Parliament speaker’s call to remove secularism from Turkey’s constitution sparks outrage

Parliament speaker’s call to remove secularism from Turkey’s constitution sparks outrage

Parliament speaker’s call to remove secularism from Turkey’s constitution sparks outrage

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Parliament Speaker İsmail Kahraman sparked outrage late on April 25 by suggesting that the principle of secularism “must be removed” from Turkey’s constitution, as even members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) voiced disagreement. 

“As a Muslim country, why should we be in a situation where we are retreating from religion? We are a Muslim country. So we must have a religious constitution,” Kahraman said in a conference titled “New Turkey and New Constitution” in Istanbul, stressing that “as a Muslim country” Turkey’s constitution should be religious.

“A description of secularism shouldn’t be in the new constitution. France, Ireland and Turkey have constitutions that include a description of secularism. But everyone interprets it the way they want to. That shouldn’t be the case,” he added, suggesting that the charter should “cohere with society.” 

However, the next day Kahraman stepped back from his remarks, saying he had “expressed his personal opinions on the new constitution” and stressing the need to provide a “clear definition of secularism” in the new constitution.

“In the new constitution, the concept of secularism should be defined clearly and concisely, in a manner preventing its abuse and ill-intentioned interpretations,” he said. 

In his earlier remarks, Kahraman had referred to the constitutions penned in 1961 and 1982, claiming that they were “religious constitutions” despite the fact that the word “Allah” does not come up in either of the texts. 

“Both the 1961 and 1982 constitutions are religious. Religion classes were made obligatory and this was based on faith,” he said. 

Kahraman’s comments also drew criticism from within the AKP, with Istanbul deputy Mustafa Şentop, who also heads parliament’s constitution commission, saying the issue was not under discussion. 

“We have secularism in our efforts for a new constitution. We haven’t discussed the removal of secularism from the constitution,” said Şentop on April 26, stressing that Kahraman was not speaking on behalf of the party.

AKP Deputy Group Chair Naci Bostancı also commented on Kahraman’s statements, stressing that such a change in the constitution was not on the AKP’s agenda.

“[Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu] will probably make an evaluation concerning this. [The AKP] doesn’t have any problem with secularism. We don’t have such an agenda in the draft constitution,” said Bostancı at parliament on April 25.

Republican People’s Party (CHP) head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has also criticized the parliament speaker’s comments on removing secularism from the constitution, suggesting that the speaker should leave his job if he doesn’t believe in certain principles. 

“I’d like to call on the parliament speaker: Either believe in the state, the republic, the superiority of law, the equality of men and women, the independence of judiciary, the freedom of the media and a secular, democratic, social law state, or leave that seat,” said Kılıçdaroğlu in the parliamentary group meeting of his party on April 26, while adding that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) doesn’t know the meaning of secularism.

“You can be sure that they [the AKP] don’t know what secularism is. Secularism is the guarantee of all the faiths. Secularism means the freedom of religion and conscience. Secularism means the state not abusing religion,” said Kılıçdaroğlu, as he said that secularism is the main guarantor of the social peace.

“Secularism is being human. In short, it is respecting the people,” he added. 

Reading the constitution’s first four articles which state the principles of the Turkish state while the fourth one says the first three cannot be changed, Kılıçdaroğlu reiterated the CHP’s stance on changing the aforementioned articles.

“We said the first four articles of the constitution cannot be changed,” Kılıçdaroğlu said. 

“Soldiers are being killed every day. Rockets are raining [down on Kilis] from across the border. But your only concern is secularism. Stop abusing religion for your dirty calculations,” Kılıçdaroğlu wrote on his Twitter account, referring to clashes between security forces and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on the southeastern province of Kilis, near the Syrian border. 

“Above all else, secularism is a principle for social peace. We shouldn’t be surprised by the negligence of this principle by those who have been aiming at our social peace for a long time. Mr. Kahraman! The chaos in the Middle East is the product of ways of thinking that, like you, make religion an instrument of politics. Secularism exists so that everyone can practice their religion freely,” added Kılıçdaroğlu.

CHP Deputy Group Chair Levent Gök also reacted harshly to Kahraman’s comments, describing them as “unacceptable.”

“I seriously condemn the parliament speaker’s words. We cannot accept these comments,” said Gök in his speech in parliament on April 25, adding that Kahraman cannot continue as parliament speaker after such comments.

“The parliament speaker should resign immediately,” he said.

The leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Devlet Bahçeli, has also criticized the parliamentary speaker for comments on removing secularism from the charter, saying the speaker made a mistake and should correct it.

“Those statements are not correct. The parliamentary speaker should correct this mistake,” Bahçeli told journalists upon leaving a parliamentary group meeting of his party on April 26, while adding that it was improper to discuss the constitution’s first four articles, of which the first three mark the principles of the Turkish state while the fourth one states that the first three cannot be changed. 

“According to our constitution, it is not a proper approach for an elected parliamentary speaker to bring the first four articles of the charter up for discussion. On the one hand, you reveal your thoughts on the changes of the constitution, but on the other hand, you bring secularism, which is in the first four articles of the charter, up for discussion in order to realize your aforementioned thoughts. This is not a correct thought,” added Bahçeli. 

Secularism must not feature in the new constitution, Parliamentary Speaker İsmail Kahraman said on April 25, drawing criticism from opposition parties as well as his own party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), with Istanbul deputy Mustafa Şentop, who also heads parliament’s constitution commission, stressing that Kahraman was not speaking on behalf of the party.

The MHP head declined to answer a journalist’s question on whether he called for Kahraman to resign in saying he should correct his mistake.

“Understand whatever I’ve said,” Bahçeli said. 

Meanwhile, Bahçeli also discussed the “Dolmabahçe Agreement,” a document outlining a 10-item list of priorities for the resolution of the Kurdish peace process that was announced on Feb. 28 in Istanbul’s Dolmabahçe Palace, saying that since President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had rejected the agreement, he should also say a few words to the ones who sat cheek to cheek with the extensions of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), by which he means the members of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). 

“If the president rejects the Dolmabahçe agreement, then he should also have a few words to say to the politicians in the AKP, who read the text of treason and who sat cheek to cheek with the PKK’s extensions in parliament,” Bahçeli said in the parliamentary group meeting of his party.

Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Co-Chair Figen Yüksekdağ has also criticized Parliament Speaker İsmail Kahraman’s comments on removing secularism from Turkey’s constitution, saying the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) “true colors have been shown.”

“Do they want a religious constitution because they are religious? But in their perception of religiousness, acquitting thieves and corrupt people is a duty,” said Yüksekdağ at an HDP parliamentary group meeting on April 26. 

She also claimed that Kahraman’s remarks were linked to the AKP’s bid to introduce an executive presidential system to Turkey. 

“They are trying to cover the draft constitution with the holiness of religion in order to pass a constitution that includes the presidential system in a referendum. But the people of Turkey won’t be deceived and won’t fall for this lie. Those who clearly see that the society won’t accept a constitution including the presidential system think they can pass it by abusing people’s religious sentiments. But this abuse has no future,” added Yüksekdağ. 

Stressing that the HDP wants a democratic constitution “for the people and for humanity,” Yüksekdağ said her party proposes a model of “real and liberal secularism” involving freedom for every faith. 

“Today, the constitution needed by the people of Turkey is democratic and centered on women, nature and society. They discuss everything [at the constitution commission], but they don’t talk about the people. But regardless of these manipulations, we will continue our struggle to make such a charter,” she added.

Meanwhile, police on fired tear gas to disperse a group of more than 100 demonstrators who had gathered outside parliament to protest Kahraman's remarks, AFP reported.

The group chanted the slogan "Turkey will remain secular" as a few protesters were detained.