye although our faces are turned towards different directions..
I want them to keep believing in that day.
10- Do you
have a message to those who are in a similar position with you
and who do not know what to do?
Peace is not
something to be fought for, but it is something you can
give up many
things in the name of. I have always said that leading a life
that contradicts with your opinions and conscience. I chose the relativelty
easier path and I don't disagree with regarding choosing the
easier path as
cowardice. Because fear is not a despicable feeling, what
is to create excuses for murder and violence throught eulogies.
While people calculate what they give for what, I would like them
to consider their inner peace and peace of mind as well. Before they
pay debts that are imposed on them, I would like them to ask why and
what for. I am a very special person, and I know that the rest of the
7 billion people in the world are their own most special person. I realize
that all the numbers in the statistics are composed of seperate 1s,
and that each of us are just one of those 1s. We are all the most special
1 and I want everyone to lead a life with the recognition thereof
and take their decisions with that knowledge.