Turkey to employ religion officers in army again

The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) will start to recruit religion officers once again, after the position was outlawed in 1967, pro-government conservative Yeni Akit newspaper reported on Thursday.

Religion officers will be employed in ground forces, the air force and the navy, Akit said.

The position was outlawed in the aftermath of the military coup of May 27, 1960, but religion officers were used in Turkey’s Cyprus incursion in 1974 one last time.

The TSK will recruit the officers as part of 2020’s applications for outsourced active duty officers, which will continue until Dec. 10.

A religion officer’s duties are listed as “giving spiritual guidance so personnel morale, social welfare and happiness can reach a desired level, handling religious education, worship activities and religious ceremonies, coordinating relevant authorities for needs regarding places of worship, and administers religious affairs,” on the Air Force’s website.

Akit has campaigned for the return of religion officers for a long time, and maintains that all developed armies have a similar position.

According to the conservative newspaper, the United States has had chaplains since 1775, while “a cadre for religion officer has remained open in secular France since 1905.” There are 1,200 chaplains in the U.S. army, while France has 419, and many European countries have chaplains ranging from 85 in the Belgian army to 700 in the Spanish.

Imams were removed from the army during the early years of the republic, Akit said, and the system was reinstated in 1948.

Opposition daily Cumhuriyet cited retired Lieutenant General Erdoğan Karakuş as saying modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk had imam officers in the army, picked from people who had completed academic studies on their specialty subject. “They were soldiers first, and imam officers second. Atatürk’s order was different, it was based on exalting the soldier’s spirituality from a standpoint that separated politics and religion.”

During the time it was legal under the Turkish republic, the position of religion officer was only utilized during wartime, Cumhuriyet said.