Turkish MPs extend olive branch to expelled students

December 20, 2002

An amnesty for thousands of students is being pushed through the Turkish parliament. The amnesty covers students expelled for wearing a religious headscarf or signing petitions calling for Kurdish education.

The amnesty is part of a democratisation package of the newly elected AK party, which won a landslide victory in last month's elections. It enjoys a huge majority in parliament and the reform package is expected to pass within weeks. The AK party has Islamic roots and derives much of its support from religious voters. In the past four years, thousands of women students have been expelled from universities for refusing to remove headscarves in breach of dress-code laws restricting the wearing of religious clothing in state buildings.

The amnesty does not mean covered students will be readmitted into university. Kemal Guruz, head of Turkey's higher education authority, ruled out a relaxation of the ban. "The headscarf issue is a closed case for us and it will never be opened to discussion again. I cannot understand the logic behind an amnesty, either."

The authority is supported by Turkish president Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who last month said that any change to the headscarf ban would violate the founding secular principles of the country.

Istanbul was one of the first universities to implement the headscarf ban and has witnessed mass demonstrations by covered students. Nur Serter, deputy rector of Istanbul University, said: "The main principle of education in Turkey is that it is based on secularism and the secular state. That means religious symbols have no place in university. Covered students will not be re-admitted. There can be no compromise on this."

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