Dropping the gun


Calls to abolish compulsory military service in Turkey are becoming increasingly mainstream

Turkish military service

Turkish men aged 28 or over will be able to pay to avoid military service from next year

There was relief for thousands of Turkish men this afternoon when they learned they could buy their way out of military service.

The compulsory draft, which can last up to 12 months, is a huge reason of anxiety: homosexuals, conscientious objectors and men who simply do not want an enforced career break all suffer.

So many thousands will have been delighted Turkey’s prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu finally ended the speculation by announcing that any Turkish man aged 28 or above on 1 January 2015 will be allowed to pay rather than serve.


The fee –17,000 Turkish lira (US$7,636; €6,146) – is a hefty one. On Wednesday banks were scrambling to put together loan deals that can attract as many as 700,000 unconscripted men born before 1987.

Under some deals monthly repayments will be as low as 632 TL per month, but many hundreds of thousands of Turkish families simply cannot afford that.

One of the first to criticise the paid exemption programme (“bedelli askerlik”) was the main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu: “[This means] the child of the rich will avoid it, while the child of the poor will have to serve. We do not accept this.”


Selahattin Demirtaş, leader of the pro-Kurdish HDP, took the criticism a step further by saying he supports conscientious objection: “Let’s abolish compulsory military service entirely. Let military service be voluntary. Those who do not do military service can contribute to society through a different public service.”

Conscientious objection is phenomenally unpopular in Turkey – 89% of respondents to an ORC survey in September did not support it – but that is partly because it gets such a bad press. There is no provision for it in Turkish law and those who have tried to argue for it through the courts have spent years in prison.

Turkish military service

Sentry duty: useless for everyone

There is a strong perception particularly among nationalists that those who do not want to take up arms are not playing their part in society.

Of course, Mr Demirtaş’s concept of national service – as opposed to a strict military conscription – is nothing new. Germany ran a fine example of it as recently as 2011. If you have a university graduate in the southeast with a good command of Arabic, it is far better to give him clerical work at a hospital over hours of sentry duty outside some indistinct building.


What is more, Turkey’s military – NATO’s second largest – is finally coming round to the idea that conscripts don’t make the best soldiers and a smaller, professional army might be better at defending the country.

Nothing will happen anytime soon: Mr Kılıçdaroğlu did not echo Mr Demirtaş’s call for national service and the governing AK Party has no plans for it whatsoever. But the idea is gaining greater currency.

From the archive: the BBC’s Emre Azizlerli had an excellent account of the treatment of homosexuals in the Turkish army two years ago, reviewed by this website here.

Last modified: Saturday 4 April 2015

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