New Turkish envoy to Malaysia defied hijab ban in 1999

Merve-KavakciPETALING JAYA: A Turkish lawmaker who was kicked out of parliament for wearing a headscarf and later revoked of her citizenship for “challenging the state” on the issue, is now the country’s ambassador to Malaysia, Turkey Radio and Television Corp (TRT) reported.

Merve Kavakci was a member of the Virtue Party when she was elected into the Turkish parliament in 1999. Clad with a headscarf, Kavakci stepped into the Turkish Grand National Assembly to take her oath of office as a member of Turkish parliament.

“Kavakci was stonewalled by the deputies of Democratic Left Party (DSP) who chanted ‘get out’ at the time, preventing her from taking the oath. Then prime minister and DSP chairman Bulent Ecevit delivered a speech where he said, ‘Here (parliament) is not a place to challenge the state. Please bring this lady into line,” the national broadcaster said of the events that transpired 18 years ago.

She was then expelled, and after her citizenship was revoked, she went to the United States and was given citizenship by the US government.

Her having been a Harvard graduate and a professor at George Washington University and Howard University in Washington DC, prior to entering the Turkish political scene, may have helped her in becoming a US national.

On Wednesday, just two months after the Erdogan administration reinstated her citizenship, the 47-year-old Kavakci was named ambassador to Malaysia, thus making her the second major Muslim nation after Iran to send a woman as ambassador to Malaysia.

In November 2015, the Iranian government appointed Marzieh Afkham, the former spokeswoman and head of the Centre for Public and Media Diplomacy in Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as ambassador to Malaysia.

Hijab ban

At the time of Kavakci’s participation in Turkish politics in the late 1990s, there was a hijab ban in place in the country.

According to TRT, the first hijab ban in public institutions was issued after the military coup in 1980 which saw Turkish women in hijab being banned from entering universities. The ban stayed in place despite massive protests across Turkey.

However, after years of debate, the hijab ban in universities was lifted in 2010, and in all state institutions by 2013, the national broadcaster said.