Hundreds fired for wearing scarves

25th February 2000 at 00:00
TURKEY. Teachers fall foul of drive to root out alleged Islamic radicals, reports Jon Gorvett

MORE THAN 300 primary and secondary teachers have been fired this month, accused by the education ministry of breaking the country's strict code on Islamic-style dress.

The majority of the mostly female teachers were dismissed for wearing the hijab, the headscarf which Turkish authorities including the staunchly secular army have long associated with Islamic militancy.

Education minister Metin Bostancioglu also said that those sacked had been involved "in radical activities", but would not be more specific. Human rights organisations challenged the move, claiming that the teachers had worn the headscarves for personal religious reasons, or because they were a local custom.

The wearing of a headscarf by women, or the wearing of turbans or beards by men, has long been prohibited for state employees. However, until recently, the practice had generally been overlooked. But, in the past few months, the country has been swept by an anti-Islamist drive, fuelled by the shocking discovery of a number of mass graves containing victims of the revolutionary Islamist group, Hizbullah.

Prior to that, the military, which occupies a powerful position in Turkish politics, had declared that Islaic fundamentalism was the main threat to the country's security. As a result, many state institutions have begun a purge of employees suspected of Islamist sympathies.

Last week, 11 student dormitories in the Aegean city of Izmir were also shut by the education ministry, allegedly for being used as "bases for fundamentalist activity". In addition, a woman MP, elected from the pro Islamist opposition Virtue Party, lost an appeal over being banned from the parliament building for wearing a headscarf.

Although Metin Bostancioglu said that "there is nothing to discuss" about the dismissals, several sacked teachers have launched appeals. Sevket Naimoglu, a primary teacher in Istanbul, said that the dismissals would also cause problems for many educational institutions.

"We don't have enough staff as it is, and many of these people were good teachers," he said. "They took no account of how well they did their job, just what they wore on their head." There were also claims that some of the sackings were retrospective - with teachers dismissed for previously wearing the headscarf.

The Turkish government has established a special commission to investigate "fundamentalist activities". The sackings were carried out in accordance with its reports, the education ministry said.

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