Scarf ban protest

September 16, 2005

Scores of Turks who graduated from universities in Europe after being barred from Turkish institutions for insisting on their right to wear items of religious clothing have held a joint graduation ceremony, writes Dorian Jones in Istanbul.

Havva Kaplan, head of AK-DER, a Turkish human rights group that organised the event, told The Times Higher : "We wanted to give an opportunity to all the friends and relatives who could not attend the graduation ceremonies of these students who have been forced overseas because of the headscarf ban.

"It is also meant to serve as reminder to the Government of the injustice being suffered by these students."

The students graduated from universities in Romania, Azerbaijan and Austria. The Vienna Medical School, where most of the students studied, is becoming an increasingly popular choice for barred Turkish students.

According to AK-DER, more than 500 covered female students study at the school.

Many other students also study in the US, including the daughter of Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, who wears a headscarf on religious grounds.

Elif Asik Kutlin, a Vienna graduate, said the ceremony was a bittersweet experience. "It was a source of sadness not to have experience of the graduation with my family and friends. The problem of the ban is still very big and people in Turkey are forgetting this. We are trying to remind them."

The ceremony adds to the pressure on Mr Erdogan, whose Islamic-oriented government has pledged to lift the ban.

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