Turkey's parliament will soon adopt a new law meaning all citizens living abroad can buy themselves an exemption warrant from military service for only 1000 Euro. Tens of thousands of Assyrians and their children can benefit from this facilitation.
For decades, Assyrians and other immigrants from Turkey have been squirmed on the difficulties and the cost to get a free ticket for military service in their country of origin. But now a committee in the Turkish parliament decided that the cost should be lowered from 6000 to 1000 Euro. The proposal covers all Turkish citizens of conscription age in the Diaspora - even those over 39 years and who must currently pay a penalty. The Turkish Parliament's Committee on Planning and Budget approved the proposal, while the members of the Kurdish HDP and Republican CHP made thier reservation. As the ruling AK Party has a majority in the chamber, the bill will go through without difficulty, writes the Turkish website havadis.at, based in Austria.
This facilitating of the duty of military service in Diaspora is a result of AKP's election promise to the elections in July 2015, presented by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu during a visit to Germany, where more than four million migrant workers of Turkish origin are living. In an attempt to fish up the Diaspora votes, the government promised to implement a series of populist proposals that facilitate the guest workers' legal relationship to their homeland. Another promise was, for example, that a person who has introduced a foreign vehicle in Turkey can run it for two years before the vehicle must leave the country. The current rule states that after six months you have to go out of the country boarder, before a new six-month period can start.
When it comes to the military service in Turkey it has been a dreaded feature in young Assyrian's lives since they were harassed, beaten and violated because they were non-Muslims and non-Turks. For this reason, parents tried to find different ways to minimize the damage to their children. They were registered, for example, a few years younger in order to become stronger men. Or they registered to a Turkish-sounding name of the boy, for example, Simon could be Yusuf on his ID-card. In the 1970s, the Assyrians in Turabdin started also to give their children pure Turkish names, such as Özcan, Zeki, Orhan, Ayhan, Umit and Özkan. As part of this adaptation even girls were given Turkish names like Nurcan, Aygül, Türkan, Ayten etc. The surnames were already Turkish after a law of 1934 with the purpose to assimilate all non-Turkish minorities in the new Republic. (Read more about it in my article in Swedish Därför bär vi turkiska efternamn). One of those who have written down their bitter experience from the Turkish military service, is the author Fehmi Bargello in his book Gabro – ”förrädaren” i den heliga tjänsten (Linköping, Sweden 2010). The title means Gabro - "the traitor" in the sacred service. The book has recently been translated into Turkish.
In the 1960s, many Assyrian men went to Germany as guest workers. After a few years their wives and children joined. During the Cyprus war in 1974, when Turkey occupied the northern part of the island, repressions of Assyrians in Turabdin intensified and a mass exodus began. Sweden became a primary direction. Even a huge number of Assyrian guest workers from Germany came to Sweden and applied for asylum. One of the strongest reasons was to avoid the dreaded military service in Turkey. In Sweden it's easy to get Swedish citizenship, which has enabled tens of thousands of young Assyrians to either make Swedish military service or completely neglect the Turkish military service. Anyone who has fulfilled his military service in Sweden can apply to the Turkish embassy and be freed from Turkish military service. Otherwise you have to pay dearly and serve a few weeks in Turkey. These rules have gradually been simplified from the Turkish side and now they are down to 1000 Euro, without requiring a shorter service. This opens up great opportunities for anyone who does not want to cut his ties with Turkey.
During the 2000s, a large number of Assyrians returned to build or restore their houses in Turabdin. These are living in Turabdin during the summer months. A small number have returned permanently, but the supposed great return has come down, due to the security situation and uncertainty about the future. The Assyrians would like to maintain strong ties to their ancenstral lands and has therefore welcomed the new land registry, but the difficulties were many. Large areas have been confiscated by the state forest authority or Kurdish neighbours (read more in my articles Turkey's Duplicitous Game With Assyrians and Report Turkish and Kurdish confiscation of Assyrian property).
Some critics interpret the new exemption warrant as a way to raise more money for the Turkish army. That may be so, but for tens of thousands of Assyrians and their children, it can also be an opportunity to establish greater ties to Turabdin and benefit their civic rights such as the right to dispose of your own property. Without a valid ID not even legally qualified owners can not claim their lands and properties. With the military service obstacle eliminated, it becomes easier to dispose the new ID number or to retrieve your terminated citizenship. The new law is likely to be adopted by the Parliament in the near future.