Amid fears that tension in Parliament would rise over several Justice and Development Party (AK Party) deputies wearing headscarves while attending parliamentary sessions, four headscarved deputies walked into Parliament on Thursday and faced no words of protest or anger from opposition parties, marking the end of a long-standing ban on the wearing of headscarves in the chamber.
Four AK Party deputies, Sevde Bayazıt Kaçar, Gönül Bekin Şahkulubey, Nurcan Dalbudak and Gülay Samancı, announced that they had decided to cover their heads in line with their religious beliefs after performing hajj in Mecca in October. The deputies said they would attend parliamentary sessions with their scarves on because there are no regulations banning the wearing of headscarves in Parliament and Turkey has recently allowed the wearing of headscarves by public employees, except for members of the judiciary and military. These deputies attended Thursday’s session of Parliament while wearing their scarves.
There was a huge crowd in Parliament on Thursday and the press chamber was filled with journalists wanting to report on the historic occasion. Controversial and conflicting statements from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) throughout this week, which hinted that the party may prevent the headscarved deputies from taking part in the parliamentary session, had raised concerns in society on whether Turkey would witness the same treatment received by Turkey’s first headscarved deputy, Merve Kavakçı, in Parliament in 1999.
Amid angry protests and boos, Kavakçı was forced out of Parliament for wearing a headscarf during her swearing-in ceremony.
Bülent Ecevit, the prime minister at the time, addressed the packed assembly, saying, “This is not the place to challenge the state. Inform this woman of her limits!” while half the chamber stood shouting: “Get out! Get out!” to the seated Kavakçı.
Kavakçı left in tears. She was not only dismissed from Parliament but was also stripped of her citizenship. Moreover, the Constitutional Court considered her wearing a headscarf in Parliament as evidence of a violation of secularism in the closure case of her party, the Virtue Party (FP) in 2001.
Yet, Turkish Parliament showed a pro-freedom stance toward headscarved deputies on Thursday, invalidating fears of the repetition of the Kavakçı incident.
Following the beginning of the parliamentary session, deputy group chairmen of each party in Parliament made short speeches in which they expressed their views about the existence of headscarved deputies in Parliament.
Speaking on behalf of the CHP, Muharrem İnce, the party’s deputy group chairman, received huge applause from the AK Party ranks when he said all women, either wearing headscarves or not, are his sisters.
But he maintained that the debate on the headscarved deputies is not a debate on democracy and accused the government of trying to create a perception of victimization in regard to these deputies.
He said his party will not allow the AK Party to capitalize on headscarved women to get more votes at a time when elections are drawing near. Turkey will hold local elections in March 2014.
The deputy group chairperson of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), Pervin Buldan, said in her speech that her party is very pleased about the settlement of the headscarf problem in Parliament. She congratulated all the parties for not allowing the repetition of the Kavakçı incident to occur under the roof of Parliament.
She said freedoms should be seen as a whole and there should be no restrictions on identity, religious belief or culture.