Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict: Signed (8 Sep 2000). Ratified (4 May 2004).
Compulsory recruitment age: 19.
Voluntary recruitment age: 18.
Duration of compulsory military service: 15 months / 6 months for university graduates / 12 months if they become reserve officers.
Conscientious objection to military service recognised for conscripts: No (the only country in the Council of Europe).
Conscientious objection recognised for professional soldiers: No.
Military expenditure: 2.7% of GDP (data 2009).
1) In a state of emergency or partial mobilization, individuals aged 15 and over were apparently liable for service in civil defence forces. The National Defence Service Law 3634 stated that “in cases of general or partial mobilization and in preparation of mobilization under a state of emergency, children under the age of 15 … shall not be held liable”.
2) Students at military schools and the NCO preparatory school were not liable for compulsory military service or considered members of the armed forces. Admission to military high schools and preparatory schools for NCOs was voluntary and required parental consent. The minimum entrance age was 13 years, and students could leave at any time. Basic military training and skills were not provided in these schools unless students wanted to become “professional soldiers”, in which case they received education on “military courtesy rules, elementary military general culture etc”. It was not apparent from the Law on Military Academies whether under-18s were legally prohibited from admission. The Naval Academy had not stated minimum entrance age but candidates could not be over 19 or admitted more than 12 months after leaving secondary-school. Although school leavers could potentially be aged only 17, the Turkish Military Academy’s stated objectives implied that candidates had to be over 18. The Academy said that its objectives were to educate and train commissioned officers who had “necessary military qualities with developed leadership qualities” or “a BS degree on the scientific branches determined in accordance with the needs of related Service”, and to provide postgraduate education related to service needs. Information from the Air Force Academy referred to undergraduate and postgraduate education but made no reference to age. War colleges for all branches of the armed forces were open to graduates who had completed their minimum two-year tactical- level command and staff duties, and a National Security College provided senior officer training.
3) There is no right to conscientious objection.
4) Conscientious objectors are prosecuted and imprisoned and in several cases they face repeated imprisonment. Conscientious objectors may be punished under Article 63 of the Turkish Military Penal Code for avoiding military service. Conscientious objectors who attract media attention or publish articles about their refusal to perform military service may also be punished to between six months' and two years' imprisonment under Article 318 of the Turkish Criminal Code for "alienating the people from the armed forces". Those who are convicted for draft evasion must still complete their term of military service. Repeated offenders may thus be sentenced again. Prison sentences for repeated offenders may not be commuted into fines. Those convicted to less than six months' imprisonment usually serve their prison sentence in military prisons; those convicted to over six months' imprisonment are imprisoned in regular prisons. After serving their prison sentence, they still need to perform the remaining term of their military service.
Inan Suver, who had first declared his conscientious objection in a letter to the military authorities in 2009, was detained in Istanbul on 5 August 2010 and transferred to the military prison in Izmir on 23 August. On 24 August, he appeared in front of the Aegean Armed Forces Command Court. The Court confirmed the charges of "infringement of leave" and ordered that he remain in pre-trial detention. Suver restated his conscientious objection during the hearing. Suver has been convicted and imprisoned on charges of "desertion" on at least three previous occasions. He has reported that while serving his prison sentence for desertion at Şirinyer Military Prison in İzmir he was severely beaten by prison guards. His outstanding sentences from the three previous convictions totalled 35 months. On 21 April, 2011 Süver escaped from the Manisa Saruhanlı Open Prison. One day later, he was arrested in Izmir and taken to the Buca Prison (Izmir). Süver started a hunger strike after he was arrested in Izmir. On 3 May, he was given a 20-day isolation punishment because he insisted on continuing the hunger strike and was transferred to the E Type Closed Prison in Manisa (western Turkey). Suver had begun and abandoned hunger strikes on two previous occasions during his imprisonments. Süver's father Yasin Süver met his son at the Manisa E Type Closed Prison on 4 May and afterwards reported that İnan was in very poor health.
Among Jehovah's Witnesses imprisoned in Turkey is Baris Görmez, 33 years old, the subject of the interim directive from the European Court of Human Rights. Ignoring the interim directive, on January 26, 2011, the military court in Isparta sentenced Görmez back to the military prison where he has been since November 5, 2007. The court made this decision after conferring with the Republic of Turkey Ministry of Justice. Ahmet Yorulmaz, a spokesperson for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Turkey stated “As soon as he finishes one prison term, Barış is sentenced to another because his Bible-trained conscience does not allow him to wear a military uniform or bear arms.” Görmez has consistently stated that he would be willing to perform alternative civilian service if this option was available. Even before arriving at prison, cruel attempts were made by the military police to coerce Barış Görmez to change his religious beliefs and take up arms. He was hit, kicked, and stepped on while the soles of his feet were beaten with a club.
Enver Aydemir, 37 years old, was sentenced to ten months imprisonment by Eskişehir military court on 30 March 2010, on charges of desertion. Aydemir refuses military service based on his religious beliefs as a Muslim. He refuses to be part of a secularist military. He was first called up to serve in a gendarmerie unit in the north-western Turkish province of Bilecik. He was brought to his unit by force. After declaring his conscientious objection, Aydemir was arrested on 24 July 2007, and sent to Eskişehir military prison, where he spent several months in pre-trial detention. On 4 October 2007, he was released by the court, and ordered to again report to his unit in Bilecik. However Aydemir did not follow this order. He was again arrested on 24 December 2009, after a routine police check in Istanbul revealed an outstanding arrest warrant, and after several days was again transferred to the military prison in Eskişehir. While in prison, he faced further disciplinary punishment for refusing to wear the prison uniform and disobeying orders. Following sentencing on 30 March 2010, Aydemir was formally released in recognition of the time he had already spent in prison, but was taken to the Bilecik 2nd Gendarmerie Private Education Unit, where he was again ordered to complete his military service. It was reported that he was then returned to Eskişehir military prison, to await a new trial on charges of disobeying orders. On his next appearance before the military court he was sent to a hospital in Ankara for a mental-health evaluation. Hospital staff declared him “anti-social” before even giving him a proper medical examination, he said. When he was in the hospital, Aydemir said, “I just hung around in the garden.” While doctors declared him unfit for military service, they also warned other patients to steer clear of him, he added. He was eventually released at the beginning of September 2010.
5) Public statements in favour of the right to conscientious objection have led to convictions. Article 318 of the Turkish Criminal Code for "alienating the people from the military" is used to stifle discussion of conscientious objection. In January 2011, this was used by the Eskişehir Public Prosecutor’s Office to file an indictment against five people – conscientious objector Halil Savda, director Mehmet Atak, writer Fatih Tezcan, Enver Aydemir’s father, Ahmet Aydemir, and his lawyer Davut Erkan in Eskişehir regarding a press release issued during the court case against Enver Aydemir at Eskişehir military court in January 2010. In the statement they had underlined that no one is born a soldier but a baby, making reference to the popular Turkish motto “Every Turk is born a soldier”. They added that they go to Ordu only for hazelnuts (Ordu is a city in the Black Sea region of Turkey famous for its hazelnuts, and the word “ordu” in Turkish also means army). The Eskişehir public prosecutor claimed in his indictment that these statements are intended to “alienate the people from the military”, which stipulates imprisonment from six months to two years for people who are found guilty of this act. If members of the media are found guilty of such discouragement, the punishment is increased by half. In a separate case, on 3 March 2011 the Court of Appeal upheld the sentence of five months' imprisonment received by Halil Savda from the Sultanahmet 1st Court of First Instance in Istanbul on 2 June 2008 under the same Article 318, regarding a statement of solidarity with two Israeli conscientious objectors which had appeared in the press on 1st August 2006.
1) Stop the recruitment of persons aged under 18 for service in civil defence forces in a state of emergency or mobilization.
2) Stop military training and abolish military schools for persons aged under 18.
3) Recognise the right to conscientious objection for conscripts, serving conscripts, reservists and professional soldiers.
4) Stop prosecuting (especially repeatedly for their continued refusal to serve in the army), imprisoning and ill-treating conscientious objectors.
5) Abolish Article 318 of the Turkish Criminal Code for "alienating the people from the armed forces".
Notes: The government continued to organize, arm and pay the Village Guards, a civil defence force numbering 60,000 and mainly concentrated in the south-east as part of its security operations there. It was not known whether there were under-18s in these paramilitary forces. It was not known how many PKK fighters were under 18. Recruitment of under-18s of both sexes had been reported in 2003. The PKK was believed to have used children in its forces since 1994.