More than a soldier: the case of non-soldiers within the military

by editor | 31st October 2010 8:24 am

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At a time when there is ongoing debate about the duration of compulsory military service in Turkey, a report was uncovered this week which revealed that a significant number of privates doing compulsory service are performing duties that have nothing to do with military service.
According to the report, published by the Star daily this week, 65,000 out of the 470,000 privates are currently performing their compulsory military service under the title of “social services” by working at one of 500 social facilities such as military houses, summer camps and officers’ messes. This figure excludes those who are posted at the military’s residential complexes.
Currently the period of compulsory military service is 15 months for all young men except those who hold four-year university degrees. University graduates can either serve as privates for six months or as reserve officers for one year. Turkish citizens living abroad can pay an exemption fee and serve for just 28 days.
These soldiers, who are assigned to what has been named as “social services,” perform a variety of tasks, including tending to the personal affairs of their commanders and, at times, the families of their commanders.
A blog established by men who have completed their military service as privates and want to share their mostly painful and hurtful experiences in the military, titled “” (translated as, soldiers tell their stories), reveals how Turkey’s young men are being forced to do things that have nothing to do with military service or the defense of their homeland.
In one of the posts, a man who completed his military service at Adnan Menderes Airport Base Command in ?zmir in 2009, tells how one of his colonels, who always used to lecture the soldiers under his command about honesty and patriotism, would order privates to pick up a dance teacher from ?zmir’s Kar??yaka neighborhood in colonel’s official vehicle car and drive the teacher to and from the colonel’s home where he and his wife took private dance lessons. “We used to wait in front of the colonel’s house for three hours in the cold,” wrote the anonymous blogger.
Another one of dozens of such stories, a blogger who completed his military service in the eastern province of Bingöl in 2003 wrote: “Our commander sent one of my friends to the bus terminal in central Elaz?? [which was around 150 kilometers away] in order to take delivery of a toy dog which was sent by the commander’s wife from ?stanbul. My friend had to wait there for many hours because the bus’s arrival time was delayed.”
The head of the Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed Peoples (MAZLUM-DER), Ahmet Faruk Ünsal, termed it as a very “humiliating” situation for the privates who are used for the personal benefit of senior officers. He said it was regrettable that there are a lack of legal mechanisms in Turkey to empower privates with the right to refuse to do such irrelevant tasks as part of their compulsory military service.
He suggested that the existence of two judicial systems should be eliminated in Turkey by removing military courts because they fall short of delivering justice and inspecting the military institutions and their injustices fairly.
Early this month, the Turkish Parliament placed vacation camps belonging to the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) under the magnifying glass in the wake of increasing numbers of people submitting petitions to Parliament against the TSK vacation camps. In these petitions, people have been demanding that these camps should be closed down just like other camps that once served for other public officials. One such person, Selahattin Çinal, a concerned citizen from Bal?kesir’s Erdek district, sent a petition to Parliament objecting to the continued existence of the TSK camps while such camps for other public servants have since been privatized.
“The existence of these camps disturbs me as a citizen. These camps are used just for vacation and leisure purposes. While senior officers enjoy their time there, privates are used as workers. Whereas other public servants working for the Security Directorate, Education Ministry and Health Ministry are responsible for their own means of vacation. The privilege enjoyed by TSK members disturbs everyone,” he said.
TSK in figures

According to the report in the Star daily, the number of paid TSK personnel is around 270,000 — a figure which is higher than the number in the armed forces of many countries in the world. The total number of military personnel in the TSK, which is among the biggest armed forces in the world, is 736,000, of whom 470,000 are privates.
There are 46,000 officers, 70,000 non-commissioned officers, 50,000 civilian personnel and 360 generals and admirals among the TSK’s paid personnel.
Of the 470,000 privates, 240,000 are in the land forces and 170,000 are in the gendarmerie, while the air and naval forces commands have around 30,000 privates each. [1]

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