In response to a New York Times op-ed piece titled "Erdogan Stokes the Sectarian Fires," Turkey's EU Affairs Minister and Chief Negotiator Egemen Bagıs sent a letter to the NYT in which he explains how Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government stood against sectarianism Today`s Zaman reported.
Bagıs's letter, published on Wednesday, stated that op-ed author "Halil M. Karaveli not only tries to justify the 1960 military coup in Turkey but also accuses Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of stoking sectarian tensions."
The EU minister argued that "Turkey's impressive reform process since 2002 has been characterized by many scholars as a 'silent revolution' that has radically changed democratic standards. Turkey is no more a country of coups. The steps taken by the government have never been sectarian. We have been taking steps to embrace the whole nation regardless of faith, ethnic origin or lifestyle."
In his letter, Bagıs touched on the democratization package that Prime Minister Erdogan announced last month. "The new democratization package announced last month is proof of this determination. It covers various issues, from the electoral system to the Kurdish issue to hate crimes to protection of personal data, to respond to the aspirations of our people," he said.
Prime Minister Erdogan unveiled the much-anticipated package in late September at a press conference. Its most important reforms include the removal of restrictions to wearing the Islamic headscarf; providing for education in one's mother tongue; the restoration of the original names of villages, districts and provinces to those in use before 1980; sweeping changes in the law on political parties, including the possibility of lowering the 10 percent electoral threshold for entering Parliament; improving freedom of assembly; and other more specific rights for religious and ethnic minorities.
"As part of the package, respect for different lifestyles is safeguarded; education in different languages, including Kurdish, is allowed in private schools; Mor Gabriel Monastery has been returned to the Syriac community; and a public university in Nevsehir has been named after a pivotal figure of the Alevi-Bektasi tradition," the EU minister said.
Bagıs later concluded his letter by asking, "How can Mr. Erdogan be accused of stoking sectarian fires when he is taking such radical steps shaking the establishment? As Caliph Ali says, 'There is enough light for one who wants to see'."