Germany and Turkey: Alevi issue

German President Joachim Gauck’s remarks on his concerns about Turkey’s democratization process have been heatedly discussed.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reacted harshly to Gauck’s criticisms, saying that the German president does not act like a statesman — probably because he still thinks of himself as a pastor — and that he should keep his advice to himself. Meanwhile, no one has paid as much attention to Erdogan’s words — that Gauck had been misinformed about Turkey by atheist Alevis in Germany — as the Alevis have. These were scandalous words, and Turkey should have felt ashamed about it. However, Erdogan perverted the facts and behaved in a way that reflected his prejudiced attitude toward Alevis instead of being abashed.

Speaking at his party’s parliamentary group meeting on April 29, 2014, Erdogan said: “In Germany, there is something called ‘Alevism without Ali,’ which is an atheist belief presented under the guise of Alevism. You [Gauck] are presenting us with this as Alevism. In Turkey, there is no such Alevism. [Gauck] spoke the way that a small group in Germany, supported by Germans, speaks. This is improper.”

Prime Minister Erdogan’s “sensitivity” toward Germany and Alevis is not something new. In a TV program that he attended last year (Jan. 25, 2013, Kanal 24) Erdogan said: “In Germany, there are some structures that try to divide Turkey by sectarian conflict. And Germany provides financial support to these structures.”

This situation bothers Prime Minister Erdogan:

Several German federal states have taken the initiative and signed an interstate agreement (Staatsvertrag) with various Islamic organizations, including Alevi organizations, through which the rights and obligations of Muslims are regulated. In this way, Alevis in Germany enjoy the same rights as other citizens of the country. Thus Alevis in Germany have been given the rights that other religious and faith groups enjoy in the country.

Cemevis have been recognized as Alevis’ official places of worship. They have been allowed to design the content of religious courses on Alevism given in schools. In other words, the agreement does not introduce “privileges” for Alevis living in Germany, but meets their demands. Thus what we face is not an effort to divide Turkey but the implementation of the principle of equality among German citizens. Before the agreement, the content of the religious courses was designed by the Protestant church. And this was unacceptable for both our Sunni and Alevi Turks living in Germany.

I do not know if this upsets Erdogan, but Austria and Switzerland are also taking steps to meet Alevis’ demands in their countries.

There can surely be criticism of Germany-based Alevi organizations in Europe. But the Alevi community can do this within itself; and it does, actually. If the state adopts an attitude of manipulating Alevis or Alevism, this will prove futile.

If the interpretations of Alevism of which the Turkish government does not approve are becoming popular among the Alevis in Europe, Turkey, which fails to recognize the basic rights of its Alevi citizens, has the prime responsibility for this, not Germany or another country.

Alevis demand official recognition of cemevis as places of worship. They state that the current mission and stance of the Religious Affairs Directorate causes discrimination among religious groups. They also demand the abolishment of compulsory religious courses and that Alevis prepare the section on Alevism in religious courses. These are common demands of Alevis. Moreover, the principles forming the foundation of democracy require that they be met.

So, as the government, you do not meet these demands. You launched an initiative geared toward Alevis and renewed people’s hopes, then changed your minds about the Alevi initiative. You disregarded the progress report of the European Union — of which we had been seeking to become a member. And then you get angry about criticisms and countries’ giving Alevis these rights.

Turkey’s democratization efforts and internal peace are at grave risk because of its attitude toward Alevis. Then what is the moral and correct thing to do? Is it telling the truth and warning the government, or hiding it?


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