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November 27, 2011, Sunday

The lie of professionalization of the Turkish military

Unfortunately, the discussions over payment in lieu of military service and conscientious objection have not become as extensive as I wanted. I am one of those who support both payment in lieu of military service and conscientious objection.

As of now, more than 1 million young people who are supposed to perform their prescribed military service are avoiding doing so. If you multiply this number by five -- let's say this is the minimum number of people in a family -- and also when you take into consideration the places these young men work or, if they are employers, the people who work for them, you will understand the magnitude of the problem I am talking about.

For this reason, it is a good thing the bill for payment in lieu of military service was passed. Frankly, though, the fee and the age limit are not reasonable. These are obstacles for the poor that prevent them from exercising this right. We will see this better once the process is finalized, but the whole initiative could become futile and inconclusive because many people may not pay TL 30,000, the fee for payment in lieu of military service. Predictions indicate that only 10 percent of the eligible 400,000 men will be able to exercise this right. This requirement may have been included in the bill on the request of the General Staff.

And this is in fact the problem. Payment in lieu of military service and conscientious objection are not the problems themselves; they are the outcome of military service practices and the structure of the army. For this reason, even the most perfect bill would not have done justice for young people because the real problem is in the military.

Let me be clearer: There are two institutions that will never be rectified in this country: the army and the CHP.

The CHP is the affiliate of military guardianship in Parliament; however, it is not our subject matter for today.

The military is an institution that holds it founded this state and in relying on this assumption was involved in criminal activities, staged military coups and stood against its own people. Through its structure, traditions and, most importantly, its training system, it executed coups and initiated its guardianship. It organized the escape of Sledgehammer (Balyoz) coup plot suspect Gen. Mustafa Bakıcı to Belarus. This is not going to change.

In a written statement to CNN, Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel said the military has been taking steps towards professionalization and also provided some figures: He said the share of professional soldiers in the total number of military personnel in 2000 was 20 percent, whereas this has risen to 35 percent in 2011. In other words, this means that 252,000 out of 720,000 military servicemen are employed by the army and receive payment.

There are two big lies in this statement, and the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) administration should be aware of them. First, because of the poisonous institutional paradigm that I mentioned earlier, it is not possible to create a professional army within the current military that would not be a threat to democracy and to the people. Quite the contrary, we will have a more dangerous guardian regime consisting of greater numbers of “military professionals.” And I think it is not possible to civilianize the training system and doctrine of the military. The tendency towards guardianship seems to have retreated now because politics are now stronger. This was the case when former Prime Minister Turgut Özal removed the chief of General Staff and the land forces commanders from their positions in 1987, but the army still staged a postmodern coup 10 years later.

The other matter is purely technical. The Turkish military has been deployed consistent with peacetime operations. Today, modern states constantly keep their armies in positions for warfare; otherwise, why would anyone keep such a huge army?

We have the sixth largest but most immovable and clumsy army in the world. Among the top 10 armies in the world, we see only the US, South Korea and India as democratic states. The remaining are antidemocratic and militaristic states such as North Korea, Russia, Pakistan, Egypt and Vietnam. Does this tell you anything?

The Turkish naval command now has more troops stationed in Ankara, which does not border a sea, than it has serving on actual ships. For an army that assumes the duty to watch and protect the regime, forming huge headquarters in city centers rather than along the borders is more reasonable for allowing it to control the people and drive tanks on the streets when necessary.

However, Turkey does not need, for instance, the Aegean Army. These gendarmerie units should be subordinated to the Interior Ministry as rural police. A professional army of well-picked and well-trained soldiers equipped with the tools of modern warfare not exceeding 100,000 is sufficient for us.

This professional army should be created under the control of civilians and should be free of the influence of the military, and these armed forces should be history.

This is a summary of the case.

Previous articles of the columnist