Turks Wary of E.U. Membership, Islamist Welcomes Intervention
As the European Commission puts the finishing touches on the E.U.'s Accession Partnership document for Turkey, due for final adoption by the Commission next month, military rulers are growing increasingly wary of democracy in Turkey and the role of the army in future politics--and with good reason.
For if Turkey meets the criteria for E.U. membership, then it will be forced to end decades of its brand of extreme secularist policies. In fact, Deputy Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz has admitted publicly that many, including members of Turkey's iron-fisted military regime, fear that democratic reforms would aid Islamists and Kurds.
Perhaps there is no greater symbol of Turkey's anti-Islamic policies than Merve Kavakci. This 32 year-old mother of two, who was elected to parliament a year ago, has devoted her life to the fight for religious freedom in Turkey.
Her calm and quiet demeanor can be deceiving, for within Kavakci lies incredible courage and determination. That courage was put to the test when she marched into parliament on May 2, 1999, undeterred by the government's ban on the Islamic headscarf (hijab). When she arrived, she was greeted with chants of "get out" by members of the Democratic Left Party and was physically removed from the assembly chamber.
Kavakci says members of the press hounded her at home and harassed her young daughters at school. She was accused of being an "agent provocateur" by caretaker Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit and received death threats from unknown persons. Her father Yusuf Ziya Kavakci, a former dean of Islamic studies at Ankara University, was called a false prophet. She was forced to hire bodyguards and travel in a secured car with tinted windows.
The furor sparked demonstrations and public outrage over her treatment, but the government refused to allow her to become an active member of parliament until she removed the hijab. Still she remains defiant.
"They say that my headscarf is a political symbol. But I wear this headscarf because of my personal choice," she said.
She has since openly criticized the Turkish government as a corrupt regime and says they fear women who wear the hijab because it is a symbol of honesty.
"Islam and the hijab mean dignity, not stealing, not cheating," she said.
Currently living in the United States with her husband and children, Kavakci has met with members of the U.S. State Department and has toured the country seeking support for reform in Turkey.
But changes she and many others seek will not come overnight. Turkey's brand of extreme secularism has been in place for nearly 77 years. Policies established by Mustafa Kamal in 1923 abolished the multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire and introduced a sort of secular fundamentalism. Kamal was so determined to uproot Turkey from its Islamic identity that he went as far as banning all symbols of religious expression. Among other things, he outlawed Islamic-style clothing for women, Islamic education in schools, and prayer in assembly.
Members of Turkey's military have carried out these policies in large part. Women are banned from wearing the hijab in the workplace, universities and government offices.
In a recent interview with iviews.com, Kavakci talked about her personal battle to wear the hijab. While attending medical school at Ankara University, she was routinely harassed by security and school administrators.
"We were not treated like normal human beings," said Kavakci. "Guardians at the University gate used to stop me and call me names insult me and curse at me."
She recounted other stories, one in which other Muslim women resorted to sneaking into the university through a bathroom window to avoid further harassment at the gates. But when the guards learned of their secret, they locked the doors of the women's bathroom. Undeterred, the young women used a men's bathroom window to gain entrance to the university.
Kavakci hopes Western intervention will mean freedom for all Muslims in Turkey and encourages other Muslim Americans to join her in the fight for religious freedom in Turkey by lobbying members of Congress. "Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world and a smart politician will care about Muslims," she said.
Human rights organizations have already had their eye on Turkey, reporting scores of human rights abuses. In a report released this month by Human Rights Watch, the Turkish government was criticized for ignoring the thousands of women excluded from education because they wear the hijab. HRW has urged that these reforms, among many others be a condition of its membership to the E.U.
Meanwhile, Turkey made world headlines again this week when members of its police force escorted hundreds of gay U.S. vacationers on a visit to Istanbul. Police officials told Reuters news service they arrested 19 people who attempted to harass the gay tourists as they visited the city's historic Sultanahmet quarter.
The Anatolian news agency quoted Turkey's Minister of Tourism Erkan Mumcu as saying overzealous local officials exceeded their authority in barring the group and appealed to the interior minister to allow the tourists to proceed.
Perhaps a government that will gives any less respect to its own women is not fit for membership to the E.U. or any other organization.
Hebah Abdalla is editor of iviews.com. ([email protected])
Topics: Europe, Turkiye