Addressing the Alevi question

Published 13.11.2014 23:05

The most banal aspects of the Alevi question, part of the legacy that the Republic inherited from the Ottoman Empire, relate to the things that pundits like to identify as the problems and demands of the Alevi community. This challenge, which assumed a whole new identity during the Republican period, evolved into a complex sociological, political and psychological phenomenon over the years. The fact that there seems to be no common ground between the demands of different groups within the community alone would attest to this complexity.

As long as the Republic's founding ideology wraps itself around the Alevi question it will be impossible to tackle this pressing issue with direct reference to their grievances. This, however, does not mean that the authorities are unable to take certain steps in the right direction. If anything, certain demands of the Alevi community must be met in order to alleviate Turkey's normalization pains.

During the Republican period, a huge gap has emerged between the closure of dervish lodges, which structurally transformed the Alevi question, and the current state of affairs. Today, making progress with regard to the issue serves to bridge this decades-old gap, which involves a rather challenging, complex phenomenon with various implications. Any approach that fails to acknowledge the close relationship between the Alevi question and the guardianship regime cannot possibly move beyond shallow analyses accompanied by aggressive media campaigns.

Today, we are faced with a costly problem that causes friction between social groups, theological traditions and actors. The trauma that the issue has caused is vast. At this point, the country needs to take the time to build trust among all involved parties – which is where things get all tangled up.

The only way to implement trust-building measures, persuade stakeholders and launch a genuine reconciliation process is to reflect on the situation in a genuine manner. In this regard, it is impossible to hold a meaningful debate without concentrating on the Republic's founding ideology. The fact that many are unwilling to entertain even the most hypothetical questions about the matter embodies a state of grave confusion. As such, Turkey finds itself faced with a two-pronged question of confrontation.

The first crisis relates to the Sunni mainstream, which represents the vast majority of all non-Alevis, and the need to part ways with old reflexes that the guardianship regime created. In this respect, the country has made significant progress and experienced certain improvements. During the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) decade, both the Turkish state and society have taken steps in a positive direction.

At the societal level, the AK Party's rise to power has largely alleviated the mainstream's problem of underrepresentation vis-a-vis the guardianship regime. During this period, the nation overcame the trauma of the Feb. 28 military coup in a de facto manner and, to a smaller extent, through legal mechanisms. Again, at the state level, the AK Party pioneered efforts to tackle the Alevi question for the first time in the Republic's history. This effort had repercussions beyond the domain of Alevi demands. Just like the AK Party helped the authorities acknowledge the Kurdish community through democratic reforms, it was important to establish a legitimate domain of public debate within the Alevi community to take an affordable insurance policy in case dialogue evolved into a full-fledged reconciliation process.

The second area of conflict was at least as crucial as the rapprochement between the social mainstream and the state, and is related to the Alevi community's internal review and confrontation with the origins of this problem. Unless Turkey's Alevis engage this question themselves, developing a structural solution, regardless of the number of demands the authorities meet, will remain an elusive task.

Such a confrontation requires the Alevi community to tackle the actual source of their grievances. The problematic state-religion relations that the single-party period and, subsequently, the guardianship regime nurtured will thus become open to scrutiny. Essentially, this confrontation bears the promise of mental liberation, the overcoming of traumas associated with oppression and parting ways with the mission to construct the past and build a better future.

When Turkey begins to implement these two processes without any reservations, we will witness the emergence of a domain of rapid and effective confidence-building and the demise of the supply-and-demand approach to demands and grievances.

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