Closure due to 'Islamic threat'

March 30, 2001

Turkey's higher education authorities have closed down a university as part of a crackdown on Islamic activities in higher education.

In an unprecedented move, the country's higher education authority has announced that new students will be barred from attending Fatih University in Ankara, the capital.

The university is accused of failing to comply with the "principles of secularism" and it faces closure when its remaining students finish their courses.

The authority, set up after the 1980 military coup, has sweeping powers over higher education, including the selection and placement of students in both state and private universities.

It has waged an intense battle against what it sees as the threat of Islamic fundamentalism. The most visible and contentious element of the authority's campaign is the ban on Islamic dress, in particular headscarves worn by women students.

Hundreds of students from Fatih University protested against the decision. Student Yasemin Fakioglu said: "This is an attack on our right to education - this is undemocratic." Human rights groups also joined the protest.

Fatih has 3,500 students and specialises in science and medicine. The private university has a reputation for attracting Islamic students, many of whom wear religious dress. Funding comes from various foundations, some of which, it is alleged, have links with illegal Islamic sects.

The links with Islamic groups have made Fatih the bête noire of the higher education authority. In a statement, the authority explained: "The (Fatih) administration has been repeatedly warned. It employs people with reactionary leanings, students are encouraged to lead non-secular lives both on and off campus."

Ali Coskun, a university board member, said: "Everybody knows the authority has dealt a blow to university life. While it has been necessary to discuss science and divinity, this has been prevented for many years by these dress-code regulations."

Former higher education authority head Mehmet Saglam described the decision as "too harsh" and questioned its legality. "Only parliament can close down universities," he said.

Politicians from the right and centre right supported the protest. Recai Kutan, leader of the main opposition Islamic Virtue Party, said: "The higher education authority wants to introduce a barrack-style regime in universities." He called on Turkey's president, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, to intervene.

Legal challenges are now expected, with the case predicted to be ultimately taken up by the constitutional court.

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