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Cablegate: Turkey's President Approves Constitutional

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DE RUEHAK #0350/01 0560945
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 250945Z FEB 08 ZDK
FM AMEMBASSY ANKARA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5336
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
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RUEUITH/ODC ANKARA TU//TCH//
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RUEUITH/TLO ANKARA TU
RUEHAK/USDAO ANKARA TU

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ANKARA 000350

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM TU
SUBJECT: TURKEY'S PRESIDENT APPROVES CONSTITUTIONAL
AMENDMENTS TO LIFT HEADSCARF BAN

REF: A. ANKARA 0320

B. ANKARA 0244
C. ANKARA 0222

1. (SBU) Summary. Turkish President Abdullah Gul signed two
constitutional amendments February 22, laying the groundwork
for lifting Turkey's headscarf ban at universities.
Opposition parties plan to file a challenge in the
Constitutional Court on Wednesday. Heated debate continues
over whether Higher Education Council (YOK) law Article 17
also requires amending to specify that headscarves, tied a
particular way, may be worn on campus. End summary.

2. (SBU) With the media focused on Turkey's anti-PKK ground
offensive into northern Iraq, President Gul signed two
controversial constitutional amendments, pending since
parliament approved them February 9, into law. A number of
columnists criticized Gul for 'slipping it through' in that
manner. The amendments to Articles 10 (equality before the
law) and 42 (access to education) lay a constitutional
foundation for lifting the beadscarf ban. Fierce debate over
whether allowing headscarves violates constitutional
provisions protecting secularism preceded parliament's action
(reftels). President Gul, stating the reforms do not pose a
threat to secularism, stressed the need to defuse concerns
about the changes.

3. (SBU) Opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and
Democratic Left Party (DSP) are expected to challenge the
amendments in the Constitutional Court on February 27,
arguing the amendments are not in line with the
constitution's secularism requirements. Baykal reportedly
rejected a proposal by Turkish Union of Chambers and
Commodity Exchanges (TOBB) President Rifat Kisarcikligolu to
have AKP, MHP, CHP and DSP leaders agree to resolve the
headscarf issue without amending the constitution. Baykal
told the press CHP would not bargain over the headscarf.

4. (SBU) Debate now centers on whether to amend YOK Law
Article 17 to specify headscarves may be worn on campus. YOK
Chairman Yusuk Ziya Ozcan recently stated such an amendment
is not necessary for the constitutional amendments to take
effect. He sent rectors a directive February 23 clarifying
covered students should be admitted so long as their faces
remain visible; burqas or veils are not permitted. The
notice prompted Court of Appeals Honorary Chief Prosecutor
Sabih Kanadoglu to accuse Ozcan, a Gul appointee, of
committing a crime. Kanadoglu urged rectors not to comply,
maintaining the constitutional amendments alone were not
sufficient to lift the ban.

5. (SBU) YOK board members reportedly are divided over the
issue, as are rectors. Appointees of former President Sezer
reportedly plan to release a statement disagreeing with
Ozcan. While Istanbul University Rector Mustafa Parlak said
he will not permit covered students on campus until Article
17 is revised, the Union of Education Workers (Egitim
Bir-Sen) announced members will monitor campuses and file
legal challenges against universities obstructing headscarved
girls from entering. Cukurova University Rector Alper
Akinoglu said he plans to discuss the issue with legal
advisors, adding the headscarf problem should be eliminated
through consensus. Uludag University Rector Mustafa
Yurtkuran contends the constitutional amendments do not
remove the legal hurdles to lifting the ban. "For us, the
headscarf is a political symbol and cannot be allowed at our
university," he said.

6. (SBU) Parliament's Constitution Committee Chairman Burhan
Kuzu told the press it is up to universities and YOK to
decide whether the amendments alone are sufficient to lift
the ban. Heeding President Gul's call to defuse tensions
over the issue, AKP Whip Bekir Bozdag said his party is ready
to consider proposals from CHP, DSP and NGOs, to include
revisions to YOK law Article 17. Bozdag said AKP may meet
with far-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP) members this
week. MHP allied with AKP to push the amendments through
parliament but balked when some AKP deputies argued no
changes were needed to Article 17, contending AKP had reneged
on their previous understanding to limit permissible
headscarves to those tied under the chin.


ANKARA 00000350 002 OF 002


7. (SBU) Milliyet daily played off the concern that lifting
the ban at universities will open the way for public servants
to cover by showing photos of a headscarved doctor at a
training hospital in Istanbul and covered students entering
an Istanbul high school.

Visit Ankara's Classified Web Site at
http://www.intelink.sgov.gov/wiki/Portal:Turk ey

WILSON

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