Political tensions rise again in Turkey due to the headscarf

Political tensions rise again in Turkey due to the headscarf


Review by Christos T. Panagopoulos –

Three female MPs of the ruling Justice & Development (AK) Party,  who said they will attend the Turkish Parliamentary General Assembly meeting on October 31 by wearing their headscarves, have sparked tension between AK Party and main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

AK Party MPs Sevde Beyazit, Gulay Samanci and Nurcan Darbulak decided to enter Turkish parliament by wearing their headscaves two weeks ago and the discussions on the headscarf issue and apologetic memory of Merve Kavakci –who had been expelled from Parliament and lost her seat for coming to the Parliament with a headscarf in 1999– came onto the agenda again.

There is not a direct reference to the headscarf in constitution or any legal document; thus, technically there is not any constitutional or legal hitch which will prevent the MPs entering the Parliament by wearing headscarves. AK Party supports the decision of the MPs; however, the main opposition party CHP is strictly against the idea while the other opposition parties do not oppose it.

The MPs are said to have decided to attend the Parliament by wearing headscarf following their pilgrimage. However, the role of Democratization Package by the ruling AK Party declared on September 30 is substantial in the decisions of MPs because the package stipulates to amend all regulations banning headscarf in state institutions and permit women to wear headscarf in public services.

The headscarf issue has been on the agenda of Turkish politics for more than three decades since it was banned in Turkish universities in 1984. Since then many attempts to abolish the ban on wearing headscarf in state institutions and universities have failed.

The surveillance on the headscarf in state institutions intensified particularly after the Turkish army had ousted the Welfare Party-led coalition government in 1997.

However, the wick of the headscarf issue was ignited again in 1999 with Merve Kavakci entering the Parliament with headscarf as the MP of Virtue Party, the successor of Welfare Party. She was then asked by late Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit to leave the Parliament. Then she lost her seat in the Parliament.

The ruling AK Party, top figures of which came from the Welfare Party tradition, has taken the headscarf issue at the top of its agenda since it was established and came to power in 2002.

The first attempt of AK Party concerning headscarf issue was in 2008 to amend the related article of Turkish constitution to surpass all regulations banning headscarf wearing in universities. It was approved in the Parliament with 411 votes of 550 MPs but the amendment was taken to Constitutional Court by the main opposition party CHP and Democratic Left Party (DSP) and the Court canceled the amendment. A short while after the case, the Chief Public Prosecutor sued a closure case against the ruling AK Party claiming that it acted against secularism.

In 2010 referendum on the amendment of 26 Articles of the Turkish constitution the issue was referred between the lines instead of a direct emphasis. Since then many of the universities let students enter the campuses with headscarves but still it was banned in state institutions.

The concluding attempt of AK Party concerning the headscarf issue came with the Democratization Package declared in September 30 by PM Erdogan, which opened the gates of state institutions to the women wearing headscarf besides introducing a number of reforms on issues regarding political rights, such as election threshold, party organization, and propaganda in non-Turkish languages, abolishment of the student oath, freedom of education in different languages and dialects at private schools, legal guarantee on personal data and deterrence for crimes of discrimination.

Source: Anadolu News Agency