Sara Akgül became a student in one of Turkey's most prominent universities, Boğaziçi University in Istanbul. She received a scholarship from the Education Ministry between 2000 and 2005 but could not complete her studies as she wasn't allowed to renew her registration. Why? The reason was her headscarf.
In 2009, with an amnesty rule, Akgül got the chance to return to school. The headscarf ban was also lifted at that time and she graduated from the university in 2012. Later, Akgül was called by the Education Ministry to pay back the full scholarship that was supposed to be paid to her since she was unable to complete her education due to the ban. In other words, the ministry oversaw the violation of educational rights during her first stint in university and accused Akgül of intentionally dropping out.
Nevertheless, Akgül was determined not to give up her fight for human rights and submitted an individual application to the Constitutional Court in 2014. This week, the court released its verdict ruling that Akgül's rights to education and personal freedom had been violated. The court also ordered TL 20,000 ($3,700) in compensation be paid to Akgül.
The Constitutional Court's decision is historic as it proves the violation of individual rights, freedom of expression and religion, all of which had been intense in the country years ago, and are now under judicial scrutiny.
The headscarf ban in Turkey was widespread prior to 2000, especially in the late ‘90s, when a post-modern coup d'état, namely the Feb. 28 coup, brought down the democratically elected government, consisting of the religious cadres of the late Necmettin Erbakan's party.
Erbakan was forced to step down as prime minister and the military was set to intervene in civil politics through force and power. These unfortunate moments in the recent history of Turkish politics are now known as the period of Feb. 28.
The decision of the Constitutional Court on the Akgül case has a highly symbolic meaning, as it says that military tutelage, which had been at the heart of the ‘90s regimes, is now under legal scrutiny, and the door for compensation for moral damages is open.
I was also a student at Boğaziçi University when the headscarf ban was in force. The headscarves were not only banned for students but for all instructors and professors as well. I remember how many liberal academics violated the ban and allowed female students with headscarves to participate in classes and take courses. It was like a hidden democratic protest and me and my friends, who were harshly against the ban, were trying to take courses from professors who allowed headscarves in their classes and defended human rights. Freedom of religion was obviously violated in the country, and we tried to dig little holes in the strict undemocratic atmosphere.
The ban, or let's call it the violation of human rights, freedom of expression and religion, was finally lifted in 2010 for students and in 2013 for public employees.