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Are the Alevis and Sunnis equal in Turkey?

Throughout history, various religious perceptions emerged as a result of the religion being interpreted differently because of social, political, cultural or other reasons. The religious diversity observed in various communities is derived from this differing perception, which in time became a separate belief system.

No matter what it is called—a religious ideology, a cult, a sect, a culture, or a political formation—Alevism is a fact resting on the axis of different religious and political ideas.

In light of the definitions about the subject, Alevism is, in short, ‘the idea which idolizes the love of and the loyalty to Ali’ who was the caliph between 656 and 661 CE, one of the hardest periods in Muslim history, coinciding with the first Muslim civil war.

In Turkey, the media played a significant role in putting into words the Alevi identity, which had a hard time to express itself as a legitimate belief system before 1980. Especially the early 1990s was a period when revolutionary events happened in the media sector. Until then, television and radio were government monopolies; once the broadcasting monopoly was broken, many new television and radio stations opened. The new media outlets started to discuss subjects that they thought would be interesting for the public, even if they were considered objectionable by the official ideology. They began intensely discussing subjects like Alevism and Alevi worship, customs, and history. Alevism started to take on a legitimate identity as a result of this great interest by the media channels. Especially the secular wing of the Turkish state establishment and media greatly supported this Alevi awakening and saw them as “the insurance for the secular regime.”

Since the government must be just and treat all of its citizens equally, it should not have the right to discriminate against certain religious beliefs. A democratic constitutional state should ensure that the Alevis benefit from the freedom of “everybody to study their own beliefs” with equal conditions, just like the Sunnis. Nevertheless, it is easy to see that the Alevis are still not treated equally in Turkey when it comes to respect for their freedom of religion under AKP rule.

The government should not only respect individuals’ religious beliefs, but also should be responsible for providing funds to support their education and sanctuaries.

Unfortunately, the Religious Affairs Administration—a state institution—does not recognize the Alevi place of worship, the “Djemevi,” as a sanctuary.  Thus, no budget is allotted for the worshiping needs of the Alevis.

How realistic is Erdoğan’s promise of “juridical status for the Djemevis,” which he made just before the elections? Furthermore, how ethical is it to present respect for the universal right of the Alevis to freedom of religion or belief as an electoral pledge?

And why has the AKP not taken any action towards this subject until now, although they had every possible opportunity to do so?

Alevis are the only ones who have the right to speak for the “status” of the Djemevi. For the Alevi, the Djemevi is the place where they carry out the requirements of the Djem method, which is their form of worship. It is for the Alevis to decide to open the Djemevis, and allow their functioning for the Djem method.

For this reason, the inclusion of “judicial status for the Djemevis” in the AKP’s election manifesto is offensive. The government does not have the right to define or describe a status for the Djemevis. Its responsibility is to ensure full respect for the rights of all its citizens, including the Alevis, without politicizing the issue.

Nevertheless, the government has still not implemented a 2014 ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) regarding the official recognition of the Djemevi as a sanctuary in Turkey. Despite the promises given to the Alevi organizations and this ECHR ruling, no steps have been taken. Although several years have passed, no legal action has been taken towards recognizing the Djemevis as official sanctuaries. It was pointed out in the ruling of the ECHR that the rights of the Alevis to freedom of religion were violated, and they were discriminated against on religious grounds.

In addition, Erdoğan’s electoral pledge to provide “judicial status for the Djemevis” does not include the “recognition of the Djemevis as official sanctuaries.”

The judicial status of the Djemevis actually may be a cover-up for the transfer of more than four thousand lodges and dervish convents to the Islamic cults and communities, and invalidating law number 625 on the “The Code of The Lodges and The Zawiyahs.”

The progressive collapse of democratic and economic conditions triggered a wave of emigration from Turkey to other European countries. Although we do not yet have the official numbers, Alevis are known to be seeking opportunities in recent years to live in the democratic countries where they likely hope for better protection of their freedom of religion.

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Aydogan Vatandas / Editor-in-Chief
Aydogan Vatandas / Editor-in-Chief
Aydoğan Vatandaş is an investigative journalist from Turkey, specializing in Political Science and International Relations. He is the author of 13 books, many of which have become bestsellers in Turkey. 'Reporting from the Bridge' and 'Hungry for Power: Erdogan's Witch Hunt and The Abuse of State Power' are the first two books published in English in the U.S

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