Concerns rise over change in structure of Turkish gendarmerie

Concerns rise over change in structure of Turkish gendarmerie

Uğur Ergan ANKARA
Concerns rise over change in structure of Turkish gendarmerie

Turkey's gendarmerie forces are set for reform, amid the government's contentious new security package. AA Photo

The government is preparing to reshape the country’s 175-year-old gendarmerie forces, but some observers have raised concerns about plans to link the complex military branch totally to the Interior Ministry.

There are concerns about creating a politicized gendarmerie force, according to sources, who say the branch might be more open to political intervention if the appointments and registries of the gendarmerie are controlled by a civil body, not its traditional military hierarchy.

Another major concern is that such a move might reveal security weaknesses, particularly amid the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in neighboring Syria and Iraq. Besides, the soldiers who have fought against outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants in the east and southeast are usually from the gendarmerie or the land forces. The chain of command might be negatively affected if one of these arms is connected to a civil body, sources said.

The plans also risk the number of qualified soldiers, they added.

According to the new regulations, the Interior Ministry and provincial governors will have a say on the gendarmarie's non-military duties, authorizations and responsibilities, Interior Minister Efkan Ala confirmed in a televised interview late on Oct. 22.

The move is part of a new security package, which has been criticized by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and many others, as a step back in terms of democratic rights. “The package clarifies the responsibilities and duties of the gendarmerie and coastguard organization, which serve public order,” Ala said.

The regional gendarmerie posts headed by a brigadier general will be removed, and the provincial commanderships will be directly linked to governors, who will also be named as provincial commanders and who will also be the superior for the forces, according to the new regulation, sources said.

The dismissal of staff will also be undertaken by the ministry, while the Armed Forces will lend a full general to the gendarmerie and the head of the gendarmerie will keep his seat at the National Security Council.

The draft also foresees a change in the uniforms of the gendarmerie. The present green uniforms will be switched to either blue or dark blue, as seen in European Union members, which will give the new uniform a more “civil touch,” Minister Ala said.

The final touches to the draft will reportedly be made after final talks with the General Staff.

Speaking more broadly about the controversial new security package, Ala was keen to stress that the it would "not violate the rights of any citizens that obey the law," adding that it would include some regulations increasing the effectiveness and capabilities of the ministry regarding institutions that it cooperates with.