ERZURUM, Turkey — At Turkey's 9th Corps headquarters in this rugged outpost, Maj. Baha Ozyukseler traces a route on a map running southwest from the Soviet border 100 miles away through a maze of mountain valleys toward the Mediterranean Sea.
"That would be the main avenue of approach," he said, talking of how the Soviet army would come in an invasion.
It's forbidding territory for any invader, but Turkish military and political authorities say the Western alliance's first line of defense on its eastern front is under increasing threat from the Soviet Union.
"It is an enormous threat, and it's a threat against all of us in NATO," Gen. Siyami Tashtan, commander of the 2nd Tactical Air Force at Diyarbakir Air Base in southeastern Turkey, said in an interview.
Key Security Risk
Some military defense analysts question Turkey's emphasis on the growth of Soviet military strength along the 378-mile border, but they agree it represents a key security risk for the West.
The Soviets have the equivalent of 12 divisions in the vicinity of the Turkish border and eight others nearby. The Turks have eight divisions in the area, with four more in the southeast.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has no troops permanently in central or eastern Turkey, but it is committed to bringing in thousands in a crisis.
With about 800,000 troops, the largest armed forces in the Western alliance after the United States, and a reputation for superior military training and discipline, Turkey appears well prepared to defend itself.
Its major problem is a shortage of modern weaponry and equipment.
Italy's Maj. Gen. Franco Angioni, commander of a NATO six-nation rapid-deployment force that held maneuvers in eastern Turkey in June, said, "They need support in terms of modern weapons more than soldiers."
But he added that the West can count on Turkey to stop a Soviet attack.
"The Turkish people are very proud," Angioni said. "They will fight to the last man."
Few Fear Soviets
U.S. and other soldiers who participated in the NATO exercises said the villagers they met showed little fear of their Soviet neighbors.
"They feel very secure," said Maj. Steve MacKinnon, deputy commanding officer of a 120-man U.S. infantry unit that spent several days patroling the 9,000-foot mountain peaks northeast of Erzurum.
Yet with increasing vigor, the Turkish government and the military are pressing the Western alliance for help in modernizing an armed force that protects borders not only with the Soviets but also with Soviet ally Syria, Warsaw Pact member Bulgaria and warring Iran and Iraq.
Turkey's other neighbor is Greece, also a NATO member but a historical enemy. The two came to the brink of armed conflict in March because of a mineral rights dispute.
It is the Soviet Union, however, that Turkish authorities say presents the biggest threat.
"Our borders are more fragile and more open to threat from that direction," said Engin Turker, a government information officer in Ankara, the capital.
Turkish and NATO officials say the effectiveness of Soviet forces has been improved by experience gained in Afghanistan, where Soviet troops have been fighting in terrain similar to eastern Turkey since 1979.
The Turks also have difficulties with their allies.
In recent weeks, the tensions have risen sharply, exposing a deep-rooted suspicion in Turkey that the Western powers don't understand Turkey's needs and don't fully accept its Muslim heritage.
When the European Parliament, a body of the European Economic Community, adopted a resolution June 19 condemning the Ottoman Empire's role in the killing of masses of Armenians in Turkey in 1915 and 1916, the Turkish response was immediate and stunning.
Turkish President Kenan Evren said the resolution meant that Western Europe was, in effect, encouraging Armenians to try to reclaim the Turkish territory from which they were forcibly removed.
"Even the Warsaw Pact makes no such demands on Turkey," he said.