Turkish government leaders have made reducing the military’s role in politics one of their top domestic priorities. But there is one area where the politicians appear reluctant to confront the generals – providing draft exemptions for conscientious objectors.
Turkish law requires males between the ages of 20-41 to serve in the military; six months for university graduates, 15 months otherwise. The European Court of Human Rights and European Commission have pressed Ankara to recognize citizens’ right to abstain from military service, but Turkey’s governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) has shown little enthusiasm for providing legal protection to conscientious objectors. Turkey and Azerbaijan are the only two signatories of European Convention on Human Rights to deny such protection. Individuals who declare themselves objectors are treated like soldiers who refuse to obey orders and face court martial.
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Justin Vela is a freelance reporter based in Istanbul.