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February 3, 2008
Huge Pro-Secular Protest in Turkey
More than 100,000 protestors were in the streets of Ankara to protest a government measure that would lift the ban on head scarfs at Universities:
Protesters called on the government to resign as they gathered at the mausoleum of modern Turkey's founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a symbol of secularism in the overwhelmingly Muslim country. Since the founding of modern Turkey, secular Turks have zealously guarded the traditions that keep religion out of politics. The pro-Islamist governing coalition has tread carefully, trying not to arouse secularist feelings by formulating policies close to the center. Prime Minister Erdogan is framing the issue as one of "human rights." But most secularists see the head scarf ban as a bulwark against forcing women and others to adhere to a more oppressive form of Islam.
Military authorities who manage the mausoleum said 126,500 people demonstrated.
"I am very angry -- not against veiled women but against those who want to cover the republic's values with a veil," said novelist Sevgi Ozel, who was among the protesters. Cemil Yasavul, 46, said she would "defend secularism until the last drop of my blood ... It is our most precious value."
Turkey's Islamist-rooted ruling party submitted to parliament this week a draft amendment to allow the Islamic headscarf in universities, making good on a six-year-old electoral promise. It was to be voted on next week.
Lurking in the background is the number one defender of secular values in the nation; the Turkish army. Although army interference in politics is not unknown - there were three military three coups in 1960, 71, and 80 - the military is usually extremely reluctant to mix with politicians. But if they see society being threatened, they very well may shed their reluctance and jump in with both feet.