Interview 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.] 

1)What does "total objection" exactly mean, could you explain by combining it with your own stance?

I consider the total objection concept within the boundaries of conscientous 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.

Both in my declaration, and throughout the period 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 legitimacy of 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 different states.

2) What kind of reactions did you get when you said you were a total objector after you were taken in custody?

That I said I was a total objector when I was taken in custody was just met with 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 it's fear.

3) Did you find support while in prison or from within the barracks? What were the reactions against you?

I didn't generally get any negative reaction either from prisoners or from soldiers 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 circumstances.

4) Have you been subject to any negative treatment throughout your imprisonement? Like violence or verbal harrassment.

I did receive some negative reaction. Just at the time of the flag crisis[some 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 sea, called 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" and a "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.

5) What kind of reaction did you get from the circles close to you?

People who are close to me were already somewhat prepared for something like this 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 this.

I knew solidarity groups would be formed but I could not even dream that such intense 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 the hospital. Everybody expected that you would be declared "unfit for military service" [the word used in Turkish is "rotten] This did not happen, what do you make of this? How do you this will affect the "unfit" report process?

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.

After a one week 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 punishment. 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 forward in order to get unfit status granted.

Almost every soldier (I can all all except for criminal observation) who comes to the service is administered a drug called "concrete." This is a drug that can cause serious spasms in the body shortly after injection. The nurse to whom I asked why they administered "concrete" to everyone, told me the drug was 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 muddled; those who say they are gay are not found credible; those who provide evidence are given "unfit" status and those who don't are deemed heterosexual. As long as gays who apply for "unfit" status accept the insults, I think the process will continue as it is.

8- What is the scale of heterosexism in the military? Did you encounter homophobic behavior?

The military has always been a male institution and the army in Turkey is no 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 compulsory for 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 outside prison?

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 despicable 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.