Turkey lifts ban on women wearing headscarf in army

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's party has long pressed for the removal of restrictions on the wearing of the headscarf - a contentious argument in Turkey, which was established as a secular republic in 1923.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's party has long pressed for the removal of restrictions on the wearing of the headscarf - a contentious argument in Turkey, which was established as a secular republic in 1923.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Move indicates political weakening of the secularist armed forces after failed July coup

ISTANBUL • Turkey's army is lifting a historical ban on female officers wearing the Islamic headscarf in the officially secular country, the state- run Anadolu news agency has said.

The move, ordered by the Defence Ministry, applies to women working in the general staff and command headquarters and branches, it said yesterday.

Women may wear the headscarf underneath their cap or beret as long as it is the same colour as their uniforms and does not cover their faces.

The reform will come into force once it is published in the official gazette. It will also apply to female cadets. It was not immediately clear if it applied to women on combat missions.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), co-founded by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has long pressed for the removal of restrictions on women wearing the headscarf.

Turkey lifted a ban on the wearing of the headscarf on university campuses in 2010.

It has allowed female students to wear the headscarf in state institutions from 2013 and in high school from 2014.

And in the latest key reform before the army's move, Turkey allowed policewomen to wear the Muslim headscarf as part of their uniform for the first time in August last year.

Mr Erdogan's critics have long accused the President of eating away at the secular pillars of modern Turkey as set up by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk when he established the republic in 1923.

The government rejects the suggestions, saying it is allowing freedom of worship for all Turkish citizens.

During the controversy over the lifting of the ban in the police force, pro-government media pointed out that several Western states have already granted female police officers permission to wear the headscarf.

The army has usually been seen as the strongest bastion of the secular state and had been traditionally hostile to any perceived Islamisation of state institutions.

But its political power has ebbed after the government increased control over the armed forces in the wake of the failed July 15 coup blamed on followers of United States-based preacher Fethullah Gulen.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2017, with the headline 'Turkey lifts ban on women wearing headscarf in army'. Print Edition | Subscribe