The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) announced that over 226,000 soldiers serving in the army, which accounts for 36 percent of all military personnel, are professional soldiers. This means that over 3,000 professional soldiers have enrolled in the army since January as the country seeks to increase the professionalization of its military.
A total of 689,324 personnel serve in the TSK, according to figures released by the Chief of Staff on Monday.
The statement said that among the 636,644 military personnel, 226,465 are professional soldiers. Accordingly, 345 generals and admirals, 39,432 officers, 97,533 non-commissioned officers, 22,789 specialist gendarmerie privates, 61,812 specialist privates and 4,554 contracted privates serve in the TSK.
A total of 410,719 military personnel, including 7,334 reserve officers, are conscripts serving their military service, which is obligatory for all males in Turkey. Military service is 12 months for reserve officers, six months for university graduates and 12 months for non-university graduates.
The Coast Guard has the highest ratio of professional staff with 61 percent, yet it is the smallest branch of the TSK. This ratio is 35 percent when the Army, Navy and Air Force are combined and 37 percent for the Gendarmerie.
Additionally, 52,680 civilian workers and officers are employed by the TSK.
The number of active personnel has slowly been decreasing in the last couple of years while there are ongoing efforts to fully professionalize the TSK. Although they have taken steps to recruit more professional soldiers, especially for commando units, both the government and army officials had earlier dismissed the notion of abolishing compulsory military service.
Paid military exemption has also been introduced five times since 1980 for various reasons with the last one announced in December 2014.
The TSK continues to remain one of the largest armies in the world in addition to being one of the largest with compulsory military service. Turkey is the only major NATO army with conscripts and one of the six remaining nations of the alliance that requires compulsory military service, others being Austria, Estonia, Finland, Greece and Norway.
However, all of Turkey's neighbors require compulsory military service except Bulgaria and Iraq, which has turned into a non-functioning state over the past decade. Russia and Iran, Turkey's northern and eastern neighbors, also have two of the largest conscripted armies in the world while Israel and Greek Cyprus apply some of the world's most extreme mandatory military services of three and two years, respectively.