This February, 20 activists from anti-militarist movements across the Mediterranean region gathered in the demilitarized zone between Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus to discuss militarization, ending conscription, and conscientious objectors’ rights. At the end of the three-day conference, participants formed a regional solidarity and action network.

In a region where compulsory military service is almost universal, addressing conscription is a key component of counteracting the devastating consequences of militarization.

The conference included workshops and discussions dealing with military service and refusal, and war and occupations in the region. Participants included Turkish, Greek, Cypriot, Palestinian, Israeli, Egyptian, Iranian, and Tunisian activists. Sessions were devoted to exchanging information and exploring the intersections between anti-militarism and other struggles, most importantly those for gender equality and democracy.

Some conscientious objection groups and many anti-militarist groups are already active in the region. However, “There has been bilateral support actions and joint movements from two countries in the region with no overall regional network of such groups,” explains Raanan Forscher, a former fellow with AFSC’s Israel program, and AFSC’s representative at the conference. “Such networks will help them exchange experiences and support each other.”

AFSC co-sponsored this conference and participated in the organizing committee. Initiatives such as this one are crucial steps toward transforming the systems and processes that create and sustain structures of violence.

“There were many similarities in the work combining all the countries together, however, we had to work to find a common ground before starting. That in itself was a challenge,” says Raanan.

To sustain the network, a regular structure of communication and meetings has been set up, and future regional consultations and solidarity actions—such as statements, trial observations, and support demonstrations—will take place.

Latest update: Less than a month after the establishment of this network, North Cypriote refuser, Mirat Kanatli, was imprisoned for 10 days for his refusal to serve in the Turkish military. Activists participating in the network organized support statements. They also plan to protest in front of Turkish embassies around the region.