Last week, Turkish authorities rolled out their latest roadmap for democratization that entails, among other things, the de-militarization of the gendarmerie, which has jurisdiction over the country's most remote areas. Despite major improvements that the government has made over the past decade, the gendarmerie had been a particularly problematic component of the Armed Forces due to their long history of human rights abuses throughout the 1990s. Meanwhile, there is talk in the backrooms of the Turkish capital that the government will also take additional steps to alleviate the pressing problems of the Alevi community, which constitutes roughly 15 percent of the country's population, including the recognition of the cemevi as a house of worship.
Daily Sabah readers have, of course, been aware of the Turkish government's plans for some time. Speaking to this newspaper ahead of the March 30 local elections, then-Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay stated: "The state should embrace all its citizens and treat them equally. ... The key point is the status of Cem houses [and] we are working on this matter." Later, in April 2014, Ali Ünal, Daily Sabah's chief correspondent in the Turkish capital, authored a follow-up story about the details of the government's reform agenda: "Sources claim that ... the key point in the reform package will be the status of cemevis. Currently, the cemevi, which literally means a house of gathering, is not officially acknowledged as a place of worship despite persistent demands on the matter from the country's Alevi community." Again in July, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was at the time campaigning for his current position, met with the leaders of Alevi NGOs, which this newspaper identified as "a sign that [he] will quickly pursue the Alevi opening ... if he takes the presidential seat." Finally, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç provided a timeline for the Alevi reforms during a live interview with A Haber, a local news channel, and indicated that the government will take concrete steps regarding the matter by year's end.
At a time when certain groups have eagerly seized the opportunity to declare the end of the Kurdish reconciliation process in Turkey, to which the Turkish authorities and PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, who is currently serving a life sentence on İmralı Island, remain committed, the government's commitment to promote equal citizenship and willingness to expand the reconciliation campaign beyond the Kurdish community represents a crucial step toward a brighter future. It was also noteworthy that the announcement came around the same time as the appointment of Etyen Mahçupyan, a Turkish-Armenian journalist, as chief advisor to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.
The greatest challenge ahead, of course, remains the threat of reactionary groups and radicals within each community - something that Ali İhsan Şahin, who serves as president of the Universal Alevi-Bektaşi Association, warned against in May 2014: "Such people [the radicals] put Alevi-Bektaşi designations in their organizational names and exploit religious sentiments." Fuat Mansuroğlu, an activist who leads the European Ahl-al-Bayt Alevi Federation, concurred: "We won't be deceived this time." Unwilling to let a small group of extremists put an end to a long period of reform and democratization, the authorities must present the people with a healthy blend of freedom and security. The moderate majority among the Kurds, the Armenians and the Alevis, in turn, should have the courage to speak up and engage the proposals in a constructive manner.