Harvard graduate Merve Kavakci was kicked out of parliament for wearing a hijab, and had her citizenship revoked 18 years ago. She is now the new ambassador to Malaysia

The headscarf was long seen a threat to the secular Turkish state.
The headscarf was long seen a threat to the secular Turkish state.

Turkey's former Virtue Party lawmaker Merve Kavakci who was ousted from parliament in 1999 for wearing a headscarf, has been appointed as the new ambassador to Malaysia, by a decree issued by the Turkish government on Wednesday.

Kavakci's case, which her sister – parliamentarian Ravza Kavakci Han – called a "political lynch campaign" , has shaped Turkish politics for years.

A Harvard graduate, Kavakci was a professor at George Washington University and Howard University in Washington DC. However, she went back to Turkey to participate in politics and was elected as an Istanbul deputy of the Virtue Party, a conservative political party, in April 1999.

Soon after Merve Kavakci entered the Turkish Parliament secular DSP lawmakers prevented her taking the oath. (AA)
Soon after Merve Kavakci entered the Turkish Parliament secular DSP lawmakers prevented her taking the oath. (AA)

On May 2, 1999 Kavakci walked into the Turkish Grand National Assembly, wearing a headscarf, to take her oath of office as a member of Turkish Parliament.

Kavakci was stonewalled by the deputies of Democratic Left Party (DSP) who chanted "get out" at the time, preventing her from taking the oath. Then Prime Minister and DSP chairman Bulent Ecevit delivered a speech where he said, "Here [the Parliament] is not a place to challenge the state. Please bring this lady into line."

Kavakci was then expelled from the parliament, and eventually, her Turkish citizenship revoked. She then went to the US and gained US citizenship that same year.

Women in headscarves and hijabs were long seen as a threat to the secular Turkish state. Although Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish Republic wanted to keep Islam and its influence out of state affairs, he never banned the headscarf.

The first hijab ban in public institutions was issued after the military coup in 1980. However, as conservative movements and parties gained in popularity, the ban was strengthened. Besides public institutions, Turkish women in hijab were prevented from entering universities. The ban stayed in place despite massive protests across Turkey.

On February 28, 1997, the Turkish army forced members of the democratically elected government to resign, in what is called a "post-modern coup." Instead of using direct force, the military pressured the government to step down. It threatened the use of force, used a media campaign and propped up strictly secular opposition parties until conservative Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan resigned on June 18, 1997.

Merve Kavakci was elected to the Parliament two years later, despite the continuing pressure on conservative politicians. The political party she was a member of was the successor to Erbakan's banned Welfare Party.

The AK Party won a landslide victory in 2002 general elections but was not able to lift the ban due to strong opposition. After years of debate, the hijab ban in universities was lifted in 2010, and in all state institutions by 2013.

Kavakci got her Turkish citizenship through a cabinet decision back in May 2017.

Author: Mucahid Durmaz

Source: TRTWorld and agencies