Military service in Turkey: a fair trade?

Turkey is a major military power with a strict conscription system. This system can be regarded as a pillar of Turkey’s military power, however it raises a number of social issues.

Turkey is a major military power

Turkish armed forces are considered as the second most important force in the NATO for its manpower and are among the strongest forces globally. Globalfirepower ranks its army 13 out of 142 countries. Military service in Turkey is mandatory for every man above the age of 20. Women enter the Turkish military on a voluntary basis. Turkey’s manpower derives from the mandatory military service.

Source: Global firepower index

A mandatory system

A rising number of Turkish men, mainly in the younger generation hope for a change in order to avoid this burden. The issue was also raised in the past, among AKP policy-makers. In 2018, the minister for defense expected a shift to a professional army and the end of the conscription system by 2023. Today, Turkish military forces are widely engaged in Northern Syria, and NATO forces are in alert while the conflict in Ukraine goes on wildly. It now seems impossible to put an end to the conscription system when a lot is at stake.

Inequality of the system

In the current system, men above 20 are expected to serve a 6 month service. To allow higher education, the engagement can be postponed.
Under AKP’s rule, the system has evolved. Currently 6 months, the length used to be up to a year or even longer. Another major evolution is the institution of the “bedelli askerlik” (paid military service) and of the “dövizli askerlik” (military service paid with currency, mainly Euro). While the dövizli askerlik allows people with Turkish nationality living and working abroad or binationals, mainly in Europe, to skip the military service by paying about 4,100€, the bedelli askerlik offers an exit strategy to young men from wealthy families. Against the payment of 80,064 TL, the length of the service is reduced to 1 month of classes.

In a country where the minimum wage equals 6,471 TL (332€) a month and where up to 40% of the active population earn the minimum wage and 9.9% are unemployed (source from TÜIK, Turkish statistics agency), the fees of the bedelli askerlik represent approximately a full year of minimal wage. At least half of the whole population can’t afford to pay that price. This new system institutionalizes a social inequity and privileges for the upper-class in which national duties are billable.

A homophobic system

Homosexuality and transgender identity happen to be a reason for exemption. They are considered by the military institution as a “behavioral or gender identity disorder”. It raises the question of the culture of the military system itself. Accepting homosexuality as a “disorder” is openly homophobic. A man who declares himself as homosexual will have to pursue a long, intrusive process, including medical appointments with a psychiatrist in a state hospital, then with a board of psychologists, a disturbing survey, and potentially the interview of family members or friends. Once declared homosexual, a man is exempted from military service but faces life-long discriminations. Government jobs will be out of hand. If a man wants to have a public career, he must do his military service. But on the other hand, a man suspected to be homosexual will endure discrimination, violence or harassment during the 6 months of the military service.

LGBTQIA+ young men face a difficult choice: they either endure in silence in a hostile environment for 6 months or they face a life long discrimination in the work life.

The evolution of the system is very slow and is considered as a crucial challenge for Turkish state. It is an asset for the state authorities but can ruin the lives of individuals. It is key for Turkish society because it shows how the state reinforces social inequality. Who indeed profits from the “bedelli askerlik”?

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