Political synergy in the Alevi initiative

Published 19.11.2014 02:20

The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government and main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) took steps regarding Alevi rights within the same week. During his visit to Hacı Bektaş Veli, a popular pilgrimage site for Alevi and Bektashi people in Turkey, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu announced that the Alevis' dervish lodges, which are still used as museums, can be visited free of charge. It is rather offensive that the Alevis used to pay a fee to enter these places, which were deemed holy and used as places of worship in the past. Meanwhile, it has been disclosed that the government would introduce a comprehensive package on the matter in early 2015. Thus, the status of Cemevis will be clarified and they will probably receive financial support, while the Alevi dedes, who are the equivalent of imams, will be assured of a salary. It is known that the Directorate of Religious Affairs (DİB) also looks optimistically to this initiative and it is no longer regarded as something strange that Alevism will be taken into the scope of the DİB.

On the eve of Davutoğlu's visit to Hacı Bektaş-ı Veli, the CHP presented an action plan for the solution of the Alevi question. The most interesting part of this proposal was that Cemevis are to be treated as equals of other places of worship and will be mentioned by name in the laws. Thus, the phrase 'place of worship' will not be used in order to avoid sparking trouble among Sunni Muslims, as according to Sunni Islam, the only place of worship is a mosque. Moreover, it was also recommended that the religious studies subject at schools should be an elective – the only proposal that has united all Alevis for a long time.

Once one considers the "reform" proposals, it may be difficult to understand why this issue has become so complicated. After all, we are facing a different interpretation of Islam and what is expected is that all interpretations of Islam should be treated equally in accordance with the state's principle of secularism. Although the Kemalist ideology considers secularism as the core of the Republican regime, it is really surprising that an equal approach toward all religious beliefs cannot yet be achieved. Although Turkey declared itself secular, it could not have a secular regime. The secularism in Turkey only served to exclude Islamic identity and those who adopted this identity from the public sphere. An ambivalent attitude was adopted toward Alevis, who could attain important positions in the army, judiciary and media; however, they were not employed at some ministries. Meanwhile, Alevism was not addressed as a belief system and the problems of devout Alevis were ignored. In other words, the regime regarded Alevis as handy social elements as long as they stayed away from Alevism itself. In this respect, it is possible to say that state was an egalitarian one, as it displayed a similar approach toward Sunnis.

Thus, the matter is about giving democratic rights to people, rather than treating all religious beliefs equally. The fact that the issue becomes increasingly crucial is obviously associated with the AK Party's accession to power. In this way, the "egalitarian" approach toward Sunnis and Alevis was disrupted to the extent that Sunnis could enter the public sphere with their own identity in the AK Party period. The Alevi communities, that could not verbalize their concerns previously, also began raising objections during the AK Party rule. Therefore, Alevis and Alevism have become one of the main ingredients of politics, which represents a significant advantage for the CHP, as it gives it the chance of forcing the AK Party government to take steps regarding human rights and democratization. It seems that it is not so easy for Sunnis to embrace Alevis with all their rights, while there is a stumbling block called Kemalism for the CHP in addition to the hard-line understanding of secularism, which is a kind of orthodox belief in Turkey as well. In addition, it was no other party but the CHP that conducted campaigns that resulted in the death of thousands of Alevis and forced them to modernize. Therefore, the AK Party and the CHP are not very different from one another regarding the Alevis; so, it is promising in terms of democratization that both political parties strive to overcome their own stumbling blocks.

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