NATIONAL DEFENSE AND THE ARMED FORCES
The primary, most important defender of Turkey’s independence is the Turkish Armed Forces. The role of the Turkish Armed Forces is to defend and protect the land and the Republic against internal and external threats and to fulfill the NATO duties agreed by international treaties.
Because of the geopolitical importance of its location as a member of NATO, Turkey has the largest army of any of the NATO countries after the USA, with about 800,000 soldiers (1996). With this size it is the 7th largest in the World. Approximately 10-13% of the national budget is allocated to the Ministry of Defense.
Since the Ottoman period different systems of military service have been used at different periods. Today, under the Military Service Law, all male citizens who are physically eligible must perform military service between the ages of 20 and 46. The compulsory service period is 18 months including one month of holiday. Up until the age of 46 men might be recruited at different times for short periods as reserves in this so-called Reserve period.
The Turkish Armed Forces consist of The Army, The Air Force, The Navy and The Gendarme. The uniforms of the Air Force staff are blue; the Navy, white in summer and black in winter; and the others are various shades of khaki.
The Social Function of Military Service
Military service is a very important social event in men’s lives. It has the distinct effect of dividing it into two phases: Life before and life after military service.
Generally men serve in places other than their home regions without returning except for their vacations. Before leaving, the family provides a big meal in their son’s honor and invite relatives, friends and neighbors. A large group of friends escort the boy to the central bus or train station with musical instruments, usually drums and clarinets, the louder the better. They may even carry him on their shoulders.
Military service is a kind of school in which the young men of Turkey reach maturity through the experiences that they live. This is a place where they become acquainted with manners. For some, it is the first time they live away from home. Being away from family is also an opportunity to learn to stand responsibly on their own feet.
In some rural parts of Turkey, young men cannot get married before completing their military service, since this period is accepted as a major step in the transition to manhood. In these areas especially, if a young man is not recruited because of physical or mental reasons, he gets disappointed and tries his best to convince the authorities that he wants and can perform his duty. Young men who are not accepted into the military service often suffer insults or loss of status among their peers.