DOIU – The Alevi problem

The Alevi problemLet me start by saying that Alevis are not a problem, but how they are perceived and treated is problematic. The Alevi faith is an amalgam of Islam and other creeds existent in Anatolia and the wider Middle East.

It is a sui generis belief that was born out of the Turkish experience after Turks settled in and around Anatolia It differs from Sunni Islam in its theological orientation.In history, Alevis were involuntarily caught between the conflict and competition between Safavid Iran and Ottoman Turkey.

Alevis mainly lived in what is now eastern Turkey, and because of their shared faith with and spiritual allegiance to Shah Ismail of Iran, they were suspects of treason. This political assessment led to massive massacres and lingering ill-feelings toward Alevis.

Orthodox Sunnism considers them to be deviants and non-Muslim Although they have had a relatively safe existence during the secular republican era, they were never considered to be equal to Sunnis legally speaking. Secular governments have turned a blind eye to them and have not intruded on their daily lives.

However, as the country became more urbanized and democratic standards reached a level at which equal status among ethnic and religious groups was demanded, Alevis began to ask for recognition and that their immediate needs be met. The most important of these needs are the following:1- To be accepted as a legitimate religious community, not a deviation from mainstream Islam 2- To have their places of worship (cemevis) officially recognized.

3- To have their children exempted from compulsory religious (Sunni) education in school.Now there is a government that has come to power with the claim of being victimized by a radical secular ruling elite throughout the republican era They have complained about the pressures put on them in the practice their faith and the trivialization of religious education.

Freedom of belief starts with choice: what to believe in, how to do so and how to practice and worship. Unfortunately, freedom of belief has not reached this level of maturity in Turkey.

It is understood as the alleviation of all restrictions on the Sunni creed and practice.With the aent of the Justice and Development (AK Party) governments, a hope was born regarding equality of beliefs and reparations for old injustices done to Christians and Alevis.

Some of the properties of Christian endowments confiscated by the state were returned. Alevi organizations were invited to conferences to voice their complaints and expectations.

But the Sunni understanding of religion did not reach the threshold of accepting the Alevis as a cultural group or recognizing their houses of worship.This week the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled against the Turkish government, agreeing that they have discriminated against Alevis.

The court determined that the governmentand#39s stance on Alevis and cemevis was neither reasonable nor objective. Hence, Alevism should be accepted as a religion and the cemevis as recognized places of worship.

No doubt the government will try to circumvent this decision if it cannot come to terms with the fact that no government or state has the right to decide what faith qualifies as religion and which buildings are officially holy. But the Turkish government has always assumed such powers.

For example, Yazidism, one of the ancient religions of Turkey and its southern neighbors, is not acknowledged as a religion by Turkey. Why?I would like to share an incident with you concerning the authority of states over religion.

I have a Jewish friend from Istanbul with whom I grew up. After graduating from university he settled in France and pursued a successful academic and artistic career Early on, he married a Turkish girl also living in France and they had a child.

They gave a Turkish name to himWhen my friend went to the Turkish consulate to get the child registered as a citizen, the official asked what religion to list on the boyand#39s paperwork. My friend, who is a secular Jew, thought — since he had no living parents — his wifeand#39s parents might be glad to learn that their grandson was registered as a Muslim So the boy became a Muslim with the consent of his fatherA few weeks later, the official Turkish identity card of the newly born citizen came back from Istanbul.

My friend was shocked to learn that the religion of his son had been recorded as Jewish. It seems that, according to law, children could only assume the religion of their fathers.

Now there is a successful architect living in Paris whose parents wanted him to be Muslim but who was arbitrarily converted to Judaism by the mighty Turkish state!Given these examples, religious freedom can only be achieved by leaving matters of faith to the believers and forbidding the state from intervening in favor or against any creed.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman