Religious Freedom in Turkey

Avis Asiye Allman

[Sr. Avis Asiye Allman is a Research Associate at the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University and senior Fulbright scholar in Turkey, where she has been a resident for seventeen years. This is an edited text of Sr. Asiye's talk given at the Second Annual Minaret of Freedom Institute Dinner, Gaithersburg, Maryland on June 26, 1999.]

In October 1991, a 30 year-old Turkish woman of Kurdish heritage, Leyla Zana, was elected to serve in the Turkish Parliament as a Representative of the People of Diyabakir. At her inauguration ceremony, Leyla wore a simple headband with the traditional Kurdish colors of red, yellow, and green. After taking her oath of loyalty in Turkish, she made a short statement in Kurdish. "I have completed this formality under duress. I shall struggle so that the Kurdish and Turkish people may live peacefully together in a democratic framework." Her actions provoked a wild uproar in the parliamentary chamber with cries of "separatist!", "traitor!", and "arrest her!" by her fellow deputies.

Legal proceedings began immediately, but she was initially protected from prosecution by her parliamentary immunity. However, on December 8th, 1994, she was convicted on charges of treason and sentenced to fifteen years’ imprisonment by the Ankara State Security Court. Leyla received the European Parliament’s 1995 Prize for the Defense of Human Rights. Amnesty International classifies her as a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned for the peaceful expression of her beliefs.

Seven and a half years later, a 31 year-old Turkish Muslim woman with a headscarf, Merve Kavakci, was elected on April 18th of this year to serve in the Turkish Parliament as a Representative of the People of Istanbul. On May 2nd, Merve attempted to take her oath in the Parliamentary Chamber. When she entered the Parliament with her fellow non-headscarved deputy, Nazli Ilicak, the deputies from the DSP (Democratic Left Party) rose to their feet, clapped rhythmically and chanted, "Out! Out!"

One of the angriest members of the DSP was Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, who told the acting speaker of Parliament: "Teach this lady a lesson." Then, in a speech to the assembled members, Ecevit accused Merve of "challenging the state." Later that same night, President Suleyman Demirel accused Merve of being an "Agent Provocateur with foreign connections." Then, some of the more influential parts of the Turkish media launched a "merciless character assassination campaign."

Immediately, the Chief Prosecutor, Vural Savas, of the Court of Appeals in the Ankara State Security Court launched an investigation to determine whether Merve had incited hatred among the people based on differences of religion, which can result in a severe prison term.

On May 15th, Prime Minister Ecevit announced that President Demirel had signed an official decree stripping Merve of her Turkish citizenship. Although Merve is not the only deputy with dual Turkish-American citizenship, the authorities used a rarely enforced clause, Article 25A, in the Turkish Citizenship Law to justify this action. At the moment, it is not clear whether the other deputies have had the same Article 25A applied to their individual situations.

Finally, on June 4th the Chief Prosecutor Savas opened the court case for closure of the Virtue Party and asked for the removal of all of her fellow party deputies except one. Savas cited that "Merve’s action alone represents adequate justification for the permanent closure of the Virtue Party." He indicated that it was pre-planned conspiracy directed as an action against the state.

Two different cases at two different times, but both cases are part of group that the Turkish military has publicly identified as principle threats to Turkey’s national security. The military classifies Leyla’s case as related to their campaign against "separatists" or pro-Kurdish activities, while they classify Merve’s case as related to their campaign against reactionaries" or Islamists. Yet for the international community, the facts of the cases bear remarkable similarity and raise equally disturbing issues of human rights abuses. Leyla’s case has been discussed and advocated strongly over the years by groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, but Merve’s case which raises basic questions of "religious freedom" is new. If you review what international human rights groups are doing on the issue of human rights in Turkey, you will find individual cases listed under perhaps Freedom of Expression, Freedom of the Press, Freedom of Political Association, or Freedom of Thought. We are entering uncharted territory here on this basic issue of religious freedom in Turkey.

From its creation, the Republic of Turkey has represented a secular democratic experiment in a Muslim country. However, Turkish style secularism is not the same as its western counterpart. Secularism in Turkey does not mean a complete separation between religion and state. In contrast to America, the state openly controls religion. The Directorate of Religious Affairs is attached to the Prime Ministry. Clerics are paid by the State in return for their loyalty to the official interpretation of Islam and government limits on religion. The limits are numerous: preachers read government prepared sermons; open displays of religion are forbidden; male public servants cannot grow beards and female civil workers are not allowed to wear headscarves. Only the dead are permitted religious services; even marriage is considered out of the bounds of religion.

In recent Turkish history, the crackdown on the Islamists officially began on February 28, 1997 at the military dominated Turkish National Security Council. Their first action was the forced resignation of former Prime Minister Necmitten Erbakan in mid-June 1997. This was followed by the February 1998 closure of Erbakan’s Welfare party and Erbakan’s five year political ban.

At the same time, another Islamic oriented party, Virtue was formed and many former Welfare deputies joined this new party. From the beginning, Virtue was significantly different than Welfare in its commitment to the active participation of Women on the Founding committee, Executive Committee and its determination to have women candidates for Parliament in the next forthcoming election. Women participants included both headscarved and non-headscarved Turkish Muslim women.

In November, 1998, former Istanbul Mayor Tayip Erdogan resigned and began serving his prison term in March, 1999. Erdogan was convicted for quoting a nationalistic folk poem during a speech in Southeast Turkey. Former MUSIAD chairman, Erol Yarar, a Muslim businessman, was also sentenced to a prison term in April, 1999 for his speech near Ankara. Yarar was given a five-year postponement assuming good behavior, which means in actuality he can make no more speeches. On June 3rd, Akin Birdal, former Chairman of the Human Rights Association, who survived a ruthless assassination attempt in May, 1998, entered prison for a speech he made on World Peace Day.

On Wednesday of this week, the military members of the Turkish National Security Council, in disagreement with its civilian members, announced the "strategic" aspects of the February 28th process against the Islamists would be enhanced in line with their prepared "little red booklets." This new strategy was a reaction to the current controversy surrounding Fethullah Gulen, a moderate religious leader respected internationally for his work in Christian-Muslim dialogue. With this new announcement, it is reasonable to conclude that all of the major leaders of Turkey’s devout Muslim community, have been or are being targeted universally across the political spectrum without showing favoritism. Religious Freedom Abuses in Turkey is quickly becoming one of the major human rights concerns on the international agenda.

From a legal perspective, Tayip Erdogan, Erol Yarar, and Akin Birdal were all convicted under Article 312-2. Article 312-2 has been part of the Criminal Code since 1925, but only recently has it been successfully used against political leaders, human rights leaders, actors, and business leaders. Basically, Article 312-2 relates to "inciting hatred among the people with respect to religion, set, and/or race." Conviction of guilty brings a 10-month to 3-year imprisonment, but more severely, it imposes a very serious lifetime ban on political activities.

Reactions today have been very mixed in Turkey on Merve’s case, which has resulted in an extreme polarization of the Republic of Turkey and its People. To understand this extreme polarization, we must understand the legacy of "Kemalism"–the attempt to build a homogeneous, modern society based on secular, Westernizing principles and a monoethnic Turkish identity. Kemalism is manifested throughout the Constitution. The preamble of the Constitution states: "No protection shall be given to thoughts … that run counter to Turkish national interests, the fundamental principle of the existence of the indivisibility of the Turkish state…, the historical … values of Turkishness, or the … principles, reforms, … of Ataturk, and … there shall be absolutely no interference of sacred religious feelings in the affairs of state and politics."

For many modern, non-headscarved Turkish Muslim women, Ataturk is the Abraham Lincoln of turkey. Lincoln freed the slaves and Ataturk freed the women of Turkey. In a 1925 speech Ataturk claimed: "In some places I have seen women who put a piece of cloth … over their heads to hide their faces…. Can the mothers and daughters of a civilized nation adopt this strange manner, this barbaric posture? It is a spectacle that makes a nation an object of ridicule. It must be remedied at once." Ataturk decreed that women in Turkey should no longer wear the veil. Ataturk’s decree referred to the veil as a cloth that covers totally the face of a woman. Ataturk’s veil should not be confused with the headscarf where the face of the woman is totally exposed.

High officials in the military apparently consider as one of their primary responsibilities to the Republic of Turkey, the continuation and protection of the reforms of Ataturk. For the March 27,1998 National Security Council meeting, as covered by the Turkish Daily News, a report indicated: "Headscarf incidents are not innocent demonstrations but rehearsals for a fundamentalist attempt to attain power. Demands will increase if concessions are given. The headscarf has become an ideological symbol and perceived as a "uniform". Students who have completed their education with headscarves would later want to work with headscarves in state positions. They would not want to work together with men. It is necessary to block this from the very outset."

As Americans, it is difficult for us to appreciate how young devout headscarved Turkish women may pose a serious threat to Turkish National Security in the same context as violent PKK terrorists. One aspect of the headscarf resolution process will require more detailed information, strategic analysis and conflict-resolution dialogue with these high military officials. Any successful resolution needs to fully understand and address the roots of their genuine fears, yet sensitively balance the protection of the basic human rights of headscarved women in Turkey.

For many Turkish intellectuals the headscarf itself represents a blind spot. For them "no headscarves" equals progress, whereas headscarves equals "backwardness." Any discussion of the headscarf issue in Turkey must recognize that it is also very much an issue of class. Many of the strongest secular opponents of the headscarf come from upper class elite, privileged European Turkish backgrounds. In contrast, Merve symbolizes the Anatolian masses and not the traditional ruling aristocrats of Turkish society.

What religious and secular women of Turkey need to do is stand together and learn about each other. They need to get together and listen to each other’s stories. They need to feel the pain of the other perspective. Many times, women are used in larger political games. Some parts of the media set religious and secular women against each other on purpose. These women have many things in common. They are all Turks and they are all Muslims. They face many of the same issues like domestic violence and economic poverty. However, the current atmosphere at the moment is not conducive to tolerance and resolution on this headscarf issue.

In her own defense, Merve has indicated that "I cover my head in accordance with my religious beliefs. It is a personal choice." Although Merve has clearly spoken that her headscarf is not a political symbol or an exploitation of religion, her genuine woman’s voice of concern for education and work remains unnoticed. Merve is like a tennis ball bounced between two opponents on the field or perhaps a lamb about to be sacrificed. It is vital that we, as American Muslims, listen and try to understand Merve’s real story and concerns for her fellow headscarved Turkish Muslim women.

The immediate emotional appeal of the headscarf issue is Merve’s case, but the key question becomes: How can the American Muslim Community contribute positively to conflict resolution and creating an atmosphere of tolerance in the Turkish State towards its own people?

What are some of the critical issues that Merve’s case raises regarding the headscarf? First, the headscarf represent a "Personal Choice" issue. All Muslim women must be free to make their own personal decision regarding wearing the headscarf without outside pressure from the State. Both headscarved and non headscarved women are equally Muslim and part of the world sisterhood of Islam. In Turkey, the State dictates a ban on headscarves in the civil government and universities. In Afghanistan, the Taliban dictates all women must wear the burqa and prohibits education for women in the schools and universities. As American Muslims, we must be equally concerned about both situations. Our policy must be fair and defendable to both situations. Advocating the freedom of choice issue is similar to the abortion issue. It is strictly a private issue between the woman and God.

Second, the headscarf issue is a violation of a basic right to an education. Beginning in 1998-99 school year, YOK, the National Board of Higher Education, issued a ban against wearing the headscarf that applied to all universities. All of the universities did not accept the id card photos for female students with headscarves and did not enroll them in the universities. An estimated 40,000 students wearing headscarves in about 60 universities of Turkey have been deprived of their right to an education. Currently there are more than 1000 legal cases in Turkish courts awaiting results on this issue.

The faculty administration referred to a 1993 decision of the European Commission of Human Rights as one of the bases for this ban. In its final decision, the Commission took the view "that by choosing to pursue her higher education in a secular university a student submits to those university rules which may make the freedom of students to manifest their religion subject to restrictions … intended to ensure harmonious coexistence between students of different beliefs."

This past October 11, 1998, 3 million people from all over Turkey joined in a peaceful nonviolent act of "Hand in Hand" for "justice for all and freedom to education." One day after this silent act, 25 medical students were arrested and now 22 medical students are being prosecuted with two court cases, one of which is currently at the State Security Court under Article 312-2.

In September 1998, two medical students from Istanbul University participated in the European Conference for Human Rights in Barcelona to share their experiences with the participants. One of the students gave her story:

I am from the prestigious medical faculty in Istanbul University. I came from a small northern Turkish town called Zonguldak to the big city of Istanbul with big hopes. I always wanted to get a education in medicine in order to do back and help improve the health of my people. Since I know the situation of the hospitals in my city, I know there is much to be done.

I am the only child pursuing a university degree in my family. Just as I had reached the last year of my education, I am not allowed to enter my classes. There are thousands of students in the same situation experiencing the same problem from different aspects. Some are unable to register, some are thrown out of school by force, some are forced to take off their headscarves feeling torn apart inside. It is like forcing a Hindu to kill a cow or a practicing Jew to eat pork. We don’t want to be left in the position of having to choose between our religion and our education.

The effect of this ban of these women’s right to an education is very serious and has not received the proper support of the American Muslim community. One of the main reasons is the code of silence that exists for the Muslim women affected by this situation. Only on a one to one basis of very private context of trust, can one piece together the real depth of human educational tragedy that is occurring today in Turkey. But what is more sad is the realization that this is not a new issue but many of the young women’s mothers’ lives were permanently affected by the same issues in the early 80s. It has now become a generational woman’s issue in Turkey. It is critical that American Muslim experts in Islam and Gender issues begin objective research on this subject. The first step is for the human stories of these women to be collected, published, and gotten out to the international public.

One American scholar in Turkish studies has initiated a project to collect these stories. Some of the stories I am sharing with you this evening represent her recent research in Turkey. One of her collected stories brings us to the third aspect of the headscarf issue, which is the basic right to work. The basic right to work is prevented for headscarved women in the fields of Law, Education, and Public Government Service.

I am a Turkish woman who has spent sixteen years in academics both in Istanbul and abroad. I graduated from Istanbul University, which is the hearth of Istanbul, and completed my studies at the Faculty of Economics in 1982. I continued my graduate studies in the same faculty in the Department of Labor Economics. I furthered my studies in the United States at Temple University and then did my post graduate studies at Cornell University where I stayed for about three years. I returned to Istanbul in 1992 and later became an Associate professor in 1996. Even though I was a minority, being the only woman professor wearing a headscarf in my faculty, I still felt the satisfaction of living together with my other colleagues. I respected them and they respected me.

However, on June 1st 1998, I was dismissed with no prior warning simply because I wear the headscarf and did not remove it. Now I am an unemployed woman with three children left without any social security, health benefits or compensation. I cannot even get reimbursed for the contributions I have made towards my retirement benefits. I had only four years left to my early retirement. But now I have lost most of my social rights. It is ironic that after working all these years on the issue of social security, writing books and publishing numerous articles about it, I have no social security today.

My own awareness of this generational tragedy comes directly from Merve’s own story, which we discussed on our first meeting in November, 1997. At the time, Merve was head of Foreign Affairs, for the Ladies Commission of the now defunct Welfare Party. Merve discussed her own family’s experience. Merve’s father and mother are both professors. In the early 80s, the headscarf issue was also a major one at the universities. Merve’s father, a professor of Islamic Law, was Dean of Theology at Ataturk University in Erzurum. Merve’s father resigned over the issue of the headscarf ban implementation at his department. Merve’s mother is a professor of German. Merve’s family took refuge in the United States and built a new life in Texas.

Merve attended high school in Ankara and Ankara University Medical School for two years. However, she was forced to leave medical school because of the headscarf ban. Merve has two daughters, who at a very young age, have realized that maybe they will go to school in America rather than Turkey because they will be free in America to wear a headscarf and get an education.

Merve’s story is like many in Turkey repeated over and over again during the last 20 years. Merve understands this tragedy on a very personal level. I believe we must be sensitive to the humanistic aspect of her story when we evaluate the current case against her by the Republic of Turkey.

The details of Merve’s case raises a fourth issue which is a violation of her right as a Representative of the People. Merve was elected by a democratic process to represent her constituency in Istanbul. Merve openly wore a headscarf in all pre-election speeches. It was based on this understanding that her constituency elected her as their deputy.

Finally, the headscarf issue is a violation of the will of the people. All professional surveys within and outside Turkey clearly indicate that the majority of the people of Turkey favor increased tolerance on the headscarf issue in the universities. The Republic of Turkey is not respecting the will of its own people.

If the arrest and trial of Ocalan have brought Kurdish issues to global prominence, then Merve’s story is the tip of the iceberg, which has brought the issue of "religious freedom in Turkey" to the international agenda of the Muslim Community. In his testimony before the Commission on Security and Co-operation in Europe on March 18th, the US Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor defined human rights and democracy issues in Turkey as follows: torture, restrictions on freedom of expression, harassment of NGOs, limits on political participation, and Kurdish issues and the situation in the Southeast.

Questions have been raised about the appropriateness of holding the November summit in Istanbul in light of Turkey’s human rights record. The US Asst. Secretary defends the decision because "The event will focus a spotlight on Turkey’s human rights record, serving as an incentive for the Turkish government to make concrete improvements. It also will give the Turkish and international NGOs a platform to highlight their concerns to a broad audience."

However, come November when the summit materializes, it is my hope that our new Ambassador for Religious Freedom will make religious freedom issues in Turkey one of the human rights and democracy issues on the summit’s agenda. Achieving this goal will require the active support of the American Muslim Community. It is groups like the Minaret of Freedom Institute, the American Muslim Council, and the newly formed Commission on International Religious Freedom, which I believe will take the lead in this critical issue.

Tonight at this dinner, we all together begin this process. We need to all work together to first understand the full dimension of religious freedom abuses in Turkey. We need to all work together to define our perspectives on the various issues. We need to all work together to offer productive solutions. We need to all work together to inform and engage in dialogue with other think tanks, academics, NGOs, and media in the US and internationally. Finally, we need to all work together to lobby our government leaders to take official positions and work actively for peaceful resolution of the religious freedom issues polarizing the Republic of Turkey and its people. As American Muslims, we have a responsibility to show a hand of concern for the plight of our fellow Turkish Muslims.

In early May, when I was first asked by representatives of the American Muslim community to address Merve’s situation, an associate and I began the framework of our ideas by a visit to the Thomas Jefferson memorial in Washington DC. The monument itself, the exhibition and particularly Jefferson’s words moved my associate and me in very deep spiritual ways. That morning at the foot of Jefferson in the rotunda with his words of the Virginia Bill of Religious Freedom, each of us separately sat down to express its meaning to Turkey.

My associate wrote:

For some time now there has been a crisis brewing in Turkey. Some people believe it is over the issue of Muslim women wearing a headscarf. The real crisis is about freedom: freedom to worship as one chooses, freedom to pursue knowledge and education, and freedom to contribute to the education, enlightenment, support of the next generation.

The excuse is the headscarf and a law claiming to assure separation of religion and state–but actually designed to separate people from the freedom to worship as they choose.

The crisis is over control. Control of people’s lives. By devising means to keep people’s mind and speech in bondage, those who wish to control find ways to deprive people of knowledge and enlightenment -- and, ultimately, liberty.

Can it be called a democracy if a country, without the representation and consent of its people, takes from those people the freedom to speak their minds, to follow their beliefs, to live in a system where everyone has equal recourse to justice…?

As Jefferson’s spirit entered my own, I clearly felt the spirit of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King at my side. Dr. King was giving his famous speech of 1963, which ennobled the civil rights movement at the Lincoln Memorial. Then it became clear to me that Merve was walking the same path of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Merve’s personal experiences, the story of her life, has resulted in a dream for her native country, the Republic of Turkey. In spite of all the events of the last two and a half months, Merve maintains her dream. Merve lived in the US. Merve received her higher education in computer engineering in America. Merve is an American citizen. Merve’s dream is deeply rooted in her experiences with the American dream.

Merve has a dream that one day the Republic of Turkey will rise up and live out the true meaning of the American creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men were created equal."

Merve has a dream that one day both headscarved and non-headscarved Muslim students will be able to sit down together at universities.

Merve has a dream that one day the Republic of Turkey suffering the storm of religious injustice and oppression will be transformed into a calm sea of religious freedom and justice.

Merve has a dream that her two daughters will one day live in the Republic of Turkey where they will not be judged by their headscarf but by the content of their character.

Merve’s hope and faith trembles for the Republic of Turkey, when she reflects that God is just. American Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, believed: "The pursuit of freedom of religion is a matter that lies solely between Man and his God, thus building a wall of separation between church and state." Merve struggles for her belief that equal justice can apply to all citizens in the Republic of Turkey, no matter what their state of religious or political persuasion.

The same God who gave us life, also gave us liberty. Can the liberties of the Republic of Turkey be secure for the 21st century when these God-given liberties are removed for significant parts of its citizens? Religious freedom in Turkey cannot be subjected to abuse by the power of the state, When the state exercises this power, it does extreme injury to its citizens. Religious convictions, like all individual opinions, are beyond the reach of civil authority.

Laws go hand in hand with progress of the human mind. As that mind becomes more developed, more enlightened, opinions will change with the circumstances. It is essential that governmental institutions advance and keep pace with the times. Now is the time for the Republic of Turkey to keep pace with and respect the will of its people for more tolerance on the headscarf issue. Merve is walking the same path of Dr. King in her struggle for the freedom of headscarved women to attain their basic rights of education and equal work opportunities. As Americans, it is urgent we show compassion of our hearts by our full support for Merve’s dream to let freedom ring for all citizens of the Republic of Turkey -- in the universities, in the Parliament, in the political parties, in the business world and in the media.

Let us Americans help Merve realize her dream for the Republic of Turkey. Merve struggles to sing the Black American spiritual: " Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

My speech tonight is the result of a one-year team effort between Washington, New York, and Turkey. I want to express my deepest thank to my associate and her daughter for their contributions to this team project. The three of us, on behalf of all the young Turkish women affected by the headscarf ban, extend special thanks to Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Aly Abuza`kouk, and the Minaret of Freedom Institute for their support, encouragement, and future actions. Thank you for your patience!


Abdallah Yusuf Ali, " The Glorious Kor’an," Lahore: Third Edition, 1938.

Avis Allman, "The Democratic Muslim Movement of Turkey," Georgetown University School of Foreign Service Lecture, February 23, 1999.

Amnesty International, "No Security without human rights," 1996

Amnesty International, "The Colours of their Clothes: Parliamentary Deputies serve 15 years’ imprisonment for Expressions of Kurdish political identity," December 1997.

AK-DER, "Headscarf Issue in Turkish Universities, 1998-99 Report," March 1999

European Union Human Rights Commission, " Case Law of the Commission," Application No. 16278/90, Senay Karaduman v. Turkey, Decision May 3, 1993.

Elizabeth Warnock Fernea , " In Search of Islamic Feminism," Doubleday, 1998.

Human Rights Watch, "Violations of Free Expression in Turkey," February 1999.

Honorable Harold Hongju Koh, " Human Rights in the Republic of Turkey," Testimony before Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, March 18, 1999

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Speech at Lincoln Memorial-Washington DC, 1963

Stephen Kinzer, Merve Kavakci Articles, New York Times 5/2/99. 5/3/99. 5/4/99.

Barbara Stowasser, "Women in the Quran, Traditions, and Interpretations," Oxford University Press, 1994.

Turkish Daily News, Various News Articles on Turkish Criminal Code, Article 312-2, 2/4/99, 3/16/99, 3/19/99, 3/24/99, 3/27/99.

Turkish Daily News, Various News Articles on Merve Kavakci Case, 4/15/99, 4/30/99, 5/1/99, 5/4/99, 5/31/99, 6/3/99.

Turkish Daily News, Various News Articles on Turkish National Security Council Meetings, 3/28/98, 3/30/98, 6/24/99, 6/25/99.


Unidentified male attendee: I want to thank both speakers for their excellent reports. I think that we should not restrict this wonderful activity, resolve, and study to Egypt or Turkey. I think we take it all over the Dar-us-Salaam. The same thing that is happening in Turkey is happening in Tunisia; it’s happening in many other countries. And therefore, we should make the case where presented.

Homaira: Hello. My name is Homaira. I have a question for Sr. Avis. I was wondering if you could talk a little about the role that former Prime Minister Ciller is playing in these issues.

Avis: That’s a very good question. Former PM Ciller has been very supportive of the rights of the headscarved women in terms of universities and she really has campaigned around that issue. I don’t think it won her a lot of votes, unfortunately; but I would say she has been vocal and that I think some of the more secular aristocrats of Turkey might view that she has abandoned her class. That certainly cost her. Some newspapers came down on her for that kind of issue, but she’s definitely been supportive. Thank you for bringing up that comment.

Invitee: Jewish students are allowed to wear yarmulkes in universities. Does anybody ever use that as an argument?

Avis: Not many of the Sephardic Jews in Turkey wear them.

Invitee: Do you think it’s religion per se that’s the threat in Turkey or the Ottoman history and Islam more so, or do you feel that it’s just any type of religion? Do you think if there were some symbol for Christianity that they would be treated the same way or again is it just the specific headscarf or the specific Islamic threat?

Avis: Christian or Jewish religious symbols aren’t really perceived of as threats. Probably one of the few examples I can think of would be the Greek Orthodox community in Istanbul–their symbols and their churches have been partially conceived of as threats and certainly there have been occasional attacks on that. Although this week I was talking to someone at the world conference on peace and religion and we were trying to look at examples of Orthodox and Muslim communities living relatively peacefully together and we talked about Istanbul. I had never thought of it as a relatively good example but it is. So I would say it’s … the threat in relationship to Kemalism.

Patricia Noor Abdullah: I’m interested in this not so much as an expression of Kemalism but vis-a-vis Turkey’s relationship with Israel and the Western stance that is being promulgated now by the US. They’re passing laws to protect Christians around the world in connection with all of this anti-Islam rhetoric that’s going on now all over. It's not just Turkey, but it’s as if Turkey being now closely allied to Israel has really taken on the Western stance. Not that it hasn’t in the past, but now it really and truly want to be a functioning partner of the EU and therefore is going to adopt anything that has to do with the West, including, perhaps, a pro-Israeli or anti-Islamic stance. The headscarf is one issue, but I’m also wondering about any expression of Islam continuing in Turkey because of these political arrangements.

Ali Abuza`kouk: You might add to that the question of the closure of the Imam Hatib schools.

Avis: With the 500th Anniversary of Sephardic Jews leaving Spain in 1992, there was a tremendous effort to build those ties between Israel and Turkey. Certainly from the Turkish military point of view they’re doing everything they can to build that connection with Israel to build the connection with our Pentagon. Right now you’ve got the religious Imam Hatib schools (which I did not cover). They were closed. Any kind of Sufi-oriented mystic order is under tremendous pressure. Anything visibly Islamic is under tremendous pressure, and yet over 95% of the people are Muslim. More and more it’s high officials in the Turkish military not respecting their own people, and that’s difficult because the National Security Council is the dominant force. They were given the dominant power in the 1982 constitution after the military coup. It’s a very difficult problem.

Noor: Do you perceive that Islam itself will disappear except for a nominal role play like "let’s all celebrate Ramadan" which will become a secular holiday?

Avis: It’s impossible. The Muslim spirit of Turkey has been tested even before the republic. I didn’t go into the historical background but you have very important scholars, like Nursi, who went through 25 years of imprisonment and exile. I mean the Muslim spirit of Turkey is very strong. In the villages it will never die. It doesn’t matter how much oppression. They are going to quietly continue their beliefs. I have no doubt about that.