Turkey will end a ban that bars women from wearing the veil, or Islamic hijab, in state institutions, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday, September 30, in a major policy speech.
“It is not a rational to expect this package to meet all the problems of the country, although we wish we could do this,” Erdoğan said at a press conference in Ankara, Hurriyet Daily News reported.
“It is hard to make reforms when deadlock has become a type of politics,” said Erdoğan, adding that despite all threats and attacks against his party, they had not abandoned their path to democratization.
“We will continue to do whatever will please our people,” Erdoğan added. The hijab ban end came along with a series of domestic reforms which were revealed among the much-anticipated democratization package on Monday.
According to Erdogan, the government would remove a headscarf ban in public institutions, except for judges, prosecutors, police officers and army members, as part of an amendment to the law’s fifth article.
Rights for Turkey’s ethnic minorities were also a big part of the package. According to reforms, education in different languages and dialects will be permitted in private schools.
Hijab, an obligatory code of dress, has been banned in public buildings, universities, schools and government buildings in Muslim-majority Turkey since shortly after a 1980 military coup.
Turkey’s secular elite, including army generals, judges and university rectors, staunchly oppose easing the hijab ban.
In 2008, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AK) passed a constitutional change easing restrictions on hijab at university.
Later in November 2012, Turkey has lifted a decades-long ban on wearing hijab in Islamic schools. Under the change, students at Islamic schools, known as Imam Hatip, will be allowed to wear hijab.
Pupils at regular schools will also be able to wear headscarves in Qur’an lessons. The change goes into effect from the 2013-2014 academic year.
Announcing a new era of religious freedoms in Turkey, Erdogan confirmed that there will be punishments for those that prevent religious groups from practicing their faith freely.
“We will also increase the penalties from hate crimes from one year to three years to fight against discrimination,” Erdogan said, adding that punishments for hate crimes, particularly those committed based on religion, nation or ethnicity, would be aggravated.
“We will establish an institution to fight against discrimination,” he added.
Regulations on rallies and demonstrations will also be eased to increase the freedom of assembly by extending the permitted period of demonstrations until midnight, later than the previous limit of sunset.
The new reforms drew an image of a new Turkey willing to listen to the demands of its people.
“The major obstacle toward reforms in Turkey is the darkness of May 27,” said Erdoğan, referring to Turkey’s first military coup on May 27, 1960, when conservative Prime Minister Adnan Menderes was overthrown for growing increasingly authoritarian before being ultimately hanged.
“Those who claimed that Turkey is being divided for past 11 years will do the same today [after the package is announced] – you will see that,” Erdoğan said.
The AK Party is deeply mistrusted by rivals, who suspect it of using liberal reforms as a cover to roll back the republic's secularism.
The pro-business AK Party, in power since 2002, sees itself as akin to Europe's conservative Social Democrat parties, and accuses opponents of scare mongering.
Erdogan criticized the opposition’s stance towards reforms, instructing them to change and cease to be an obstacle standing in front of change.
“The packages have surprising solutions but the problems are not a surprise [to Turkey]. The problems in the package are the ones that have been present throughout the republican era,” he said.
“This package is not a result of a negotiation. It is a result of the people’s demands,” Erdoğan said. “Our reference is international human rights, the European Union acquis and the works of the Wise People [during the peace process],” he said.
“All the articles [in this package] were promised to our people and approved by our people in the past as we included them in our party’s programs during the elections, Erdoğan said.