Naturalized Syrians perform compulsory service in Turkish army
Enab Baladi – Khaled al-Jeratli
More than 13 years after the Syrians took refuge in Turkey, some of them obtained Turkish citizenship, and young men joined the mandatory military service in the country.
While some considered military service a” hotel” compared to its counterpart in Syria, others faced some difficulties due to ignorance of the country’s language.
With the escalation of racist rhetoric in the country, Syrians who have Turkish citizenship and are about to perform military service are afraid of their relative ignorance of the country’s language.
Administrative matters related to joining the Flag Service are similar between Turkey and Syria, except that the Turks consider it a happy moment, unlike what young people see inside Syria.
Abdulmejid, a pseudonym of a Syrian who obtained Turkish citizenship several years ago, and as the date of joining the military service approached, he organized a Turkish-style celebration and toured the streets of Istanbul with his friends in a kind of “parade,” he told Enab Baladi.
He did not know what awaited him, but the information that he managed to get during the months preceding his enlistment in the service made him optimistic.
Abdulmejid, who asked to withhold his full name, recounts the moments of joining his military unit, and the gathering center was like a “hotel,” adding that “the conditions of joining the Turkish army are different from all the lousy stories that are told about military service in the Syrian army.”
Although his Turkish language was not good during the period when he joined the service, Abdulmejid did not face any kind of discrimination and was even perceived as having come to serve the country, he told Enab Baladi.
One of his colleagues in the army called him a” Syrian,” and the officer punished him after that, although he was joking aside from discrimination or racism, according to the young man.
Obtaining a foreigner’s citizenship does not mean obtaining citizenship rights in a country only, as citizenship obliges him to the laws and duties of the country, including compulsory military service, which happened with Syrians who obtained Turkish citizenship and are under the age of compulsory service.
Law No. 12/6586, which was amended on January 15, 2014, is applied to Syrians with Turkish citizenship and stipulates that “every Turkish person registered in the civil registry departments will be invited to perform military service upon completion of the age of 21, up to the age of 40,” and also reduced the conscription period to 12 months, from 15 months before.
The law indicates that the period of service can be extended to five years, as required and determined by the Ministry of Defense, and it is also possible, in cases of public alarm, to be called up for deferred service, although the period of his deferment has not expired.
Also, the only male child of his parents who has to perform military service is not exempted, but those who have health reports that prevent them from serving are excluded according to the law.
Nationality due to the origins
Despite the fact that Adel exceeded the legal age for military service, as stipulated by Turkish law when he obtained citizenship of the country, he was forced to join the service due to the fact that he is of Turkish origin.
Adel told Enab Baladi that his old age compared to his service companions prompted them to respect him, as he did not face any discrimination because he came from Syria.
He added that his Turkish origins were known to everyone, besides he speaks Turkish well, which prevented him from being subjected to any discrimination in his military unit.
Adel pointed out that he was the only one in the military unit who performed flag service after obtaining Turkish citizenship, which Abdulmejid also said.
The types of citizenship obtained by foreigners in Turkey vary, as “exceptional” citizenship is considered the most widespread, and the Syrian obtains it under the choice of law, and he cannot apply for it.
Citizenship by family origins is rare in Turkey, as it requires proof that the origins of the Syrian refugee are Turkish and may require the presentation of identification papers of one of the ancestors issued by state departments during Ottoman rule.
The citizenship of the family “origins” was obtained by Adel, and he joined the compulsory military service when he was nearly 40 years old.
Comparison of two armies
With the services that Abdulmejid described to Enab Baladi as “good” in the Turkish military pieces, he made a comparison between the compulsory military service in Syria and its counterpart in Turkey, considering that after the stories he had always heard about the service in Syria, he wished not to see them in Turkey, which actually happened.
He added that the “myth” that he had always heard from his relatives who served in the Syrian army about the difficulty of getting a military leave, he had never encountered in Turkey, as it is always easy, even the officer in charge of him offered him money once when he went on vacation to visit his home.
Adel also had his own view in this regard, describing his military service in Turkey as “good,” with excellent services available and a friendly relationship between everyone.
Despite the absence of any commonalities between the soldiers in the military units that could turn them into friends outside, friendship has overwhelmed the relationship between people, according to Adel.
Lack of language proficiency
All the stages of military service that Adel and Abdulmejid talked about to Enab Baladi were also experienced by Nawras, a young Syrian who received “exceptional” citizenship about five years ago, but the period before he joined the military service was “terrifying” because his knowledge of the Turkish language was very little.
After participating in military training, he did not face discrimination or difficulty in adapting; most people even tried to help him learn some Turkish words, and even the officer in charge of him was always looking for someone who spoke some Arabic to explain some things to Nawras.
He added to Enab Baladi that the service comrades were trying not to mention the word “Syrian” in front of him, telling him “your countryman” has come,” referring to the entry of a new Syrian into the military unit in which he serves, as discrimination is not allowed.
The number of naturalized Syrians in Turkey is 223,881 Syrians, the former Turkish Interior Minister, Suleyman Soylu, stated on December 18, 2022.
More than three million Syrian refugees live in the country under the Temporary Protection law.
On June 25, 2019, the Turkish parliament passed new amendments to the compulsory military service law of 1927.
The new amendment provided for reducing the mandatory service period from 12 months to six mandatory months, followed by six voluntary and paid months for individuals who wish to do so.
It allowed those who have completed 20 years to pay an allowance of 31,000 Turkish Liras in exchange for partial exemption from service.
As for foreigners who have Turkish citizenship, the amendment maintained the same article and recognized the assignment of a foreigner to perform military service in Turkey.
Article 43 of the law stipulates that every foreigner who has obtained Turkish citizenship at the age of less than 22 years is required to perform military service.
The article also states,” The law will look at the age and educational status of the young man; if the young man obtained Turkish citizenship at the age of less than 22, he is assigned to military service, and he is exempted if he performed it in his country, or was exempted there, or whoever obtained citizenship at the age of 22”.
The new compulsory military service law entered into force after its approval in the Turkish parliament and was published in the official gazette on June 26, 2019.
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