The prime minister’s speech and an all-embracing Turkey

Published 11.11.2014 02:21

Turkey has come a long way in terms of breaking the taboos of the old Turkey where everyone with the exception of those with a Turkish-Sunni-Secular identity were subjected to policies of denial and assimilation. Now we have switched to a Turkey where its prime minister defies official history and places great emphasis on diverse identity by embracing everyone on the basis of equal citizenship. Moreover, we have also reached a point where we can criticize the closure of dervish lodges and the changing of place names.

I was one of those journalists who attended the Hacıbektaş Veli Ashura event on Saturday where Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu delivered a historic speech, describing the Dersim Massacre as a modern version of the Battle of Karbala. Following the event, we had the chance to converse with Davutoğlu on his way back. He said that a mental revolution was needed to deal with the Alevi question and he would primarily make a move to eliminate physical obstacles to this end. He said that he would concentrate on talks and work to initiate a dialogue between the parties. He is also supposed to visit a cemevi - Alevi house of worship - in the upcoming days and Dersim at the end of the month.

For me, Davutoğlu's speech, which was the product of his vision and profound knowledge, and his emphasis on a Turkey that embraces all, was very exciting. Here is the most striking part of his remarks that I jotted down during our conversation: "The fact that the Sunni majority ostracizes and marginalizes Alevi and Bektashi communities should be overcome. Alevis also need to overcome the feeling of isolation from the state and politics. Regardless of whether they voted for me or not, I should embrace them as prime minister without any discrimination. According to Alevis, Sunnis are the holders of the state that excludes Alevis whereas for Sunnis, Alevis maintain the state's official ideology and they are suppressed by Alevis as was witnessed during the postmodern coup of Feb. 28.

Mawlawism and Bektashism are prohibited not by us but by reform laws [of the early Republican period]. There is a tendency toward 'Alevism without Ali,' which originated in Europe and tries to organize Alevism as a different religion. It places cemevis in the same category as churches. We are looking for a formulation for this. Neither the AK Party [Justice and Development Party] government nor Sunnis are responsible for all of this discrimination. Those who executed İskilipli Atıf Hoca, [a Sunni Muslim scholar] also executed Alevi leader Seyid Rıza in the early Republican period. Those who banned Quran schools also banned Alevism. The single party regime of the time inflicted similar atrocities on all religious and ethnic groups including Kurds, Alevis and Sunni Muslims."

In short, Davutoğlu said that the regime's policies of assimilation that had no tolerance for religious and ethnic diversity, created the Alevi problem as well as the headscarf controversy and the Kurdish question. He said that a fruitful process would develop through dialogue, which I think must continue uninterruptedly. As I have reiterated many times before, all disadvantaged sections of Turkey have come closer to the ideal of equal citizenship during the AK Party's rule, however, Alevis are still "the other." It is imperative to alleviate their concerns for a democratic and pluralistic Turkey. It seems that the government will act with this motive.

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