a Republic Day reception hosted by President Abdullah Gül together with his wife, Hayrünnisa, whose headscarf irritated Turkey’s secularist establishment even before Gül’s election to his post in 2007, holding alternative fetes of their own
In an effort to avoid tensions over his wife’s headscarf, Gül had hosted two different receptions over the past three years: one during the day together with his wife where representatives of NGOs, media organizations and artists were invited, and another later in the evening where he alone received politicians and military commanders.
His decision to hold one reception this year sparked curiosity about how the military and the CHP, which both see the presence of a headscarved first lady in the presidential palace as a symbolic blow to Turkey’s secularism, would deal with this.
CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who said his decision not to attend the reception did not amount to a boycott, joined instead a meeting of his party in Kadıköy, İstanbul, a CHP stronghold, on Friday evening. The military, on the other hand, presented a scheduling conflict as an excuse not to attend the presidential reception. The military had its own reception beginning at 7 p.m., coinciding with Gül’s celebration, which began at 7:30 p.m.
The president played down the no-show by commanders and the main opposition leader. “The entire reality of Turkey is here: all the colors, all the differences. The whole of Turkey is here,” he said. Mrs. Gül also reacted moderately. “We are mature, we are patient. And we are used to all [kinds of difficulties],” she said. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose wife also wears a headscarf, was more critical of the decision of the army and Kılıçdaroğlu. Asked to comment on alternative celebrations going on elsewhere, he said: “The military should have come. This is the nighttime reception. I don’t see others as appropriate.” Erdoğan, who earlier said he could attend together with his daughter, who also wears a headscarf, was alone at the reception, saying his daughter was busy moderating debates at a symposium in the southern province of Gaziantep.
This year’s reception came after tensions seemed to have eased over the headscarf, and it had been hoped that normalization in politics was coming three years after the military issued a memorandum on its website on the eve of a presidential election, warning of intervention if Gül was elected. A ban on wearing the headscarf in universities was eased and, in an unusual step, Mrs. Gül accompanied Germany’s visiting president on an inspection of the honor guard in an Oct. 19 ceremony. Mrs. Gül herself was once denied enrollment at Ankara University because she wore a headscarf and took her case to the European Court of Human Rights, though she dropped it when her husband became foreign minister.