BERIL – The ECtHR and Alevis

The ECtHR and AlevisThe Kurdish and Alevi issues have always been among the main social and political problems in Turkey. The Kurds have always had problems with the state, while in the Alevisand#39 case, it is the state which has provoked the problems.

Alevis have preferred to maintain good relations with the state since the proclamation of the republic, as they have believed the republicand#39s principle of secularism was beneficial for them Kurds, however, have had a serious problem with the republican regimeand#39s nationalistic vision.It is a fact that the republic has considered only people of Turkish and Sunni origin to be acceptable citizens.

All others were suspect. Of course, the definition of andldquoTurkish originandrdquo has been problematic, too.

In brief, everyone who is not a Kurd, Armenian, Greek or Jewish has been considered andldquoTurkish.andrdquo This nationalistic mentality still remains.

The bureaucracy is as suspicious as always about Kurds, but thankfully, the andldquoTurkishandrdquo public opinion has begun to understand the Kurdsand#39 demands, however timidly. Unfortunately, Kurds still donand#39t enjoy equal rights and freedoms in society.

A lot remains to be done on that matterGiven that Turkey is a secular state, one could imagine that the problems of the Alevis could be resolved more easily. Secularism in Turkey, however, has a bizarre way of functioning.

We have the Directorate of Religious Affairs, which is a public institution which only serves Sunni Muslims. All imams are paid by the state, while the directorate decides about everything related to the practice of the Sunni Islam faith, from the construction of new mosques to the translation of sacred texts.

So in practice, the Turkish andldquosecularandrdquo state has a religion and it ignores Alevis, Christians, Jews, Yazidis and other groups.There are two possible solutions to this situation: Either all religious groups should have their equal part from the directorateand#39s budget, or all of them should be independent from the state.

In a secular country, the best option would be the second one, meaning that the state shouldnand#39t interfere with religious groupsand#39 internal functioning. It appears, however, that nobody wants to talk about it.

So we can at least develop a system where all faith groups benefit from the stateand#39s financial help.The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled last week that Turkey is violating Alevisand#39 human rights because while the mosques benefit from financial aantages such as not paying electricity or water bills, the Alevi places of worship (cemevis) donand#39t benefit from these exemptions.

The problem is that the Turkish government doesnand#39t see cemevis as places of worship, while the ECtHR does.The ruling has reminded everyone that the Alevi issue is a serious problem that needs resolving quickly.

We need to have an open-minded debate on the cemevisand#39 status, the compulsory religious courses at school and financial matters. Some people have been saying for several years that Alevis should be represented within the Directorate of Religious Affairs.

If they are, it will only be legitimate for other faith groups to ask to be treated the same way. Such a debate is of crucial importance for Turkeyand#39s normalization, however delicate the subject is.

There are enormous legal problems that should be taken care of in this matter Nevertheless, the essential obstacles will be the political ones, as the directorate is a very rich institution with an eminent place in the state protocol. It wonand#39t be easy to share these resources and status, which means sharing power To share power, one needs new legal arrangements, but one canand#39t implement such a comprehensive reform a few months from the general election.

This is particularly difficult for a governing party which seeks the votes of conservative and religious people. Thatand#39s why the ruling of the ECtHR will probably be discussed thoroughly in the coming months.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman