By Burak Akinci
ANKARA, Dec. 22 (Xinhua) -- The Turkish army will recruit 8,000 female gendarmes for combating terrorism and defending borders in a NATO country that has suffered both from internal and regional conflicts.
These officers and non-commissioned officers will serve under the banner of the Gendarmerie Command and their duties will include combating terrorism and defending the country's southern borders with war-torn Syria and Iraq, two countries where the conflicts have spilled into Turkish territory.
According to a new directive, female officers will receive the same commando training as men and will be on the front line in many areas, including anti-terrorism operations.
Ladies who are younger than 26 years old and not shorter than 164 centimeters or do not have a criminal record can apply in the coming weeks.
In press reports published about this unprecedented recruitment scheme, it is explained that female soldiers will also serve "in safeguarding public order, combatting illegal border crossings and trafficking and the protection of penitentiary facilities."
"There is a need for more women in the gendarmerie as it is serving as a police force in rural areas and sectors which are affected by terrorist activities in southeastern Turkey, a mostly Kurdish populated and impoverished region by decades of war," Professor Haldun Yalcinkaya from the Ankara TOBB university told Xinhua.
The military expert said that female soldiers are better equipped and more efficient to deal with local populations and the sensitivities.
The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has been fighting the Turkish army initially for independence and later for Kurdish self-rule inside Turkey for the past 33 years. One of the hallmarks of the group is that it has succeeded in prizing away thousands of women from the clutches of patriarchy and into the battlefield.
USING THE FEMALE TOUCH
"Enrolling more women in the gendarmerie would make a difference as they can interact with women in provinces that are conservative and socially very much male oriented. It will confirm the changing paradigm against PKK terrorism," pointed out Yalcinkaya.
The move aims to boost the number of women inside the Gendarmerie from the current 828 to 8,828. Only 3% of the Turkish Armed Forces, the second-largest standing force in NATO, consist of women who are generally not in combat positions even though there are currently several F-16 female fighter pilots in the Air Force.
Women are generally exceptions in a 350,000 strong force who suffered dramatic losses in number of generals and officer cadres after a coup attempt orchestrated by rogue soldiers in July 2016.
Hundreds of army person have been sacked or jailed for suspected affiliation to a shadowy network of charitable organizations led by the U.S.-exiled Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, blamed of having masterminded the failed coup.
The gendarmerie, a 190,000 strong force who is at the forefront of the struggle against the armed rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), also witnessed a major transformation in this period and was detached from the chief of staff of the army and attached to the ministry of Interior, thus under civilian command and control.
This long awaited gendarmerie reform was passed through parliament after the botched coup of last summer while the institution was still groggy after it had been bombed by rogue Air Force pilots at the command of F-16's.
This reform concerning a fully-fledged military machine with its commando brigades, air elements and special forces battalions was criticized by the parliamentary opposition who denounced the intention of the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) of filling gendarmerie ranks with its partisans.
The private NTV news channel reported that female commandos will be trained alongside their male peers and deployed to arduous and inhospitable mountain terrain in eastern Turkey as well as to the southeast, where the bloody conflict between the PKK and Turkish security forces is mainly concentrated.
TURKISH ARMY GUARDIAN OF SECULARISM
The Turkish army, established as the guardian of secular principles ingrained by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, modern Turkey's founding father, has seen its image tarnished after the failed coup and to enroll women in armed forces could help bring its reputation back.
"Women are an undetachable part of our society. They took part actively in the Independence War (against western powers and Greece 1919-1922). And now they will enlist as part of the Gendarmerie and take on the uniform," told Xinhua a source close to the government.
This source who spoke on condition of anonymity also pointed out that female gendarmes will be deployed in coastline duty on the Aegean and Mediterranean seas where most of Turkey's touristic sites and resorts are concentrated.
As part of the agenda of AKP, the government announced last February a controversial and groundbreaking decision, allowing women in the armed forces and the police to wear the hijab, the Islamic headscarf, despite opposition of secular circles.
A retired army general who didn't want to be identified told Xinhua that while the decision to enroll more women in the traditionally and historically man-led armed forces was something to be hopeful for, the fact that the gendarmerie is now separated from the armed forces command could lead to some troubles.
He underlined that the gendarmerie is prone to political influence and there could be different chains of command in case of armed conflict.
Having more women in the army or the civil service is a must for Turkey where the gender equality is written in the laws since many decades but certainly not in practice.
Despite the legal basis for gender equality in the workplace and significant steps in gender policy, the women's participation in the work force is the lowest among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Only 22.8% of women in Turkey currently work, according to official data.