Essay: Conscription in Turkey

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Military Conscription Reforms in Turkey: A Financial or Professional Approach

Military conscription in Turkey has its roots in the late Ottoman Empire. The system was adopted as a means of giving the nation military workforce, and was a tool of military modernization, especially in the Turkish Republic. According to Dogra Ozgur (2008), military conscription modernized the Turkish army in terms of improvements to registrations, surveillance, censuses techniques, and the increase of military men from the increase in the number of conscripts (14). The system met the financial and social need of the Turkish Republic that was seeking for more productive rural and urban labor force, which it acquired from the military barracks schooling system. Turkey's conscription is still highly institutionalized and is still a culturally and socially sanctified practice. However, in the last two years, a move by the government to reform conscription has raised different controversial sentiments in the public concerning the reforms. Public discussion revolves around factors like financial pressure on the government driving it to make conscription reforms. A review of newspaper reports indicates that the discussion revolves around the use of humiliating factors like homosexuality, to drive the economic logic behind the reforms. This critique seeks to establish that reforms to Turkey's military conscription are a means of achieving a much-needed professionalism in the military, rather than economic and financial gains by the government.

Military service in Turkey is mandatory for every young man from the age of 20, unless they have been declared unfit for the services on health reasons or they are students in institutions of higher learning, which allows them to postpone their service until their complete their studies (Dogra 15). Military service was shortened in 2003, and reduced the number of registered conscripts by 17%. It also led to university graduates performing in the military for 6-month as privates or for 12 months as reserve officers (Dogra 15). It is noted that the recruitment system used currently is effective, having reduced the number of deserters by 2003. However, the conscription problem and the rise of the number of deserters by 2007 have been associated with the continued conflict in the Southeast against the PKK, the separate Kurdish movement. The Minister of National Defense as 1.5% estimated the number of deserters by 2007, with unofficial reports indicating 400,000 (Dagro 15). This is a major cause for the need of reforms to the military conscription system, as the government tries to improve the level of professionalism in the military to reduce the number of young men that are losing their lives.

The Turkish cabinet has proposed reforming military conscription by exempting Turkish nationals at the age of 30 or above by paying 30,000 liras from participating in their military obligations and preliminary 21-day basic training (Parkison 1). Turkish nationals living abroad for at least three years can pay €10,000 for being exempted at no age limit. Other exemption proposals include the ability of military men proving they are homosexuals and those that consciously object to opt for non-military forms of public service. The reports identify that men over the age of 40 are exempted from military service, while those between the age of 30 and 40 years will be required to participate in a 21-day training course (Seibert 1).

Parkinson Joe (2011) identifies that payouts to be exempted from the military is not new in Turkish history, especially for those who live and work abroad. The argument postulated by reports is that the payouts are means for the government to raise much needed financial resources to donate to families that have lost soldiers. Pointing out that the government was expecting 100,000 male citizens to make payouts and consequently raise $1.5 billion in return (Parkinson 1). The article identifies that this is a likely reason given that the Turkish government has used military service payouts in two previous situations in history. They point out that in 1999, the government raised money from young men that paid to be exempted from basic training for four weeks after the devastation of earthquakes in the northwest. The payment scheme n 1999 worked for it raised state revenues and created 1 billion lira in revenues for the government. The reasoning is that the reforms will be a big boost to the public finances, given the slowing down of the economic growth. It is identified that though Turkey's economy was projected to grow between 7% and 8% in 2011, after an increase of 9% in 2010, there were signs of slowdown in 2012 (Parkinson 1). The projection is the growth has created problems like a growing account deficit of 9% of the Gross Domestic Product leaving the economy exposed to external factors.

The second controversy concerning the payout scheme is that it is a financial system meant to benefit the rich and disadvantage the poor. According to Seibert Thomas (2011), soldiers fighting the PKK are all from poor families (1). This is as the sons from rich families were exempted from the compulsory military service since their families used their connection to officials. The perception is that the new payment scheme will increase the imbalance, as sons from poor families cannot access bank credit to make the payout system. The Association of Martyrs' Families, who believe the systems are a means to please a small group of wealthy voters (Seibert 1), make the accusations against the government.

Despite these controversies, the analysis of this report finds that the reforms to the military conscription process are a means for the government to achieve professionalism in the military. This is associated with the increased and violent attacks of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in the last three years, which has led to thousands of deaths of military young men. According to Esayan Markar (2011), soldiers have lost their lives, as the PKK militants target villages and military convoy in Karliova, killing 200 unarmed soldiers, 10 troops and injuring 70 soldiers. It is reported that the main challenge facing the conscription system is the eventual lack of experience of militant young men being led into war. The lack of experience causes expensive mistakes like the violation of laws concerning the transportation and carrying of ammunition and soldiers leading to tragedies like the Afyon explosion. Esayan (2011) identifies that the transportation of unarmed military service men in unarmed buses, in a PKK prone region, was not in accordance with Articles 100 and 103. The need for reforms in the conscription military system arises from such facts that drive the government to seek for a more professional service. This comes in the wake of the realization that though Turkey has the largest military in the world, the military size it mainly consists of 465,000 citizens in service (Esayan 1). The challenge in achieving professionalism with this army is the inexperience and servicemen, who hold a "concept of peace," thereby not preparing the men for the possibility of war.

The "concept of peace" and the lack of experience has left majority of the young servicemen in the military unprepared for war. The Association of Martyrs' Families and news reports like the National have identified this as the cause of thousands of deaths among military men. This is the main reason for the deaths of many young men in the deadly attacks by the Kurdistan Workers' Party that has been fighting since 1984 (Kuru 1). The parents through bodies like the Association of Martyrs' Families identify that their sons have died from the lack of adequate training prior to getting into war. This has driven the army generals and Mr. Erdogan to restructure the army and have professional soldiers being deployed at the borders in the southeast to specifically deal with the civil war with the PKK.

This analysis finds that the reports and arguments postulated in the newspapers drive the need for reforms to Turkey's conscription process. This identifies the need for reforms to maintain the support and respect accorded to the military by the Turkish culture and society. According to Dogra Ozgur (2008), the army and its conscription process is an institutionalized system that has overwhelming cultural and social sanctification (15). The military and the conscription process are Turkey's social and cultural codes of modern life, in a society that has traditionally respected their army since the era of the Ottoman Empire (Kuru and Stepan 129). Moreover, reforms to the military conscription process are a means for the government to maintain this respect for an institution that forms a large party of Turkey's power. This is because Turkey has historically made a political choice to maintain a large military force, which it recently seeks to strengthen by improving its professionalism (Kuru and Stepan 129). The conscription process has always served to maintain Turkey's military force, which has protected it during the Cold War era and provided a source of man power at the beginning of the civil war with the PKK in the 1990s (Kuru 1). The need for reforming military conscription is also not… [END OF PREVIEW]

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