Compulsory Education in Turkey

student praying

On September 16, 2014, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issued a judgment in the case of Mansur Yalçin and Others v. Turkey. The principal issue was whether or not Turkey’s compulsory religious education violated Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights (right to religion). The 14 applicants practice the Alevi faith. They alleged that the religious education their children were receiving in school contradicted their own convictions and contained prejudicial treatment. Specifically, the applicants complained that only Jewish and Christian students had an opportunity to be exempt and that the textbooks treated the Alevi faith as a tradition, not as a belief system in its own right. The ECHR ruled that Turkey had violated three of the fourteen applicants’ right to religion.

This case was particularly interesting to me because of the lack of support the applicant received from the Turkish government even after the case of Hasan and Eylem Zengin v. Turkey. In Hasan, the ECHR ruled that the educational system in Turkey violated the rights of Alevi parents as it focused predominately on the majority interpretation of Islam. Furthermore, the fact that Alevi students did not have the possibility of exemption was deemed extremely unreasonable.  Shockingly, the Alevi parents in the present case filed a request with the Ministry of Education to overhaul the curriculum only to have it rejected. This action by Turkey forced its own citizens to seek assistance in an International Court even after the country was found to have violated certain citizens’ right to religion.

The ECHR did note that there was some improvement as Turkey began to include information about various beliefs after Hasan.  However, in light of their treatment of the applicants, the court found that it was not enough to ensure respect for the parents’ convictions. The ECHR emphasized the State’s duty of neutrality and impartiality in regulating matters of religion. I personally feel that the ECHR judgment in Hasan only affected Turkey’s educational practices on a minimal level. That is why it is so disturbing that Turkish citizens are not able to receive a proper remedy or course of action in their own country. The practices in question are a clear violation of basic human rights but the parents must resort to an international court that does not possess a clear enforcement procedure.

In the bigger picture, what impact will this judgement have if Turkey seemed to ignore the earlier decision in Hasan on an extremely similar issue? How can the proponents of the Alevi faith gain any traction on this issue if they lack the respect of the majority of the Sunni population in Turkey?

Source; Mansur Yalçin and Others v. TurkeyHasan and Eylem Zengin v. Turkey.

One comment

  1. The issue of what constitutes a religion seems to be at the heart of the controversy here. If you look at how Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act defines religion, it actually uses really broad language and essentially defines a religion as a “sincerely held belief”. So, as a result, as long as you can demonstrate that your actions are motivated by a dearly held belief, your belief constitutes a religion, for purposes of Title VII interpretation.
    Proponents of the Alevi faith would seem to benefit from legislation that embraces the spirit of Title VII. In order to do that, of course, they would have to amend the current laws in place. Perhaps, if the international court adopts similar religious interpretation, proponents can pressure their respective governments to comply with international standards. That being said, it seems that in today’s world, the international standard should be a broad one. The United States sets a very good example for how religion should be defined. Ultimately, however, the way a country defines religion might be indicative of the composition of its citizens and therefore other countries can argue that the United States’ standard is a reflection of its people and not the international standard.

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