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MAKALELER - 3: Nonviolence in TURKEY

"nonviolence cannot be described as merely the absence of violence"


We prepared this document as a summary view of the history of nonviolence in Turkey. While preparing the text, I felt the need to address, at least to some extent, Turkey's social structure in order to better explain the foundational, structural and developmental conditions of nonviolence here. Additionally, I tried to gather under one heading different political approaches towards nonviolence and the relationships built with those movements.


In today’s Turkey, almost all of the social and political relations are constituted according to a culture of militarism and patriarchy, a phenomenon that is deeply rooted in complex social and historical factors. Furthermore, Turkey, with a violent history and a geography tainted by of sorts of?? (numerous?) wars and armed conflicts, has recently been going through a war based on ethnic discrimination. This war, officially called “war against terrorism,” is systematically legitimized and concealed from the public eye in such a way that any attempt to question or confront the militarist culture that sustains it is labeled as “treason.”

The people most affected by the negative consequences of violence are primarily women, children and elders, and also the religious, ethnic and political minorities. Violence is so internalized by all segments of society that it has become inherent in all the actions of individuals and institutions. Even the possibility of approaching the issues from alternative perspectives and considering different ways of resolving conflicts and problems becomes unthinkable. Unfortunately this is even true for groups and individuals who are directly affected by the violence and who normally question the present hierarchical culture from within a political discourse of freedom and equality.

Turkish society can be characterized by the presence of a strong and nearly omnipotent military with far reaching influence in all aspects of social life. This influence can be observed in the following examples:

Only after having done one’s military service, a man is regarded as a „real“ man.

The military determines the politics of the state via the National Security Council which has even disempowered a government in 1997 (the so called “post-modern” coup d’etat). The military also holds an important economic position of power by its holding company OYAK.

The Military is seen as guarantee of the republic itself by nearly all politicians and people.

The prevailing of men over women is only seen as a societal issue and problem by few people in the big cities.

Physical violence against subordinated, imprisoned and members of “your” family are a common, widely accepted and unquestioned part of daily life.

The army embodies the base for the Turkish nation’s pride: ‘We are all winners,’ is a widespread attitude emerging after the Ottoman Empire’s defeat in 1918 and the establishing of the republic by the army under Mustafa Kemal in 1923. This is reflected in the Kemalistic principles that are fundamental to the state, that are reflected in the Criminal Code and that require the maintenance of a big and powerful army.

The Kemalistic principles – including Turkish nationalism and the indivisibility of the nation – are interpreted as the impossibility of cultural, national, religious and (at least in human rights issues) also political plurality, debate or discord(disagreement?). This generates a repressive attitude and conduct by all organs of the state (legislative, executive and justice) as well as the mainstream mass media.

In short, we can see direct physical, structural, as well as cultural violence nearly everywhere we look and nearly at any moment.

The history of nonviolence starts early in the 90’s. After the1980 coup d’etat, new political activities were introduced with the establishment of human rights organizations by the left-wing.As in many fields, militarism and patriarchy had not been discussed in these organizations. War Resisters' Association was established in 1992]. Because of juridical interventions by the Turkish state, this association had to be re-founded and renamed as Izmir War Resisters’ Association. The term “nonviolence” was used for the first time in the principles of this association.

In the beginning, nonviolence didn’t make so much concrete sense for the people who were living under a violent culture. Within the association, it was always a discussion point for all members to find out practical ways of living nonviolence. This was really hard for the members who believes nonviolence because of lack of cultural experiences. While the discussions continued, members were trying to conduct practical experiments with nonviolence. For example during the imprisonment of Osman Murat Ulke who is a conscientious objector, we were training ourselves for a prison visit scenario. After many years, we experienced several fields of nonviolence. And as a small group we are still working on building a nonviolent culture. And I can say that we came a long way from our beginning point. For instance, at the beginning of discussions, no other groups or individuals approached us to discuss nonviolence, but today the issue has gained considerable interest. But I shouldn’t be so optimistic.

The association was closed in 2001 because its members were burnt out as a result of many hardships they suffered throughout.


During the association original assets, the struggle was warm debate. On the one hand, our approach seemed to be very radical to the stated and this was true. On the other hand, they saw that we were not a belligerent group. In this sense our commitment to nonviolence put us in sharp contrast with radical (proviolent) leftist groups. Therefore, they never took our approach very seriously until we wanted to organize or produce something. The people who were involved with our nonviolent approach were mostly antimilitarist, anarchist and feminist activists. Our struggle with the state was never so “strong”.

Another reason for that was the radicalization of nonviolence by the state, by other political struggles and by the society in this culture of violence.

One of the important potential supporters of nonviolence could be leftist political groups. But their political attitude was one of pro-violence. They regarded nonviolence as weakness and ineffectiveness.

Perhaps the friendliest attitude came from the lgbt movement. But this movement was just in structuring process so, they just took nonviolent methods.

As far as political alliances go, the most fruitful interaction was the one we had with the women's movement. When we first began working on nonviolence, we formed a feminist and antimilitarist women's group called “Antimilitarist Feminists”. We tried to reach many women's groups to work together on nonviolence and antimilitarism. But their initial reactions were to deny our calls. In spite of this we reached many independent women. After some time, we started to hold trainings with women's organizations. This change in attitude was related to changes/transformation within the women's movement. Left groups’ pink collars were actively working in the movement but later on this scene changed. Because this feminist movement wanted to have their own way. Questioning of violence became a priority theme for the women and nonviolence seemed to be the answer out of these conflicts. And many women individually sought empowerment through alternatives ways. So, we had a strong cooperation with women and women's organizations.

The relationships forged with the Conscientous Objection (CO) movement are the strongest of all alliances formed with any political group so far. This is because the conscientious objection movement was initially built with the joint efforts of activists working on nonviolence in Turkey. Eventhough this partnership still continues, I believe the individualistic nature of the CO movement renders discussions of nonviolence ineffective. Although the CO movement in Turkey involves a total resistance (most objectors here happen to be total ojectors), an unequivocal attitude of nonviolence still cannot be expressed. One reason I see for this is the support of activists from the Kurdish movement and the leftist groups. Still, conscientous objection activities continue to be the most important areas where nonviolent practices can be realized.

Izmir Nonviolent Trainers Initiative

Our group first formed under Izmir War Resisters’ Association (IAWA) with the additional support of non-member individuals. After the closing of IAWA on December 2001, the group continued its activities with the name “Non-Violence Trainers Initiative”. From 2002 onwards we have developed a methodical approach consisting of three parts to promote and deliver non-violence trainings. Before the closure of the association, our work had been strongly supported and was improved and qualified by the assistance of two German trainers, who lived in Izmir for two years from 1998 to 2001.

In cooperation firstly with the House for Training and Encounter “Bildungs- und Begegnungsstätte Kurve Wustrow”, Germany, the first group of non-violent trainers were educated. Next there was an international training for trainers held in Foca, Turkey, in April 1996, which was organized including a new partner: the project “International Peace Work” of UMBRUCH’s predecessor, the DFG-VK Bildungswerk. The outcomes of which were documented both in Turkish and German. Since then, trainers have been doing trainings in Izmir as well as anywhere throughout the country – where-ever and when-ever a request is made. Recently, they have cooperated several times in the city of Diyarbakir, located in the south-eastern crisis region.

Today there are five trainers – four female and one male – who mostly work on a voluntary basis, only asking for travel expenses. In June 2006 a training for trainers with 20 participants form all over the country started. Yet, being forced to work for a living somewhere else interferes with their training work. Only one part-time working place for coordination, communication and qualification could be paid for on some occasions.

The aim of Izmir Trainers’ Group is to enhance and establish non-violent principles and structures as an alternative against militaristic, nationalistic, hierarchical and patriarchical ones.

In the field of public political activities, the Izmir Trainers’ Group started to work from its very beginning on topics of non-violence and conscientious objection. We organized demonstrations and seminars, applied legal means, looked for international cooperation and published brochures. A special problem of publishing is the Turkish political censorship: Several works of our group were confiscated by the police directly from the printing machine.

In the field of trainings the group worked with activists from extra-parliamentary groups , from human rights, women's and lgbt groups and from parties. Additionally, the group cooperated with the Human Rights Centre of the Izmir Lawyers’ Association to train lawyers and policemen about human rights issues.

In general, issues covered in our trainings include: creating non-hierarchical structures for grassroots and oppositional political work, consensus decision-making, discussion of militaristic structures within the society (starting from the family) and non-violent alternatives. The individual behaviours and actions of the participants are always the basic and central point of our workshops.

For our work, we reflected on theoretical analyses and practical experiences of non-violence and non-violent actions (starting with Thoreau and Ghandi and leading to today’s examples). We included reflections on anarchistic approaches to non-violence, on Augusto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed and Gene Sharp’s strategies of non-violence.

Our group believes that it is possible to eliminate all kinds of inequalities, discrimination and thus violence and to develop non-violent actions and methods for social and political change. Therefore, with the principle “Non-violence is not an aspiration to be achieved in the future, but at the same time the very means to achieve such a goal” our group starts questioning everyday life practices that may seem to be “neutral”. For over ten years our group has been learning, practicing and teaching the means and methods of non-violence, an attitude towards life that we are now developing as a life principle.

According to the plan, in the first step, there is one day “introduction” for the diverse kinds of organizations working and for individual activists in the social and political arena who question violence within their agenda.

The second part consists of “issue-based trainings” which are conducted with the groups and individuals on particular topics they determine based on their needs (prejudices, conflict resolutions, communication, sexism, and such subjects).

The third part, is a one-week intensive “training for trainers” session with selected individuals who have taken part in the first two training sessions and who want to develop themselves into trainers.

Since 2002, we conducted the first and second parts of trainings with diverse groups[1] working with women, GLBT, and human rights, ecology, peace and anti-militarism in Izmir, Ankara, Antalya, Adana and Diyarbakır.

The individuals who participated in the trainings and want to be trainers were people who had already started questioning violence and had been trying to integrate non-violence methods within their institutions and their individual practices. However, these people mentioned their lack in information and experience on “non-violent action” or like in the KAMER example in Diyarbakır they need to learn developing non-violent solutions primarily for their fundamental activities (like honor killings, violence against women, etc). They need empowerment in their work and enhanced capacity on non-violence in order to create new solutions to the on-going problems. Having received an constantly increasing demand for a “train the trainers” training module, we have agreed that the third phase of the non-violence trainings would be useful to a great degree.

We are aware that it is impossible to cover all principles of non-violence in a one-week training. One of the solutions we found to this problem is to continue dialogue and seek possibilities for future meetings of supervision and feedback. Furthermore during the training, a network between the trainers all over Turkey will be formed and the operational principles of such a network will be established. This network of trainers approach would ensure the sustainability of our dialogue, continuing sharing of knowledge and experience among the practitioners of non-violence teachers(trainers?), and our collaborative dissemination of non-violence training both at local and national levels.


Non- violence [training???]:

promotes self awareness about one's own prejudices

strengthens communication between individuals and groups by providing skills such as empathy, active listening, giving feedback and active participation in decision-making processes

promotes alternative non-violent ways of conflict-resolution that are inherent in the idea of human rights and democracy.

Our aims are:

improving and strengthening the culture of democracy and human rights by introducing the concept of non-violence.

questioning the culture of violence (which has a militaristic and patriarchal character in Turkey) in order to saw seeds of the culture of non-violence

raising awareness of and struggle with discrimination, in all walks of life??.

training trainers in order for them to work for these ends by gaining practical experience and increasing their capacity of training such that they can facilitate their own training groups during the one year period.

-Nonviolent Campaigns

Looking at examples of nonviolent campaigns in Turkey, we can say that these activities have not been organized in an entirely nonviolent way. While nonviolence was one of the fundamental principles, we must state that these organizations lacked some of the qualities of a truly nonviolent action, such as preparing for the event with prior nonviolence trainings. One of the longest winded campaigns in this regard was the Militourism Festival. This festival, held annually on May 15th (International Conscientous Objectors' Day), consisted of visiting prominent militarist symbols in various cities, organization of alternative events and declarations of conscientious objections Anothwe was the “We Are Facing It” Campaign. This campaign aimed at facing and coming to terms with the war that has been going on in Turkey; it was spread over the length of an entire year with major actions held every once in 3 months. The aim was to prevent people from ignoring this war with the use of nonviolent means such as street theatre.

Another nonviolent action was the “Rice Day.” This action was held in Ankara, the locus of official administration, and specifically in front of a military barracks. We gathered there in order to say “we exist, we are here.” As antimilitarists who subverted societal roles in our activities, we used the symbol of the Rice Day in order to enhance group solidarity and end our inivisibility. Apart from these major activities, smaller organizations and actions were also mobilized for short-term political intervention purposes.


Although we have often been marginalized throughout the short history of nonviolence in Turkey and could not be as effective as we would like to have been, we are on our way to further visibility thanks to the alliances forged with the women's and LGBTT movements here. This is further aided by the fact that conscientious objection began being discussed in the public arena. Increasing demands from different political groups for implementing nonviolence training and methods in their programs affirm this trend.

[1] Some of these groups are: KAMER working on women’s rights in Diyarbakır; KAOS-GL, a magazine and group working on GLBT rights; Amargi, Women’s Cooperative in Istanbul; Eğitim-Sen, teachers’ union in Antalya; Peace and Justice Commission activists in Izmir, and such.