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Turkey: Sources and Quality of Personnel
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Armed Forces > Sources and Quality of Personnel


As expressed in Article 72 of the constitution, "National service is the right and duty of every Turk. The manner in which this service shall be performed, or considered as performed, either in the armed forces or in the public service, shall be regulated by law." The required period of active-duty service has been scaled back periodically, from two years to eighteen months and, in 1992, to fifteen months. Male citizens who pass a physical examination are called up during their twentieth year, but induction can be deferred until completion of an education program.

University and college graduates may fulfill their military obligation as reserve officers with an eighteen-month period of active service following some previous preparation at their education institution. Four months of the service period consist of cadet training, followed by fourteen months of service in the branch to which the individual is appointed. With the dwindling need for reserve officers, complete professionalization of the officer corps is contemplated. Most university graduates would serve as conscripts in the regular army, but their active duty would be limited to nine months. An exception would be made for graduates of technical universities who could be called up for longer periods of specialized service.

Reserve officers seem not to be held in high esteem in the services, being regarded as less dependable than regulars, lacking in motivation, and inadequately trained. Regulars are reluctant to accept reservists as equals in personal and social relations. Reservists, on the other hand, tend to look down on regulars as narrowly educated.

After completing four months of basic training, conscripts are sent to their assigned units for more training and unit exercises. Recruits who have graduated from senior high school are eligible to serve as sergeants after NCO training. Promising but less educated recruits can become corporals after a two-week training course. In 1993 a program was introduced to increase the number of career NCOs. The intent was to enlist 100,000 regulars as privates and corporals in the course of the first year. As inducements, the maximum age of enlistment was raised from thirty to thirty-five, and new financial and social benefits were introduced.

The period of active service is an important educational experience for many young men. In addition to mastering weapons, they learn personal hygiene, table manners, and the basics of social conduct. They receive a wholesome diet and, in most cases, better medical and dental care than they will have at any other time in their lives. Literacy classes were formerly an important feature of military training, but by the 1980s fewer than 5 percent of recruits needed to be taught to read and write.

Many conscripts are taught useful skills, such as truck driving and machinery repair. The army's training of technicians and artisans may rival the contribution of civilian technical secondary schools, which produce only about 100,000 graduates a year.

Draft evasion apparently had become a serious problem by the mid-1990s, perhaps because of young men's reluctance to risk their lives against Kurdish insurgents. In December 1993, the chief of staff said that 30 percent of all men of draft age had deferred their service (in many cases in order to complete higher education), 22 percent were evading conscription, and 7 percent were medically unfit. The total of those who had avoided conscription came to about 250,000 but, as the chief of staff pointed out, the armed forces did not have facilities to induct all these men even if they were available. Desertions were also said to have increased, although military leaders were unwilling to confirm this fact.

After completing their active-duty obligation, conscripts are subject to recall in periods of national emergency until age forty-six if physically fit and not otherwise exempted. In practice, it is only for a few years after discharge that conscripts are considered part of the reserve system with specific unit assignments. In 1994 the number in this category was reported to be about 952,300 (831,700 in the army, 55,600 in the navy, and 65,000 in the air force).

Turkey has always had an ample supply of personnel to meet its military needs. In 1994 roughly 3 million men were between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two. The annual call-up for all branches totaled about 300,000 but was likely to shrink rapidly with the reduction of the army complement and the effort to enlist more regulars. Nevertheless, in January 1994 all discharges were frozen for three months to ensure that the army had enough trained soldiers for operations against the Kurdish guerrillas.

Military discipline is strict. Turkish officers are taught to believe that softness is a sign of weakness, which soldiers will quickly take advantage of. Discipline is considered necessary to ensure quality performance and to prevent the slackness that officers feel pervades the civilian labor force. Corporal punishment is strictly prohibited under the Law of the Armed Services. Yet beatings and slappings, although not common, appear to be accepted forms of punishment. NCOs and sometimes second lieutenants are those most likely to employ corporal punishment for acts considered disruptive of discipline. The alternative is to institute legal proceedings for minor offenses. Such proceedings can be delayed so long that they have little deterrent effect; they may also be perceived as reflecting poorly on the effectiveness of the officer involved. Major offenses, such as theft, desertion, or prohibited ideological activities, are normally the subject of courts-martial.

From the squad level up, soldiers engage in daily training exercises. The armed forces hold a number of combined exercises and participate in several NATO exercises each year. Nevertheless, in the mid-1990s Turkish observers felt that the quality of training still suffered from shortcomings. They noted, for example, that training often has a theoretical quality, traceable in part to the need to conserve ammunition, vehicles, and aircraft.

Since 1955, when the government opened certain military specialties to women, moderate numbers have volunteered for active duty. Recruitment of women was suspended for a time but was resumed in the early 1980s when some female university graduates were again taken in as pharmacists, doctors, dentists, and administrative or communications specialists. No women were accepted in the enlisted ranks or for assignments that could expose them to combat or hazardous duty. In 1992 access to military service was increased when 154 women were allowed to enter the service academies, half of them as army cadets.

Data as of January 1995

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

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