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Cablegate: Turkey's Compulsory Religion Courses Illegal, Top

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RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHAK #0448/01 0670909
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 070909Z MAR 08 ZDS
FM AMEMBASSY ANKARA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5507
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RHMFISS/EUCOM POLAD VAIHINGEN GE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC//J-3/J-5//
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC
RUEUITH/ODC ANKARA TU//TCH//
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RUEUITH/TLO ANKARA TU
RUEHAK/TSR ANKARA TU
RUEHAK/USDAO ANKARA TU

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ANKARA 000448

SIPDIS

C O R R E C T E D C O P Y -- ADDED CAPTION

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KIRF PHUM PREL OSCE TU
SUBJECT: TURKEY'S COMPULSORY RELIGION COURSES ILLEGAL, TOP
ADMINISTRATIVE COURT RULES

REF: 07 ISTANBUL 1088

ANKARA 00000448 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary: Turkey's highest administrative court
ruled March 3 that students may be exempted from mandatory
religious education classes. Alevis welcomed the ruling as a
major victory, urging its immediate implementation. The EU
called it a landmark decision, noting the court relied not
only on Turkish law but also European Court of Human Rights
(ECHR) case law and the European Convention on Human Rights
(the "Convention"). Officials from the ruling Justice and
Development Party (AKP) have made conflicting statements
about whether the GOT would implement or challenge the
ruling. End summary.

--------------------------------------------- -
Court Rules Mandatory Religion Courses Illegal
--------------------------------------------- -
2. (U) Turkey's Council of State (Danistay) ruled March 3
that students may be excused from mandatory religious
education classes. An Alevi father in Istanbul filed the
case, objecting to his 7th-grade son's forced attendance at
Sunni-oriented classes. The Danistay ruling noted a conflict
between Constitution Article 24, obligating secondary and
high school students to attend classes on religion, culture
and morality, and the Convention provision stating parents'
beliefs must be respected in providing religious education.
The current courses, according to the court, could not be
considered classes on culture and morality because they fail
to take into account the beliefs of a broad section of
society. "For the Religious Culture and Morality course to
be mandatory under its current content is against the law,"
the Danistay ruled. The Danistay ruling may still be
appealed to the Council of State Supreme Board.

3. (U) The court cited a similar October, 2007 ECHR decision,
stating the GOT breached the rights, accorded by the
Convention, of an Alevi father and daughter by denying the
father's request to exempt his daughter from compulsory
religion courses (reftel). The ECHR awarded the plaintiffs
legal fees and deemed it appropriate compensation for Turkey
to bring its educational system and domestic legislation into
conformity with the Convention.

--------------------------------------------- -------
Alevis Welcome Ruling; Urge Immediate Implementation
--------------------------------------------- -------
4. (SBU) Alevi Bektasi Federation (an umbrella organization
representing 155 associations and 35 foundations) President
Turan Eser told us the ruling was a major victory for
Turkey's approximately 15 million Alevis. "The court backed
our argument that the classes violate the Constitution, and
put an end to the Islamization of education," he said. Eser
expects the Ministry of Education immediately to implement
the decision. If it does not do so by May, federation
members would withdraw their children from the classes and
file an onslaught of additional legal complaints, Eser said.

5. (SBU) Pir Sultan Abdal Association President Kazim Genc
told us the Danistay decision paralleled the October ECHR
decision. If the decision is not implemented soon, his
organization plans to have thousands of parents petition EU
parliamentarians and file court cases in Turkey and the ECHR.

--------------------------------------------- ----
EU: Danistay's Recognition of ECHR Precedent Key
--------------------------------------------- ----
6. (SBU) Ankara European Commission contacts are very
pleased by the decision. EC political officer Sema Kilicer
said protecting religious liberties is one of the most
important conditions for Turkey's accession bid. The EC
consistently has pressed Turkey to address long-standing
Alevi complaints, including the mandatory education courses,
failure to officially recognize Alevi places of worship ("cem
houses"), and government funding only for Sunni Islam
institutions.
7. (SBU) The EC's Serap Ocak believes the Danistay's respect
for the ECHR's recent ruling on this controversial issue is
an important precedent for Turkey's judiciary. Though the
Danistay judges may have acted to protect the interests of
secular Alevis, reliance on an ECHR decision could signal a
shift in attitude by Turkey's higher courts, which have

ANKARA 00000448 002.2 OF 002


historically turned a blind eye to international juridical
precedents.

------------------------------------------
AKP Officials Issue Conflicting Statements
------------------------------------------
8. (U) State Minister for Religious Affairs Said Yazicioglu
told the press the verdict was similar to the recent ECHR
decision, which Ministry of Education experts have been
studying to formulate a solution consistent with the
Constitution. One solution might be to make religion courses
electives, he noted. In contrast, AKP deputy leader Dengir
Mir Mehmet Firat, speaking March 5 in New York, said the
Danistay usurped the Constitutional Court's authority. Only
the Constitutional Court may assess the Constitution, he
argued. Firat, a lawyer, added the Constitutional Court is
the correct institution to implement the October ECHR
decision. The Minister of Education, who agreed with Firat's
jurisdictional point, also told the press the Danistay
decision was based on an old curriculum, since replaced, and
claimed the Ministry would appeal the decision. State
Minister Mehmet Aydin also argued that textbooks and
curriculum have changed since the case was filed.

------------------------------------------
Religious Affairs Head Criticizes Decision
------------------------------------------
9. (U) Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) President
Ali Bardakoglu said in a March 6 press conference that
courses on religion should be compulsory and that raising
children who have no knowledge of religion will lead to
serious harm. Bardakoglu maintained it would not be correct
to abolish courses on religion just because there are a few
mistakes in the curriculum. "Giving information on a
religion doesn't necessarily mean imposing the fundamentals
of that religion on individuals," he stated.

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

WILSON

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