Government signals action for Turkish Alevi community amid obstacles

A mixture of emotions surrounds the problems faced by the Alevi community in Turkey, as there are high hopes that the new year may usher in new developments for them – as recent reports and sources indicate that the government has sought to find permanent solutions – but some Alevis emphasize obstacles and the importance of a real understanding of any new regulations to meet their expectations.

The Alevis, who are the country’s second largest religious community with around 20 million followers, have a list of concerns over a variety of issues, including public recognition of their identity, the legal status of Cemevis – their places of worship – and funding. , as well as the prerogative for Alevi students to be excluded from compulsory religion courses in elementary and secondary schools.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), hailed as the pioneer of revolutionary reforms for the country’s religious and ethnic minorities, had already taken steps to address the problem, but no concrete solution has been found. until now. But in recent months, officials have made positive statements and expressed their intention to resolve the issue once and for all.

Cemevis are currently considered to be foundations under the Turkish Ministries of Interior, Culture and Tourism, rather than recognized as places of worship, which would legally give them the right to receive public funding like mosques, churches and synagogues of recognized religious minorities in the country. Some 80 to 90 percent of all cemevis in the country have been built under successive AKP party governments since 2002, according to former minister Lütfi Elvan.

In recent months, reports have indicated that the government is in the process of finding a solution after evaluating a report presented at a Cabinet meeting chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in October.

The president said they discussed the “extensive” report prepared after visits to some 1,585 cemevis across the country. The visits came after Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu asked Alevi activist Dr. Ali Arif Özzeybek to visit Alevi and Alevis villages across Turkey to find the roots of the problems and ensure that the issue was approached in a non-political way. Özzeybek worked as an advisor to the main chairman of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu – himself Alevis – between 2011 and 2018 and joined the AK Party Central Decision-Making and Administration Committee (MKYK) in March 2021. His visits to more than 1,500 cemevis occurred in the span of about seven months in 2021, according to the interior minister.

“We want to solve this problem without politicization, and we will continue to strive to do so. We are all brothers, ”Soylu said in an interview at the end of November, adding that Alevi citizens are“ fundamental and inseparable elements ”of Turkish society and that the government will not allow anyone to discriminate against them.

“We are obligated to fulfill our duties,” Soylu said and hinted at the saying of the Prophet Muhammad: “Unity is mercy and disunity is punishment.”

Last week, Erdoğan inaugurated the Yunus Emre Cemevi in ​​Gaziantep province in southeastern Turkey, near the Syrian border. The modern complex was built in Şahinbey district in cooperation with the Alevi Cultural Association, the AK Party-led Metropolitan Municipality of Gaziantep and the Governor’s Office after the community said a single complex was not sufficient for the community of the province.

Earlier in December, Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül visited the Tunceli Cemevi, where he made it clear that the government was determined to act.

“We reject any policy that rejects Alevi beliefs and our Alevi citizens. As the Ministry of Justice, we have completed our work regarding the legal recognition of cemevis in terms of regulation, ”said Gül.

Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül (center) addresses reporters during a visit to the Tunceli Cemevi in ​​Tunceli, Turkey on December 18, 2021 (IHA Photo)

Noting that the AKP party is sincere in its willingness to respond to the demands of the Alevis, Gül said their demands are legitimate and valid, while thanking the spiritual leaders of the cemevis, dedes, for their cooperation.

“May we all work so that our fraternity lasts several thousand years”, added the Minister.

Meanwhile, AK party sources told the Daily Sabah that the party will continue to work for all citizens, as they pointed out that President Erdoğan, who almost always ends his public speeches with reference to Haji Bektash’s famous words Veli “Let’s be united, let’s be strong, let’s be alive”, has the leadership to unite all citizens.

Although the sources did not give a timeline or more details on the work in progress, they said the Alevi community should be assured that the government will take action for their needs.

They went on to point out the different opinions within the Alevi community regarding potential regulations, such as the idea of ​​creating an Alevi affairs directorate, similar to the Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet). They noted that a consensus within the community is imperative to determine the future of cemevis, one of the main concerns of the community.

In recent decades, AKP party governments have aimed to restore minority rights and help their survival as their numbers dwindle over time. Long treated as second-class citizens, the non-Muslim Greek, Jewish, Armenian and Syriac communities have welcomed the return of their rights, despite complaining about the slowness of the process. In 2018, all even came together to sign a joint declaration rejecting allegations that members of minority faiths in Turkey had been “pressured” on their communities, saying they were free to practice their religion in the country.

But the situation is different for the Alevis, as their faith is explained as a combination of Shia Islam, the Sufi Bektashi order, and Anatolian popular culture, rather than as a separate religion.

In 2009, the first Alevi initiative was launched under the mandate of the Prime Minister of the Erdoğan era. Alevi leaders and representatives participated in several workshops with the government over a six-month period. Later in 2011, Erdoğan issued an unprecedented apology on behalf of the Turkish state for the Dersim tragedy, which took place in 1937, when 13,806 people were killed as a result of a military campaign after the predominantly Alevi Zaza Kurdish tribes opposed the 1934 resettlement law adopted by the CHP during the one-party regime. The discussion process was halted during the Gezi Park uprisings in 2013, but an “Alevi openness” initiative was launched in 2014, and a council was formed to discuss the issues in 2016, but there is no has had no concrete development since.

Emphasizing the importance of the coexistence between the different cultures and beliefs of the country, Celal Fırat, president of the Federation of Alevi Associations, told the Daily Sabah that it is the responsibility of the state to protect differences and prevent the suppression of minorities by the majority. But for him, what is even more important is the idea that the Alevi community is more independent than ever and does not want to be shaped or exploited by the ruling or opposition parties.

“The main question is whether or not the political parties will keep the commitments made to the Alevis … And what the opposition thinks or would do is not on the Alevis’ agenda,” Fırat said, adding that each Alevi citizen has the will to vote for the party they want, in the name of their individual freedom of belief.

He noted that the state’s “insistence” on defining beliefs and the exclusion of non-Sunni communities has historically led to an “insincere” relationship and said he did not believe that any initiative would fail. will produce results unless it takes legal decisions and expectations into consideration. and the sensitivities of all Alevis.

The head of the Alevi community continued by expressing the dismay of his community at the failure to implement the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), arguing that the status of places of worship and Alevi cultural and social complexes must be revised.

In 2016, the European Court ruled in favor of the leaders and members of the Turkish Alevi community in the case brought for the official recognition of cemevis as places of worship.

Fırat also underlined the importance of unity and the language of love for a better future for all in the country.

Another Alevi community leader, who requested anonymity, told the Daily Sabah they were in favor of discussing their issues with the government as they noted that there are political and ideological divisions. within the community that have become obstacles. However, they noted that they hope the issue can be resolved through dialogue if both sides are truly committed to finding a solution and can openly discuss the issues.

“The issue of the status of cemevis and the revision of the school curriculum to exclude Alevi students from religion classes are essential for almost all Alevis and require immediate attention when considering the matter,” said the head of the school. Alevi community to the Daily Sabah, adding that they were hopeful the government would take action, based on their record with other religious communities in the past.

The common motive among the remarks made by politicians and community leaders seems to highlight the idea that unity, compassion and determination are essential in solving the problem.

“We have to make sure that the rhetoric of love for humanity as told by Haji Bektash, Rumi, Yunus Emre and our poet-singers is cherished in this region,” Fırat said.

Sharon P. Juarez