conscientious objectors blog

Artistic Vision

COnscription is the first project in ‘Conscientious Objectors‘, a series of collaborative research-based works coming from countries which use conscription and national service.

COnscription aims to reflect the experiences of people whose lives are affected by the obligation to complete military service, no matter the country, and to generate debate about the complex moral, personal and national implications.

With conflicts and struggles between liberalist and nationalist values continuing worldwide, issues of human rights and individual choice are more urgent than ever. They are particularly contentious where people are required to do national service, engendering politics of compliance and resistance, acceptance and exclusion.

COnscription collects and interprets personal stories, and also touches upon universal themes: personal freedoms versus duty; fault lines between intention and result, and policy and procedure in governing systems.  It examines such questions as: what constitutes ‘fitness’ or ‘suitability’? What philosophies or beliefs are seen as valid? How are judgements applied? How do they impact on society and an individual’s life, choices, freedoms and wellbeing?

This project focuses on Turkey, where there are a number of high profile cases, both of people refusing military service (and being repeatedly imprisoned for it) on one hand, and of discrimination towards gay or disabled men in the armed forces on the other. Caglar Kimyoncu has personal experience of assessment for ‘suitability’, and there is a large Turkish/Kurdish ex-pat community in the UK, where he lives.  Many of these men find their status complicated by the catch-22 situation of national service. In Turkey all males need to have done their service – or be officially exempted – in order to live as a fully recognised citizen. Education, visas, employment, voting, renting property, bank accounts – all these things depend upon it. In order to break the cycle of call-up, imprisonment and release, Turkish men can do their service, prove ineligibility, or declare conscientious objection. Each of these choices has a massive impact on their lives. And this pattern is seen in other countries worldwide.

COnscription’s intention is not to make judgements about the rights or wrongs of militarism but to use art to raise questions around the contentious issues of national service.

The aim of the project is to give greater voice to cultural issues rarely approached through art, and to stories of individuals whose experiences may be little recognised. COnscription seeks to encourage people across all sections of society to question assumptions and attitudes around the position of the individual within the social system, and what it means for the two to be at odds, avoiding a judgmental or prescriptive approach.

Like the rest of Caglar’s work, COnscription is informed by a concern with the politics of power and the pressure (overt or subtle) to conform to norms, which continue to prevail even in apparently liberal and tolerant societies. Conscription is one of the many means of state coercion that are present in some form in every society.

One of the important aspects of interpreting people’s stories through art is that it enables them to be heard without compromising the security of the individuals – which is very necessary in some circumstances, where they might be at risk of prejudice or persecution. Using actors, fictionalisation and an artistic interpretation allows the exploration of different viewpoints without ‘taking sides’. Film is also a more universal medium than journalistic reporting, making stories accessible across language barriers and thus appealing to a wider audience.

COnscription will make people think, raising awareness about military service and the alienation this creates for some people, revealing some of the issues which don’t currently have the same international profile as other human rights questions. While conscription is no longer a ‘European’ issue, the work itself will help people explore the similarities between conscription in Turkey and their own experiences of state-led compulsion or categorisation. The hope that it will initiate a safe platform to share stories, contact each other and get in touch with support groups, and contribute to wider debates around exclusion and having the right to choose in society.

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