Turkish military lifts headscarf ban for officers’ spouses

In a landmark decision announced on Saturday, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) lifted the headscarf ban on military spouses while visiting military facilities such as lodgings, officers’ clubs and restaurants inside military bases. Although female officers are still not allowed to wear headscarves, the latest decision marks a turning point for a historically secular military where conservative officers and even their families were once dismissed and blacklisted.

The new regulation paves the way for officers’ spouses to have ID photos with them wearing headscarves on their military IDs for access to military facilities. It comes months after a non-commissioned officer won a legal battle for his wife’s right to enter the facilities without having to reveal her hair for the ID photo.

The regulation says photos with headscarves will be accepted if “facial features, forehead and chin are visible in the photo.”

In contrast to its image as a Muslim-majority country, Turkey had toughest practices against headscarves and other forms of Islamic clothing in public spaces for decades. A headscarf ban, not fully enforced in the past, was prevalent in 1990s, which had female students who wore headscarves denied education. Years after the 1997 coup that saw a purge of conservative civil servants and military officers conducted a nationwide witch hunt against observant Muslims, Turkey has reinstated the rights of conservative Muslims. In 2014, a headscarf ban for high school students was lifted four years after university students were allowed to wear headscarves at school. The Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, had lifted the headscarf ban for lawyers in 2013 and allowed lawyers to register at the Bar Association with a picture showing them wearing a headscarf on the grounds that the ban contradicted the Constitution. Currently, only other than TSK personnel, police officers are not allowed to wear headscarves.

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