In order to solve Alevi question, both the government and moderate Alevis should work together and demonstrate their willingness and ability to contribute to the reform agenda
When Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu visited Tunceli on Nov. 23, a predominantly Alevi-Kurdish opposition stronghold in Eastern Anatolia best known for having been violently targeted by the Kemalist regime in the late 1930s, he explicitly expressed his government's commitment to fight discrimination and pledged to address the Alevi community's long-standing grievances. Last week, hours after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Turkey discriminates against Alevis, Mr. Davutoğlu, along with two cabinet members, hosted a group of Alevi representatives at the Prime Ministry residence. The dialogue, he said, will remain "a domestic affair" – a term that government officials most frequently employ to turn down speculation about foreign governments serving as facilitators in the Turkish-Kurdish reconciliation process.
The prime minister's use of the exact same term for both situation was hardly a coincidence. As a matter of fact, both the Kurdish peace process and the Alevi initiative rest on the premise that the authorities can restore social peace and undermine violent organizations through dialogue and reform. Although the extremist wing within the Alevi community has caused significantly less damage than Kurdish radicals in the past, however, crossing off the Alevi question from the Davutoğlu government's to-do list might prove more difficult than initially estimated.
First and foremost, the Alevi community lacks the same kind of strong leadership that Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned founder of the PKK, has thus far played in Turkish-Kurdish reconciliation talks. Despite ongoing efforts, the Alevi community remains largely divided across political and methodological lines with the majority appreciating the opportunity to discuss their concerns with a reform-minded administration and a small group of extremists clinging onto violence. At a time when senior government officials, including Davutoğlu, publicly announce their eagerness to alleviate the community's problems, moderate Alevis are yet to demonstrate their willingness and ability to speak for themselves and contribute to the reform agenda.
Furthermore, it is important to keep in mind that the moderate majority within the Alevi community has thus far fallen short of stopping a small number of trigger-happy extremists, such as the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), which perpetrated the 2012 U.S. Embassy bombing in Ankara, and its offshoots that have been terrorizing predominantly Alevi neighborhoods of major Turkish cities for the past year, hijacking the nation's hopes for intra-faith harmony. At the same time, authorities must work harder to bring perpetrators of urban violence and vandalism to justice in order to discourage future crimes and empower peaceful actors regardless of their ideological backgrounds.
Finally, both the government and moderate Alevis will have to work together to persuade certain constituencies, including parts of the Sunni Muslim community, to throw their weight behind the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) leadership's most recent outreach effort. If community leaders and grassroots activists can demonstrate their ability to combat extremism and, at the very least, compel violent radicals to temporarily cease their activities, the skeptics will be more receptive to the government's message.
Surely enough, the Davutoğlu government's Alevi initiative represents an undeniably important step in the right direction and shows that the authorities will pursue dialogue with disenfranchised segments of Turkish society regardless of their political affiliation and size. The public, however, must be accurately and adequately informed about the community's particular capabilities in order to keep the reform agenda popular.