Turkey's education quarrel spills onto streets
ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Addressing the supporters of his party, main opposition CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu likens the government to the Nazis. DAILY NEWS photo, Selahattin SÖNMEZ
Tens of thousands of people flocked to the streets of Ankara March 27 to protest the government-backed education reform bill, only hours before it was set to be debated in Parliament, potentially igniting a fresh row between lawmakers from the ruling and opposition parties.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) gathered more than 20,000 people in Tandoğan Square in Ankara, where it turned its weekly parliamentary group meeting into a rally, while some women’s associations also protested the government outside Parliament. Expected to last not less than a week, the parliamentary debate over the education reform bill, publicly known as 4+4+4, began late yesterday afternoon, and group proposals from opposition parties were still being debated when the Hürriyet Daily News went to print.
Amid concerns the tension between the government and opposition over the bill, which would reshape the whole education system, could become even greater during the parliamentary debate and cause more fighting, President Abdullah Gül called for prudence and urged lawmakers to listen to each other. “I hope the debate will take place in a climate in which everyone remains cool-headed and is able to say what they think,” Gül said late March 26.
“This bill is divisive. This is not 4+4+4. It is 8/2. It divides the society into two. If you break the foundation of a building into two pieces, it will be demolished. If you break 8 years of mandatory education into two tiers, the result will be demolition. But those demolished by this will be our children,” CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said, stressing that his party will say no to a “dictatorship mentality.”
‘No to child brides’
During the unprecedented group meeting, CHP supporters waved Turkish flags and carried banners saying “4+4+4: not a solution to child brides,” “The solution is 1+8+4,” and “You cannot choose your profession at 10 years of age,” while chanting slogans such as “Shoulder to shoulder against fascism,” and “One day the AKP will be accountable to the people.”
Arguing the Justice and Development Party (AKP) rushed the bill through Parliament’s education commission “with a dictatorship mentality, similar to that of the Nazis,” Kılıçdaroğlu said, “We will say no to both this dictatorship mentality and to the dictator [Prime Minister] Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.”
The CHP leader said the children of poor families would suffer from the controversial bill, and their only opportunity to climb the social ladder is through education. “Primary education is the only place that a rich child and a poor child can compete. There will be no such competition with tiered education. At the end of the first four years, when a child is 10, he or she will be asked to choose a profession. If he or she cannot decide, the government will say ‘I have found a career for you; you will study for that,’” Kılıçdaroğlu said.
He also said the CHP is not against religious education, but the AKP uses religion for political gain. “If you want to improve religious education, we are not against it. The CHP is respectful of all beliefs. We respect pious people, but we are against those who are revengeful and hypocritical. You [Erdoğan] are revengeful and hypocritical. You are using religion for your own political gain,” Kılıçdaroğlu said.
Bağış critical of the CHP
EU Minister Egemen Bağış played down the CHP rally and vowed the AKP would not back down on the bill. “Let them gather at Tandoğan. The people will only laugh at them. The government will not give up on the educational needs of the nation just because some people are putting up a show and blocking traffic in Ankara,” Bağış said.
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli, urged the AKP to drop the bill and agree to seek a compromise with the opposition. He called on the CHP to “act calmly and cool-headedly in the spirit of democracy.”
There were more protests as Parliament geared up to convene for the debate. Backed by CHP lawmakers, members of the Rightful Women Platform, Federation of Turkish Women’s Associations and Eğitim-Sen teachers’ trade union read out a press statement outside Parliament and signed petitions calling for the withdrawal of the bill.
The office of Ankara’s provincial governor, meanwhile, said the demonstration against the bill called by Eğitim-Sen for today had not been authorized, and warned the police would “definitely stop” the protest.
Brawls were sparked ahead of the debate on the bill, when AKP deputy Oğuz Kağan Köksal said no one had the right to threaten the police, in response to a speech by Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputy Altan Tan, in which he said the police used disproportional force during last week’s disputed Nevruz celebrations, speaking of the assault on independent deputy Ahmet Türk.