Merve Kavakçı was elected deputy for the Virtue Party (FP) in the 1999 elections, but Kavakçı was no ordinary lawmaker as she wore the headscarf, which was considered a violation of the principle of laicism in politics.
Long before the oath ceremony, discussions in the media heated up as to whether Kavakçı would come to Parliament wearing a headscarf. Kavakçı, indeed, appeared in a headscarf to take the oath in Parliament on May 2, 1999.
Following this, she faced unprecedented pressure from lawmakers of the Democratic Left Party (DSP), the leading coalition government, and other parties to leave Parliament. Ali Rıza Septioğlu, the person leading the oath ceremony, did not allow her to take the oath and Bülent Ecevit, a former prime minister, vehemently criticized her. “This is not a place to challenge the principles of the state,” he said. Kavakçı left Parliament in tears.
Following the oath ceremony, Kavakçı was not only dismissed from Parliament, she was also stripped of her citizenship. Moreover, the Constitutional Court considered her wearing a headscarf in Parliament as evidence of a violation of laicism in the closure case of the FP in 2001.
Conservative parties such as the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the Felicity Party (SP) have allegedly not named a headscarved candidate to run in elections to avoid another crisis like the Kavakçı incident.
As Turkey marks the 15th anniversary of the 1997 coup, Parliament has been hammering out ways to honor Kavakçı to eliminate the state of injustice in her case.
According to a report in the Radikal daily, various options are on the table. The first is to pay Kavakçı a salary as in the case of jailed lawmakers, who recently gained the right to a salary despite not being able to enter Parliament because of the fact that they are in prison. But her situation is very different to that of jailed lawmakers, the report points out. Kavakçı, for the time being, is not a citizen of Turkey, which also poses a challenge to this arrangement.
Another option, whereby Kavakçı will be issued a card that is given to lawmakers in Parliament that will give her the same privileges as other deputies such as using VIP facilities at airports and staying in Parliament’s guest houses, is more likely.
In addition, Kavakçı’s photo will reportedly be added to Parliament’s photo album.
In 1999, Kavakçı went to the US and has been an academic at George Washington University since.