What will the Turkish Government remember as it votes on the war this week?

Sabri Oncu soncu at pacbell.net
Wed Feb 5 03:51:58 MST 2003

Istanbul Independent Media Center

Original article is at

What will the Turkish Government remember as it votes on the war
this week?
by Ayse Gul Altinay • Wednesday February 05, 2003 at 12:59 AM

Last week, Turkey witnessed an unusually spirited long weekend.
There was action almost everywhere in the country starting
Friday, January 24th. The motto was the same: Let us turn Ankara
into the capital of peace.

"Remember your humanity, forget the rest" Bertrand Russell

Last week, Turkey witnessed an unusually spirited long weekend.
There was action almost everywhere in the country starting
Friday, January 24th. In expectation of the UN Weapons
Inspectors' reports, people from different political backgrounds
and worldviews stood united against the war plans on Iraq. With
significant international participation in some of the events
during this "peace weekend", anti-war messages were conveyed in
the streets, in city squares, in congress halls, in theatres, in
music clubs as well as in the meeting rooms of the parliament.
The motto was the same: Let us turn Ankara into the capital of

Since last fall, Ankara has been a popular destination for top
level US politicians, diplomats and Pentagon officials. This time
the decision-makers in Ankara were made to feel a different kind
of pressure coming from their own citizens, as well as a select
group of peace activists from the USA, Britain, Israel,
Yugoslavia, Greece, Sweden, Italy, and Germany.

Conscientious Objectors: A Rising Voice in the Turkish Peace

One of the first events in this long "peace weekend" was a press
conference by conscientious objectors at the Human Rights
Association (HRA) in Istanbul. On Friday, 10 young men met at the
HRA conference room to announce their objection to all wars and
to military service in front of an audience of 60-70 human rights
and peace activists. The common line in these individual
declarations was the refusal to serve under any military,
Turkish, American, or other. This message was particularly
formulated in response to a popular slogan used in anti-war
rallies in Turkey recently: "We refuse to be US soldiers". For
this group of conscientious objectors, militaries were
militaries. They were all trained to kill. Theirs was a refusal
to supply the human power of all wars.

Although the declaration of conscientious objection has been
recognized as part of the freedom of expression in recent legal
cases, conscientious objection is not recognized as a right to
opt out of military service in Turkey. Theoretically, a
conscientious objector can spend a lifetime in the vicious cycle
between the military courtroom, military prison and the barracks.
In a country where conscription has been universal and mandatory
for all citizens since 1927, the growing number of conscientious
objectors is a new phenomenon, posing a unique line of resistance
against the current war plans and the military in general, as
well as introducing a new discussion to the political agenda,
that of militarism and its connections to compulsory military

Turkey Meets International Peace Activists

At the same time as the press conference by conscientious
objectors was being held, international peace activists were
arriving at Istanbul's busy Ataturk Airport. The renowned
academic, writer and activist Norman Finkelstein, the Midwest
coordinator of the September Eleventh Families for Peaceful
Tomorrows, Ryan Amundson, and a peace activist with significant
experience in the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war,
Michael Simmons, were the first to arrive. All three were taken
immediately to the TV studios of the national channels NTV,
CNN-TURK and TV 8 for live interviews. Turkey was witnessing a
unique gathering of "no-to-war!" voices from countries that were
leading the war coalition.

In these interviews and in other talks throughout the weekend,
Ryan Amundson, who has lost his brother in the September 11
attacks, asked the Turkish government to resist the demands of
his government, not only in the interests of the Turkish and
Iraqi people, but in the interests of the American people. This
war, Amundson feared, would make the US more susceptible to acts
of terrorism. He was also worried about the loss of innocent
lives in Iraq. "I know what it means for an object from the sky
to come and kill a loved one. I don’t want anybody else to
experience this," he said again and again. For Amundson, the
world was not divided between good and evil, but between the two
camps of violence and non-violence. He was urging Turkey to lead
the non-violence camp against the Bush administration and the
totalitarian, cruel Saddam regime simultaneously.

Professor Norman Finkelstein, writer of The Holocaust Industry
(2000) and Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict
(1995) stressed the possible consequences of the war for the
world at large. For Finkelstein, a war on Iraq would ignite the
Middle East as a whole and have catastrophic consequences. "The
whole world is watching Turkey," he said repeatedly, "to be
honest, history is watching Turkey. The bottom line is: No
Turkey, no war! Turkey’s decision in the next couple of weeks
will be a historical decision which may lead the whole region
into a catastrophic war, or be a turning point for the prevalence
of peace and the use of non-violent means to solve world
problems." Coming from a family of Holocaust survivors,
Finkelstein said that he believed he was honoring the members of
his family lost in the Second World War by asking for peace to

Michael Simmons, the current Director for the European Programs
of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) was talking with
more than 40 years of experience in peace and justice movements.
>From organizing African Americans for voter registration during
the civil rights movements and serving in jail for 2.5 years for
refusing the draft during the Vietnam war, to actively organizing
programs for the Roma community in Central and Eastern Europe,
Simmons had been involved in grassroots activism all his life.
Turkey was able to surprise Simmons with its vibrant and
committed body of peace activists. "Before coming here, I had no
idea that I would find such active participation in such a
diverse combination of peace events," he said. During his
interviews and talks, Simmons emphasized the loud outcries
against the war coming from the American public itself: "I would
like you to know that there are millions of American citizens who
are deeply disturbed and ashamed of the aggressive actions of the
American government. We support and applaud your efforts to bring
a peaceful solution to this crisis. We stand together in

The Assembly of the 100s: A United Declaration for Peace

On Saturday, January 25th, there was an uncommon peace event in
Istanbul's most prestigious congress hall. The Assembly of the
100s, brought together 100 representatives from 20 professional
groups (academics, writers, workers, artisans, engineers,
lawyers, doctors, publishers and translators, cinema and theatre
artists, business people, students, as well as "the unemployed")
for a poignant series of anti-war statements to be followed by a
joint declaration for peace. Organized by the Peace Initiative of
Turkey, the three-hour long event started with the live
performance of Konstantin Wecker, renowned anti-fascist, protest
musician from Germany, and ended with the peace songs of a
children's choir. International participants who were also in
Istanbul for this event, made short speeches to this vibrant
audience of 2000.

The high profile participants from intelligentsia, politics and
the arts, the organized voices of workers with their "no to war"
caps, doctors, teachers, farmers, students, and the unemployed
were united under a single slogan: No to war! They asked Ankara
to hear the anti-war messages of its population and to "become
the capital of peace, not the headquarters of war". According to
the famous woman writer and peace activist Oya Baydar, "everybody
was there" in this symbolically powerful assembly of Turkey’s
different sectors.

The joint declaration for peace was read by one of Turkey's
prominent actresses, Macide Tanir: "We say NO TO WAR, with full
awareness that it is the highest form of terror...We know that
this war has no legitimacy in international law, it has no moral,
humanitarian or conscientious grounds. Submission to the arrogant
pressures of global despotism under the pretext of overthrowing
local despots will have as destructive consequences for our
country as it does for the world as a whole!
 If we do not say NO
TO THIS WAR today, we, each and every one of us, each and every
country, all institutions and establishments, shall, regardless
of our reasons, be responsible and guilty before history and
future generations. Yet, if we unite, as all the forces of peace
who stand for peace, we can score a historic victory against this
war. As the 'Assembly of the Hundreds' representing the people of
our country, we warn all authorized bodies and institutions in
the world and in Turkey: Let Ankara be the capital of peace ! Let
us prevent this war when there still is a possibility of reaching
a peaceful solution. Let peace and life prevail!"

As the Assembly of the 100s was meeting in Istanbul, anti-war
demonstrations were taking place in other parts of Turkey. The
"Peace Chain" in Izmir, created by more than 7,000 people holding
hands with each other, was accompanied by arrival of the Peace
Train (organized by the Human Rights Association) in Adana, the
hometown of the major US base in Turkey. Perhaps not everybody
was at the Assembly of the 100s, but all those who were not there
were some place else with a "loud and clear" anti-war message.

Anti-War Rally in Istanbul – New Face of Political Activism

The first major anti-war rally in Istanbul was organized by a
coalition of more than 160 NGOs on December 1st. Bringing
together a group of ten thousand people, this rally had witnessed
the creative activism of gay groups, anarchists, and
environmentalists. Chanting lively with drums and coin filled
soda cans, a group of colorfully dressed youngsters were dancing:
"We are anti-capitalists. We won't kill, we won't die, we won't
be anybody's soldiers." Apart from the scenes of dancing and
chanting by these groups, the rally had been like any other. Most
of the participants were organized in groups, standing and
walking behind a particular banner or group sign. It was a
successful event which signaled what was to come: growing
anti-war activism among the people of Turkey.

The anti-war rally on January 26th in Istanbul was quite
different from the one on December 1st. Chanting and dancing were
still there. So were the political groups that had been present
in the earlier rally. But this time, there were many individuals
who were there not because they belonged to a particular group,
but because they wanted to raise a voice against the war. There
were families with children who had come to the Beyazit Square to
ask for an end to war plans. Little kids carrying signs which
said "children should not die". This time, the participation was
also higher despite the announcements by the police in the days
preceding the event that they would not allow this rally to take
place. Close to fifteen thousand had taken the liberty to go to
an "unauthorized" rally and this time, many were on their own
with home-produced banners.

Turkey's laws, until recently, were quite strict on controlling
any form of political action. Still governed by a constitution
written by the military regime in 1982, Turkey amended parts of
the constitution and the relevant laws to make them compatible
with European Union legislations and the international treaties
that it has signed. The death penalty was lifted as new laws that
brought more liberties were passed. Whether it signals the road
to more freedom and democracy in the country or is the outcome of
the government's efforts to remain on the peace camp, anti-war
activism so far has not met significant backlash from state

Recounting the rally last Sunday, famous actor and TV star Mehmet
Ali Alabora, was reminding everyone of the familiar scenes of
police beating and violent clashes from previous rallies:

"I was at the very front lines of a group of about 2-3 thousand
people. We were walking towards the square when we realized that
the road was blocked by hundreds of police. The police chief was
at the front. Having this many police is not unusual, of course.
But this time something very unusual was about to take place.
When we reached the police cordon, the police chief smiled, shook
my hand and said 'Welcome'. He then signaled the police men and
women to clear the road. In return, I pointed at the crown behind
me and told him 'they are all with me!' And we passed."

Actor Mehmet Ali Alabora symbolizes the new face of political
activism in Turkey: outside the domain of ideological divides,
preaching and practicing non-violence, individualistic yet
committed to political action and solidarity, humorous, creative,
and persistent. Thousands of such individuals joined the
politically organized leftist, liberal and Islamist groups last
Sunday to cry out a single slogan: "No to War!"

International Peace Forum: Remember Your Humanity

Hours after the anti-war rally at Beyazit Square, Bogazici
University, one of Turkey’s most prestigious universities on the
other side of town, was the host of an international peace forum.
Besides Norman Finkelstein, Ryan Amundson and Michael Simmons,
participants from North America, Europe and Israel gave speeches
on the prospects of war. Some had just come from Iraq, others had
fresh memories of their own experiences with war.

Scilla Elworthy, the director of the Oxford Research Foundation
and a three-time Nobel peace prize candidate, challenged everyone
to come up with concrete alternatives to the current situation
and asked governments to "treat their citizens as adults and
openly discuss the price they have been asked to pay if they
resist the US demands". Marijana Komarcevic, a member of the
Women in Black in Belgrade, and Obrad Savic, a Milosevic opponent
and alternative publisher, remembered their own experiences in
war and asked for global demilitarization. So did Raya Rotem, war
widow and member of the Bat Shalom women’s group in Israel: "I
lost my husband in the Yom Kippur War. Since then, I have been
struggling to bring peace and justice to Palestine and Israel. I
don't want the government to use my sorrow to bring more
violence, death and suffering. A war in Iraq would mean more
oppression on the Palestinians and a possible all-out war in the
Middle East. We must stop this from happening before it is too

John Hipkin, spokesperson for Campeace, the Cambridge Campaign
for Peace, explained their anti-war activism in Britain and
stressed that they were trying to include everyone who was
interested as equal partners in the struggle, and not as
‘supporters’ to the struggle: "There is something for everyone to
do," he said. Dusan Bjelic, a criminologist from the University
of Southern Maine, was a good example of this precise point. He
had traveled to Iraq as part of a mission of 31 US academics to
hold meetings with their Iraqi counterparts and politicians.
Scilla Elworthy had done the same with a different group of NGO
representatives and peace activists. They both drew attention to
the current conditions in Iraq and the suffering of the Iraqi
people under the ambargo.

There was poetry and literary reading at the forum as well. Peter
Curman and Jan Myrdal had traveled from Sweden to read from their
works and to make anti-war statements. Jan Myrdal pointed out the
possible catastrophic outcomes of this war for the whole world
and asked for more democracy in the countries in the region. "A
probable - but not as yet really inevitable - war. The popular
majority in every country - except possibly the United States -
are against the war. The governments that are to take part in the
coalition will have to do so against the expressed will of their
If Turkey refuses the war might - might! - be averted. If
Turkey is not able to resist the United States then war will be a
reality. But the consequences both for the region and for Turkey
itself will be grave. Also for us in Europe," he said. He also
warned Turkey that with the opening of Pandora’s Box in the
region, Turkey might become a divided country and lose its
current borders. Yorgos Tolis, a medical doctor and professor
from Greece, had come from Greece to join the forum and the
Assembly of the 100s with his daughter and 100 signatures from
Greek peace activists. "Best cure for any disease is prevention,"
he said. "We have to prevent this war from beginning!" Daniele
Tramonti, an anti-militarist activist from l'Associazione Papa
Giovanni XXIII, Italy, conveyed the same message and asked for
more solidarity with people in conflict areas.

Among the contributions of Tony Simpson from the Bertrand Russell
Foundation was a saying by Bertrand Russell, which was
immediately picked up as a motto by Turkish peace activists:
"Remember your humanity, forget the rest." The peace forum was
concluded by the comments of Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s celebrated
novelist, who stressed the need to develop a ‘culture of peace'
in Turkey.

Peace Night at Babylon Music Club

For many peace activists in Istanbul, this long weekend reached a
peak at the Babylon Peace Night where anti-war messages from all
over the world were read aloud, anti-war ad campaigns and films
projected on the screen, and anti-war songs played live and from
recordings. Statements by Harold Pinter, Noam Chomsky, and Woody
Harrelson were accompanied by the poetry of Safai, Saul Williams,
and Nazim Hikmet. Steps to Peace, an instrumental song composed
by Derril Bodley (one of the founders of Peaceful Tomorrows) for
his daughter who died in the World Trade Center, created one of
the most sentimental moments during the peace night.

The Peace Song composed by the group Mor ve Otesi was performed
for the first time on this night, first by the group itself and
then by a collective of rap, rock, and alternative musicians. An
excited audience joined the musicians in singing the song,
reading the verses from the screen: "Whose side are you on? The
side of oil or the side of life? First truth gets lost, then
innocent lives. No reason, there is no reason for war." The CD of
this anti-war song will come out in the coming weeks.

With an excellent organization, a beautiful presentation and a
dynamic audience, the Peace Night provided a unique combination
of joy and serious political talk. As one of the American
participants said, "this is a great way of getting the young
people involved. We should organize more political events of this

Back to High Politics: Meetings with Officials in Ankara

On Monday January 27th, a delegation composed of international
and Turkish peace activists visited the Deputy Prime Minister
Ertugrul Yalcinbayir, the Speaker of the Parliament Bulent Arinc,
and the Chair of the Parliamentary Human Rights Commission Mehmet
Elkatmis, handing them written peace statements (including the
verses of the brand new Peace Song) and urging them to clarify
their position in relation to the war plans. All three
politicians listened to the members of the delegation and shared
their anti-war sentiments. "I hope that we will not even have to
vote on this issue in the parliament" said Speaker Arinc, "but if
we do, I am confident that a majority of the members will vote
'no' to war."

The Deputy Prime Minister Yalcinbayir, was visibly touched by
Ryan Amundson and the peaceful efforts of the September Eleventh
Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. He asked the American government
to think of the Iraqi children as their own children and then
decide on the war. He also said that when it was time for him and
his fellow parliamentarians to decide they would "remember our
humanity and vote accordingly. We will remember that we have
children and that the Iraqis have children. We will remember that
they are first and foremost human beings." Yalcinbayir defined
Iraq as a surrendered party and added: "Iraq has already agreed
to UN Inspections. This is a modern form of surrender. Why does
the USA want to strike to a surrendered party? What is their

Chair of the Human Rights Commission Elkatmis reminded the group
that his commission had issued an anti-war statement in its first
meeting in December. He had publicly declared that he would vote
'no' to war when the issue was brought to the parliament. "Today’
s wars not only kill innocent people when the bombs are dropped,
but the coming generations of innocent people as well." He was
alluding to the use of radioactive material in the form of
depleted uranium in contemporary US weapons and the rising rates
of cancer among Iraqi children in the areas bombed during the
1991 Gulf War.

Ankara on the brink of a decision

The Turkish parliament will be voting on two major proposals in
the coming week. 550 members of the parliament will decide
whether or not to give mandate to the government to 1) permit the
deployment of US soldiers in Turkey, and 2) send Turkish soldiers
to Iraq. What will the decision be? We will all have to wait and

Like elsewhere in the world, the mainstream media has been
preparing the public for entry into the war. The underlying
assumption of all "news coverage" has been that the war is
inevitable and that Turkey cannot afford to stay out it.

This message has been challenged by an equally determined message
coming from peace activists that Turkey (and the world) cannot
afford to go to war! Thousands have been meeting in the streets
and meeting halls, millions signing petitions, and about 60
million opposing the war.

Will the Turkish parliament listen to these voices, remember
their humanity and forget the rest? The answer to this question
will determine the fate of not only Turkey, but Iraq and the
whole world. As Professor Finkelstein remarked several times last
week, "history is watching us."

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