"To live is to resist" - letter from Ossi


Back to:Mehmet loves Bariş* Documentation: Conscientious objection in Turkey

Dear Peace News readers,

I'm Ossi. As many of you know I was imprisoned because of my conscientious objection to military service in Turkey. After my first imprisonment in October '96, I was released in December '96 and went back to court again in January '97 - to be imprisoned again. I got released in May '97 and went back in October '97. This was meant to be my last courtroom confrontation.

But this time the recruitment office took the initiative and decided not to let me go free after the military court released me. So I was imprisoned again and again, until my lawyers managed to get me out on 9th of March this year!

During the two years I've spent in prisons, barracks and recruitment offices (as stop-overs during transportation) the legal situation hasn't developed much. I still "belong to the army", which means that I'm actually in the position of a being a deserter and could be imprisoned again at any time. On the other hand it seems that the military is not too keen on imprisoning me, because this would just carry on the confrontation-without breaking my will.

Many people might wonder if this story makes sense, if it's worth going through with all of this. Isn't this way of acting just martyrdom? Instead of working out political arguments, I would like to answer with a simple story taken from my daily life in prison.

When I first arrived in Eskisehir Military Prison in November '96, I was put in a community room (with a capacity for twelve persons).

I was the only one who didn't wear a uniform (I refused and reminded the prison authorities of my previous hunger strike in Mamak Military Prison , Ankara). My room mates had been warned about me. After two days of getting known each other, silence fell all around me. Only one Islamist went on talking with me, but that's another story.

After a while I realised that there was an embargo against me and the main person responsible was the community leader.

He was a convinced fascist and had already spent two years in prison for killing somebody (for economic reasons). Let's call him "Ahmet".

It was very difficult for me to live with this social stress. I was used to resisting the authorities, but how can you live in a small room full of people who don't want to share a single word with you?Within one month I was released. However, I soon returnedas you know. This time my roommates were quite surprised, because they saw that my stay there was not a coincidence or something outside my will. They realised that I was serious about all that nonsense about conscientious objection and that I chose to be there. Ahmet especially had difficulties accepting this and so he started discussing it with me. After a while we came to the point of living peacefully together. Although our thoughts were contradictory, he began to respect me, followed by a kind of friendship. Observing my behaviour in prison, Ahmet tried more and more to understand my principles. So we began to discuss, in a more relaxed way, ethics, religion, anthropology, history, nationalism, psychology and so on. He was reading the books my friends brought me and one day one of these books acted like an explosion inside him. It was a basic introductory book about the history of Western philosophy. After that book, Ahmet's questions concerning anything you could imagine flooded through and out of him.

After nearly two years of knowing each other, his rate of change gets faster and faster. In one of our night-conversations he told me that this was only possible, because he trusted that I wouldn't try to indoctrinate him. So, step by step prison life also started to change. Ahmet was responsible for the twelve-man community, but didn't want to continue in that position. On the other hand everybody was used to living with this strict hierarchy. Ahmet couldn't withdraw, because we all knew that the situation would become worse. We-all together-slowly tried to create a more human and democratic atmosphere. That was quite difficult, because people who are used to being governed interpret this as a sign of weakness. The outcome is often chaos, instead of democracy. On the other hand the prison authorities and warders always are always looking for chances to intervene and control life in the community rooms.

We haven't created a pure oasis, but at least reached consensus about externalising physical violence and things like that. But most important for me is to have known Ahmet, to have observed the process he has gone through. To have a real example of how somebody can change. When I was finally released, he had been in prison for four years and there were thirteen years left to go. Now I'm trying not to lose contact.

Of course this story is not the whole answer and I didn't decide to be a CO to get acquainted with somebody like Ahmet-but this experience and many others have shown me again and again that it is worth insisting on being your self and of following your will. I've never had the feeling that I've spent my time without purpose during my stays in prison. On the contrary, these years have made it once again clear to me: to live is to resist.

I would like to end with a few words to the Peace News readers and Amnesty International activists, who showed me their solidarity throughout these years. I never received your letters, but when it became clear that the army was interrupting the flow of letters coming my way, my group, the Izmir War Resisters' Association, started to collect them. In just three months more than 2.500 letters arrived in Izmir. Even though I couldn't read them, my friends told me about the flow. Upon release, one of the first things I did was to examine this mountain of post. I'll never finish them all! So, thank you very very much for being with me.

(Osman Murat Ulke)

The Broken Rifle No 44, November 1999

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Related peace activist(s): Osman Murat Ülke