Turkey - Military Personnel

Turkish Armed Forces
General/Admiral 365
Commissioned Officer 39,975
Non-commissioned Officer 95,824
Specialized Gendarmerie 24,700
Specialized Private 40,515
Contracted Private -
Total Specialized Personnel 201,379
Reserve Officer 6,829
Private 458,368
Total Compulsory Personnel 465,197
Total Military Personnel 666,576
Civil Servants/Workers 53,424
Grand Total 720,000
Active402 391
Active, Professional7718
Active, Conscripts325373
Reserve258 800
Gendarmerie, Active100 n/a
Active49 55
Active, Professional1420
Active, Conscripts3535
Air Force
Active60 65
Active, Professional?31
Active, Conscripts?34
Reserve55 35
Active495 511
Active, Professional-69
Active, Conscripts360+442
Reserve358 890

In 2012 Turkey's liberal newspaper Taraf shed light on problems haunting the Turkish military force in its article entitled "Turkey's Army is Mighty In Numbers, Not Weapons." While the Turkish army comprised more than 700,000 personnel, about 470,000 of its members are not career soldiers, Taraf explained, as quoted by Al-Monitor. The media outlet revealed that Turkey spends "most of its budget on personnel expenses" of about 40,000 officers, 100,000 non-commissioned officers, 65,000 gendarme/army specialist soldiers, 8,000 reserve officers and 470,000 soldiers doing their compulsory military service. Furthermore, the army also employs 50,000 civilian workers, it stated. As a result, "the army is trying to make up for its technology deficit with unlimited manpower," the media outlet noted, adding that "basing Turkey's defense concept on the human element instead of technology creates weaknesses in intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance."

In 2015 the number of Turkish armed forces (excluding reserve) was 410,000 people. In the time of war, Turkey can easily use the military-trained reserve of up to 90,000 people, of which 38,000 people are a first reserve. At the same time the number of personnel in West Europe is not largely army. For example, in the German armed forces there were about 170 thousand people, the British Army is about 180 thousand people, and they are continuously decreasing.

On 21 November 2011, the Turkish Armed Forces issued a statement revealing its personnel figures. This was the first time it had ever issued such a detailed report. According to the figures, the Turkish military had a total of 720,000 personnel, including 365 generals and admirals. These numbers confirmed reports that Turkey was the world’s 9th largest military. There were a total of 135,799 commissioned and non-commissioned officers. 39,975 of these are commissioned and 95,824 were non-commissioned officers. The total number of specialized [ie, professional, as opposed to conscript] gendarmerie and privates is 65,215. This consists of 24,700 specialized gendarmerie and 40,515 specialized privates. College graduates who serve as reserve officers number 6,829; while privates totalled 458,368. There were 465,197 commissioned officers in the Turkish Armed Forces. In addition, there are 53,424 civil personnel working in institutions under the General Staff. So, the total number was 720,000.

These numbers are difficult to reconcile with published estimates due to inconsistent reporting categories. The grand total of about 660,000 uniformed personnel is about 10 percent higher than published sources, which report about 500,000 military personnel and 100,000 Gendarmerie. There is suprising variation between publishes sources as to the total headcount at each of the individual services. Miltech reports only 18,000 professional soldiers in the Army, which seems quite low, with the IISS report of 77,000 seeming more reasonable. The total number of conscripts in military service, as opposed to those serving in the Gendarmerie, is a bit of a puzzle. Miltech reports about 440,000 military conscripts, while IISS [which does not provide a total, or Air Force numbers] reports a Gendarmerie of 100,000 on active duty. The Turkish Armed Forces report about 25,000 professional Gendarmerie, but subtracting Miltech's 440,000 military conscripts from the TAF 460,000 conscripts leaves only 20,000 conscripts for the Gendarmerie, producing a total of professional and conscript of 45,000, not even half the 100,000 reported by IISS. The published reports for reservces are off by a factor of two, but this is not surprising, given the notorious difficulties in accounting for low readiness reserves.

The 2011 the Turkish Armed Forces statement came amid discussions about paid exemption from compulsory military service (‘Bill Amending the Law on Military Service’). During the discussions, one issue of contention was the minimum age for those who could benefit from the bill. Some were advocating a minimum age of 30, while others were advocating 22. Thus, the statement from the Armed Forces was interpreted as a sign that there are enough who serve in the military such that the age limit for paid exemption could be lowered. The bill eventually passed and the terms of paid exemption were set as follows: as of December 31, those who are 30 or older will be allowed to be exempt from their military service by paying 30,000 Liras (~$16,000).

Peronnel of the Turkish army is carried out on draft principle. The system of recruitment and service in the Turkish army prescribed in the law on conscription. According to this document, military service is compulsory for all males aged 20 to 41 years who have no medical contraindications. Service life in all kinds of armed forces is now 12 months, while Turkish citizens are able to obtain an exemption from conscription by paying to the state budget a sum of money. In 2013 it was about 30 thousand lire (17 thousand dollars) - a considerable average for all Turkish conscript amount.

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 was contemplated.

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.

At the end of conscripts enlisted men transferred to the reserve. During the year, they are in the reserve of the first stage, which is referred to as "special appeal", and then transferred to the reserve of the 2nd stage (up to 41 years) and the 3rd stage (up to 60 years). This contingent of "special appeal" and reservists following the queue in the event of mobilization are directed to the fitting of existing or emerging units and formations.

The right to conscientious objection to military service is not recognized, there is no mechanism to which conscientious objectors can apply, nor is there alternative civilian service. Nearly a decade and a half after the 2007 Ülke v. Turkey judgment of the European Court of Human Right, conscientious objectors continue to be subjected to repetitive punitive measures on account of being considered draft evaders and desertes instead of conscientious objectors. They are being fined and have been tried - in the past until 2017 by military courts instead of civilian courts and in most of the cases repeatedly for the same “crime” of refusing to serve in the military – and sentenced to imprisonment. Punitive measures to conscientious objectors, in addition, continue to include interferences in a wide range of human rights in- cluding the right to education, freedom of movement, opportunity to earn one’s living and to take part in public affairs, and the right to vote.

Although the right to conscientious objection to military service is protected under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as part of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, conscientious objection in practice leads to “civil death” in Turkey. It means that conscientious objectors face multiple rights violations, including their right to vote and to be elected, freedom of movement, right to education, freedom to work, and prohibition from public rights, and aggravated execution, which are under fundamental rights and freedoms.

As being party to both ECHR and ICCPR, Turkey is obliged to recognize the right to conscientious objection to military service as part of its commitments under international law. It’s also Turkey’s obligation according to her own constitution whose Article 24 protects freedom of religion and conscientious, and whose Article 90 recognizes the superiority of international law in matters related to fundamental rights and freedoms when there is a conflict between the national and international law. Yet, the Turkish government insists on not recognizing the right to conscientious objection as military service remains compulsory for men aged 20-41.

The wild oscilations in head-count in the 1991-1987 epoch are SIPRI counting issues, rather than actual changes in end-strength, which remained slightly north of 800,000 during this period.

Join the mailing list