Head Scarf Puts Assembly in Turkey Into Uproar

ISTANBUL, Turkey -- The newly elected Turkish Parliament erupted in fury on Sunday and prevented one of its female members from taking her oath of office while wearing a head scarf.

Scores of angry members rose to their feet, clapped rhythmically and chanted "Out! Out!" as the newly elected member, 31-year-old Merve Kavakci, entered the chamber with a navy blue scarf covering her hair and the sides of her face.

Ms. Kavakci had said her scarf simply reflected her private commitment to Islam, but many Turks consider it an inflammatory provocation. Turkey is strongly secular, and its political and military leaders fiercely resist any religious influence in public affairs.

Among the angriest members of Parliament was Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, who arrived to take his oath after President Suleyman Demirel asked him to form Turkey's next government.

"Please put this lady in her place," Ecevit told the acting speaker of Parliament, Ali Reza Septioglu, after Ms. Kavakci appeared wearing her scarf, as she had said she would.

Then, in a speech to the assembled members, Ecevit said: "No one may interfere with the private life of individuals, but this is not a private space. This is the supreme foundation of the state. It is not a place in which to challenge the state."

After hearing that speech, Septioglu called for a recess. When it was over, Ms. Kavakci did not return to take her oath with other members of Parliament. As a result, she is not qualified to take part in deliberations. It is unclear whether she will take the oath in the future and if so, under what circumstances.

Ms. Kavakci is a member of the religious-oriented Virtue Party, which secularists have denounced as subversive. The party lost nearly one-third of its strength in last month's election, falling from 21 percent of the vote in 1995 to 15 percent. But military commanders and their civilian allies, like Ecevit, still consider it a serious threat to national unity and stability.

Newspapers that support Islamic politics rallied to Ms. Kavakci's defense. "The people want their representatives to repeal laws that restrict freedom of expression," one of them, Milli Gazete, said in an editorial.

The clash in Parliament reflected a profound debate that is spreading through Turkish society. Most members of the political elite believe that restrictions on free expression are necessary to prevent the rise of religious fundamentalism, separatism and other causes they consider hostile to Western values. Others argue that Turkey should be able to tolerate unrestricted political debate, even over highly sensitive issues.

The oath of office that Ms. Kavakci was prevented from taking includes a vow to uphold the "principles and reforms of Ataturk." Three-quarters of a century ago, the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, decreed reforms that shattered centuries-old traditions. He abolished the sultanate, banned religious brotherhoods, adopted Latin script to replace Arabic and banned the fez, the veil and the head scarf.

"In some places I have seen women who put a piece of cloth or a towel or something like it over their heads to hide their faces," Ataturk said in a 1925 speech. "Can the mothers and daughters of a civilized nation adopt this strange manner, this barbarous posture? It is a spectacle that makes the nation an object of ridicule. It must be remedied at once."

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