Turkey's opposition stymies bid for headscarves amnesty

January 7, 2005

An amnesty for more than 50,000 students expelled from Turkish universities has been blocked by opposition politicians who fear it is part of a plan to lift the ban on wearing religious dress on campus.

The pro-secular Republican People's Party (CHP), which is the second largest in the assembly, opposed the move, claiming it was a back-door attempt by the pro-Islamic Government to lift the ban on students who wear a hijab in accordance with their faith.

Mustafa Gazalci, the CHP's parliamentary education committee member, told The Times Higher that the amnesty could give false hope to students. "There should be a permanent solution by giving the higher education authority (Yok) legal powers to handle this matter."

Yok was at the forefront of imposing the headscarves ban. It opposed the amnesty proposal, claiming it was "unscientific and politically motivated".

The Ministry of Education claimed the authority had refused to cooperate over the amnesty. A ministry official said: "We have sent them requests for help on this issue and they don't reply."

The ministry rejected the claim that the amnesty was an attempt to circumvent the headscarf ban. A spokesman said: "This fear is misplaced even if the ban was lifted. It doesn't stop a university from banning the student again."

He added: "There is no secret agenda - it is just a reaction to pressure from the public."

Although the Government enjoys a large majority in Parliament, it is keen to avoid a political crisis over the headscarves issue. Turkey's powerful secular establishment remains suspicious of the Government's Islamic links.

Earlier this year, the Government was forced to withdraw a major reform of Yok and higher education owing to accusations that it was seeking undermine the country's secular education system.

The amnesty would not only affect religious students. Tens of thousands of left-wing and Kurdish students have been expelled for political activities.

A campaign two years ago by Kurdish students petitioning for Kurdish to be used on university courses led to thousands of expulsions.

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