Sunday, January 27, 2008

Some University Rectors Defy Constitutional Amendments

Yesterday marked the first day that türban-wearing women were able to claim constitutional rights to enter university. As expected, President Gül ratified recent amendments to Article 10 and Article 42 to the Constitution this Friday. However, the story is not over. Several university rectors had expressed their intention not to comply with what most here contend is now a constitutional requirement to allow all students to enter university regardless of their decision to don the türban.

Yesterday, many of these rectors held true to their promises. Among them is Kocaeli University rector Sezer Komşuoğlu. He is joined in his defiance of the new law by rectors at Istanbul, Marmara, Uludağ and Atatürk universities. Some rectors have expressed that they will not open their universities because they believe that doing so will violate Article 2 of the Constitution and other have stated that they will wait until the parliament moves to pass the amendment to Article 17 of the Higher Education Law.

Yesterday, the Higher Education Council (YÖK) issued a statement reading that all university rectors are now legally required to allow türban-wearing students to enter the university regardless of Article 17's passage.
"The essentials of the republic, defined in the Constitution, ensure the
protection of fundamental rights and freedoms, and thus cannot be used as legal
grounds to restrict individual rights and freedoms. . . . Activities of
education and training are a public service. Thus, obstructing an educational
activity is tantamount to denying an individual his right to education. The
right to education is a fundamental right and fundamental rights and freedoms
can only be restricted via laws or when they violate the related articles of the
Constitution. These restrictions cannot be contrary to the principles of a
democratic society and the republic."
YÖK Chairman Yusuf Ziya Özcan was just recently appointed to his position as chair of the Council and is facing significant opposition from some of its members. AKP-appointed members now have a majority in the Council, but nine members have openly declared their disagreement with Özcan's decision.

Media coverage of the confrontation reveals just how divisive the issue is here. Today's Zaman declares the rectors "oppressive" and in direct violation of the Constitution while the Turkish Daily News has played up the "chaos" caused by""confusion" surrounding the ban.

Outside the gates of Kocaeli University, I witnessed a group of 20-30 protesters waving "No Türban!" signs. So far I have seen no "pro-türban" demonstrators.

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