Kurdish Objector Defies Turkey's Mighty Army
 SELÇUK GÖKOLUK, Istanbul, 8 October 2006

‘A bomb exploded in the hands of a child in the village where I was working. You ask yourself: ‘What the hell was that bomb doing there? Why do we have this war?'’ says Tarhan

Mehmet Tarhan knows a lot about the desperation and anger that led a Turkish draft dodger to hijack a plane this week hoping to avoid military service. Kurdish, a homosexual and described as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, Tarhan is a determined activist whose refusal to serve in one of the world's most powerful armies has cost him dearly.

Last year he was jailed for “consistent insubordination ... with the intent of evading military service altogether.” He is reluctant to talk about the beatings, the enforced shaving of his hair and beard, the rape threats and a 34-day hunger strike to protest his treatment in jail. He prefers to concentrate on his message and his immediate plight. “My purpose is not the abolition of the Turkish Armed Forces, but of all armies,” Tarhan told Reuters recently.

Since his release in March he has been struggling to recover a life that has been stripped bare by a society which reveres its military and views compulsory service as a proud rite of passage every patriotic man must complete. “I can't find a job, I can't get a passport, I don't even have an identity card,” he said.

His treatment in jail sparked the condemnation of human rights groups and an international petition campaign. Amnesty International called on Turkey to recognize the right of conscientious objectors to alternative service. Although the Military Court of Appeals overturned the ruling against him, he lives in fear that he could be forced into the army at any time.

But he retains the determination he expressed at his trial.

“I... refuse to be transformed into a murder machine by taking a course in dying and killing,” Amnesty's Web site quotes Tarhan as having said at his trial. But he also has some further scars. Tarhan said he believed his sexual orientation incensed the military authorities, who view homosexuality as a psychological disorder and will exempt gays from service once they have undergone “physical tests.” Tarhan, who is also a gay activist, said he rejected taking this option to avoid service on principle.

“I could see the disgust the judge and prosecutor felt for me in their eyes,” he said. His objections to military service developed while he was working as a civil servant in the southeast region. “A bomb exploded in the hands of a child in the village where I was working. You ask yourself: ‘What the hell was that bomb doing there? Why do we have this war?'” Tarhan said.  “I promised myself I would in no way become a part of this conflict.”

He said he is not alone among Kurds in Turkey with his quest to abolish conscription, or at least, provide an alternative civilian service for those who object to serving in the army “I know Kurdish groups are considering opting for rejecting military service as conscientious objectors,” he said, adding that there were now around 70 conscientious objectors in Turkey.

But his peaceful campaign of resistance is unlikely to embrace the actions of Christian convert and draft dodger Hakan Ekinci, who hijacked a plane from Albania to Italy on Tuesday in a bid to attract the intervention of the Pope.

Turkey's government is firm on the issue of conscription, saying it cannot afford to abolish compulsory service when the country's security is threatened by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and regional conflicts; it borders Iraq. National pride in the army, which is seen as the guarantor of Turkey's secular political system is also an obstacle to reforming conscription.

Turks regularly name the armed forces -- the second largest force in NATO after the United States -- as their most respected institution.