ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Yusuf Ziya Özcan, head of the country’s top education board, says political parties are the real institutions that should solve the headscarf issue. AA photo
The already confusing headscarf issue has become “much more confusing” with recent statements by Yusuf Ziya Özcan, head of the country’s top education board.
Turkey was shaken Monday with news reports from private channel NTV that a notice sent to Istanbul University by the Higher Education Board, or YÖK, was pragmatically solving the decades-old problem. YÖK urged academics, in the notice, not to kick students out of class, no matter what the reason was. As the news hit the headlines of nearly all newspapers and was discussed by television commentators throughout the day, the perception was that “the issue had been solved by YÖK while the political parties were also engaged.”
Özcan, speaking to reporters before noon on Tuesday, defended his actions and said he was ready to send similar notifications to all universities in a move to end any sort of ban at the universities. “There is no need for a constitutional amendment [to solve the headscarf issue]; Article 17 of the law that regulates higher education suffices for its solution. We’ll abide by this law,” he said.
However, only two hours after this statement, Özcan made a giant u-turn and stated no statement or decision had been made by the board regarding headscarves, in remarks made to journalists following the opening ceremony of Turgut Özal University’s 2010-2011 academic year.
The confusing decision came after a student wearing a headscarf was kicked out of class at Istanbul University, the media reported yesterday. However, Özcan said the student was wearing a hat and not a headscarf, which was the reason why YÖK was involved with the student’s complaint.
Özcan deflected culpability for the confusion to the media, hinting that the source of the confusion was media reports.
There are unconfirmed reports that Özcan had to correct his statements after being warned by government officials. Some YÖK members also criticized Özcan, saying there was no need for such a notice, which they said amounted to meddling, since there was no practical obstacle to headscarf-wearing students entering classrooms in the past year.
Özcan later pointed to political parties as the real institutions to solve the problem. “This is a problem that will be solved by the political parties. The media should stop meddling, and leave it to its course. It is my opinion that the pieces will fall into place soon, and the issue will be solved. The political parties have displayed an unexpected and positive approach. We’re at a very good point.”
Many universities, including Marmara University and Istanbul University, have opened their doors to students wearing headscarves for the first time ever this year. While the ban was fully enforced in previous years, women could not enter campus wearing headscarves and thus had to either remove them or wear hats or wigs.
Campuses are much more relaxed this year, students told the daily Radikal. “When I came to campus to register for classes, older students told me how lucky I was, because their mothers were not allowed on campus while wearing headscarves,” said a first-year math student at Istanbul University.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in a statement to journalists at the Ankara Esenboğa Airport on Monday, stated: “YÖK is an independent institution. It has made its decision, and there is no need for me to make a statement on the matter.”