By Manolis Kostidis – Ankara
It seems like Recep Tayyip Erdogan was preparing a “democratization package” tailor made to suit his needs all along, as only Islamists were completely satisfied after it was announced that the ban on headscarves in the civil service will be lifted. However, Kurds and the Ecumenical Patriarchate have already expressed their disappointment. Kurds didn’t secure the release of thousands of Kurds currently being held and the government didn’t allow the Theological School of Halki to reopen either.
Women working in the civil service to wear headscarves!
In the context of religious freedom and equality, the Turkish democratization package allows the wearing of headscarves in the public sector. The new law will see that women that wear headscarves could also be hired in the public sector. With this reform the last bastion of Kemalist secularism is brought down. The headscarf ban will only apply to women working in the judiciary, the military and the police.
No Theological School
Despite the religious freedoms being granted and various reports in the Turkish press suggesting the Theological School of Halki will reopen, Erdogan didn’t make any reference to the issue, essentially eliminating hopes that will operate again.
“The non-inclusion of the issue of the reopening of the Theological School of Halki in today’s announcement deeply saddened us. Our disappointment is great. As the Patriarchate we had high hopes this time that it would happen (…) We will continue to believe that the reopening of our Theological School is necessary and we won’t stop pursuing this goal” an announcement by Metropolitan of Prousa Elpidoforos, the school’s head, read.
Key points of Erdogan’s “democratization package”
Key points of the package provide for some important changes such as the dialogue that will be held on the issue of lowering the 10 pct threshold for candidates to be voted to Parliament.
Erdogan said the percentage required to enter parliament could be lowered to 5 pct and campaigning will be allowed in any language. Erdogan also said, however, that the electoral system could remain the same. Kurds seek to reduce the minimum percentage for entry to Parliament in order to elect more MPs.
The package also allows campaigning in any language. Effectively, this means candidates could launch campaigns in the Kurdish language.
Kurdish taught in private schools only
Erdogan stressed that changes made to several laws will allow “private schools – monitored by the Education Ministry – to teach lessons in other languages” besides Turkish. This effectively opens the door for the teaching of Kurdish in schools. However, Kurds wanted their language to be taught in public schools too.
Furthermore, a law will allow villages to reclaim their old names and a previous law banishing old names will be repealed. This means Kurdish villages will have their own names in the Kurdish language and not those imposed by the Turkish state.
Additionally, a plot that had been seized by the state will return to the Orthodox Monastery of Mor Gabriel. “We will put an end to an injustice that already existed” Erdogan said.
Furthermore, an oath which is mandatory for Turkish schoolchildren to read – which start with “I am a Turk, I am right, I am hardworking” – is no longer compulsory. The restriction on the use of some letters of the alphabet will also be lifted. It is an issue that practically affects Kurds and the use of letters such as W, Q and X.
In any case Kurds have already expressed their concerns as the package didn’t include the release of thousands of Kurds being held in Turkish prisons or teaching the Kurdish language in primary schools and the granting of partial autonomy to municipalities in southeast Turkey.
Vice President of the pro-Kurdish party, Gultan Kisanak, stressed that “the democratization package doesn’t live up to any of our expectations. It is not a package that meets the need for democratization in Turkey”. She also stated her satisfaction at some rights granted to Kurds and stressed that Erdogan showed Kurds that “rights are earned”. Essentially, she tried to stress that Ankara granted these rights following a hard struggle by the PKK.
The Alevis (a Muslim sect) are also complaining because they expected their recognition as a religious minority by the Turkish state. The only thing the Turkish state did for them was to name the Univeristy of Nevsehir, Haci Bektasi Veli, honoring an Alevi scholar.
Package reforms also include the removal of limitations on the use of certain letters. It is an issue that practically affects Kurds and the use of letters such as W, Q and X.