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Turkey: The Armed Forces and Society
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > The Armed Forces and Society

THE ARMED FORCES AND SOCIETY


The armed forces traditionally have enjoyed a distinguished position in Turkish national life. Soldiers receive widespread respect as symbols of Turkish national identity and as legatees of the country's long martial traditions. A leading Turkish journalist has written that "the army is always praised, never criticized, and, in an emergency, it is seen as the nation's savior." Over the centuries, the army has been perceived as a civilizing and humanizing factor in society. In the modern era, it is considered the embodiment of the enlightened, progressive forces that inspired the revolution of 1908 against Ottoman rule and later prevented the nation's dismemberment by driving out the occupying armies after World War I. The army also has received credit for rescuing the nation from the turmoil and violence of the late 1970s.

Turks recognize that a career in the armed forces provides the opportunity for a quality education at no cost, followed by a lifetime of secure and respected employment. Although some members of the middle and upper classes hold the view that the specialized education and isolated life of the officer produce individuals inflexibly committed to a set of values remote from the real world, such criticism is rarely expressed openly. In any event, a career in the armed forces has become less of a lifetime commitment than in the past. Because of the superior technical education it provides, military service is often seen as an avenue to a successful civilian career.

Because of the large number of applicants for places in the military high schools and service academies, the standards for officer candidates remain high. In the course of their military education, students learn the values of Kemalism (the precepts of Atatürk) and are taught to take pride in the role of the military in protecting the democratic state against the extremes of left and right and the appeal of radical Islamism. Officers tend to develop an outlook that is nationalistic and hierarchical. In the early 1960s, a minority of junior officers had left-wing sympathies, but strict background checks, together with the emphasis on cohesiveness and discipline, are believed subsequently to have produced an officer corps immune to radicalism. The military maintains intense vigilance against the infiltration of leftist thought, as well as against Islamic activism (also seen as fundamentalism).

The officer corps enjoys certain privileges, but the military makes efforts to keep these from becoming conspicuous enough to provoke civilian criticism. Officers consider clubs, attractive housing, vacation resorts, and sports facilities as necessary to compensate for the modest pay and other disadvantages of career military service. Officers are also expected to meet high standards of personal probity.

Most individuals entering the service academies are drawn from the lower-middle and middle classes. The results of one survey showed that about 40 percent of army and air force cadets and 55 percent of naval cadets were sons of military service members, gendarmes, or civil servants, in particular teachers. This suggests, one analyst has noted, a perpetuation of the sense of kinship with the spirit of Atatürk and the revolution of 1908. Less than 10 percent of those entering the army and air force academies in the early1980s were from rural families; naval cadets with an agricultural background were almost unknown. Geographically, central Anatolia and areas adjacent to the Aegean Sea and the Sea of Marmara were overrepresented, whereas southeastern Turkey was most underrepresented, supplying only 1 to 2 percent of cadets. Resistance to assimilation by Kurdish- and Arabic-speaking minorities in the southeast and strict political screening may account for the limited recruitment from this area to the officer corps.

In contrast to officer candidates, enlisted personnel, especially conscripts, are preponderantly from peasant households. At least 80 to 85 percent are ethnically Turkish, and the vast majority are Sunni. Nevertheless, for a young soldier facing doubtful employment prospects, active duty means a nutritious diet, access to medical care, and perhaps an opportunity to further one's education and acquire a useful job skill. Military service offers an interlude from the unvarying pace of village life and is a source of pride, linking one to the warrior tradition of Turkish society.




Last Updated: January 1995


Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Turkey was first published in 1995. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on Factba.se.

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