String of hate crimes target women in headscarves


Three women and a 16-year-old girl were insulted and harassed in Turkey for wearing headscarves, all in the same week, stirring up public outrage in the Muslim majority country.

A reminder of a past where the secular elite oppressed women in headscarves, the incidents sparked strong reactions, and support poured in for the victims. Yet, the attacks show that the country is still haunted by a bitter past where the Muslim faithful have often been the subject of discrimination.

The first incident was on Monday, as Fatma Dilara Yiğit, a 16-year-old high school student, was traveling on a passenger bus in Istanbul when a woman sitting behind her started hurling curses at her for wearing a headscarf and kicked her. The woman, identified as Almila Kursar, a painter and writer, was arrested for assault and thwarting religious freedom. Yiğit received public support for her ordeal and a visit from Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, head of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), which Kursar allegedly supported.

Yesterday, Minister of Family and Social Policies Fatma Betül Sayan-Kaya, herself a woman wearing the headscarf, visited Yiğit and declared her ministry's support.

"It is unacceptable that someone would be attacked for her faith and her attire. We cannot tolerate it. We have to remain brothers and sisters regardless of one's faith. Besides, this is an act of violence against a girl," she told reporters after the visit.

On Thursday, two new incidents involving insults targeting women in headscarves surfaced. In the western city of Denizli, a man was arrested for "harassing" two women, both university students, again, on a bus. Murathan S. was a passenger on the bus on Feb. 14 when two women identified as H.D. and K.O. boarded it. The two women asked other passengers to borrow their electronic bus passes. The suspect told them he would give it to them if they "vote no," in reference to the upcoming referendum on the Constitution, which the ruling AK Party whose electorate is believed to include a large number of women wearing the headscarf put up for vote.

When the women reacted, he allegedly insulted them for wearing headscarves, according to the victims. The two women filed a complaint against the man, and he was detained on Thursday after police identified him through security camera footage from the bus. Like Almila Kursar, Murathan S. is accused of thwarting religious freedoms.

Also on Thursday, a suspect was detained and later released for insulting a woman wearing the headscarf in the southern city of Antalya. The woman, identified as N.D., was chatting with a friend running a pet shop when a man identified as M.Y. approached them and started hurling insults. Speaking to reporters, N.D. said the suspect showed her to others and said, "You see this woman? She looks pious, but she and others like her are frauds."

"He called me other things, all related to my headscarf," she said.

N.D. later called police and filed a complaint that led to the detention of M.Y. He was later released with judiciary control, to the chagrin of N.D., who said she would appeal the verdict.

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