Skip to main content

Turkish police officer on beat in headscarf for first time

Opposition politicians have slammed the end to a prohibition in place since the foundation of the modern Turkish state in 1923
A screengrab from footage of the celebrations shows Turkey's first ever headscarf-wearing police officer (YouTube)

A Turkish policewoman made history, and sparked controversy, this week when she became the first officer to wear a hijab on duty in the country’s modern secular era.

The police chief, who has not been formally named, was pictured wearing a black headscarf under her official police cap during Victory Day celebrations in Istanbul’s iconic Taksim Square on Tuesday.

This year’s Victory Day, which is held on 30 August to commemorate victory in a decisive battle in the Turkish War of Independence, came just days after women in the national police force were granted the right to wear the headscarf.

Turkey maintains bound by a strongly secular constitution, in place since shortly after its proclamation as a modern state in 1923.

The banning of the Islamic headscarf in public places has been a key tranche of Turkish secularism, but recent years have seen a gradual relaxing of the historic prohibition.

Changes to the law in 2010 saw female university students granted the right to wear the headscarf, followed by state officials in 2013 and secondary school students in 2014.

However, until last Saturday members of the police force and judiciary remained prohibited from covering their hair while on duty.

The historic appearance of a police officer in a headscarf on Tuesday provoked strong reactions from supporters of Turkey’s secular foundations, who frequently complain that the nature of the state is at risk of being transformed under the influence of the ruling AKP and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Can Atakli, a prominent Turkish journalist, accused the government of “putting dynamite at the state’s foundation” in an editorial on Monday.

“[The ruling party] is just trying to test the limits of what society will accept,” Atakli wrote, accusing the government of “paving the road to an Islamic state”.

The deputy chair of the CHP, the main opposition party in Turkey, slammed the move, saying “secularism is vital, needed by this country just as much as water and air”.

The change in Turkey's law came amidst fierce debate in Europe over the wearing of Islamic dress in public.

Amid controversy over French attempts to ban the burkini, the Scottish police force last week approved the headscarf as part of the official uniform for the first time, followed a few days later by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.