Last week the government submitted the six-article package of reforms to the Parliament that aims to boost the ongoing reconciliation process. According to sources in the prime ministry, the government working on the new reform package that will attempt to tackle the age-old problems of the Alevi community and the government is set to launch the new package just after the presidential election to be held on Aug. 10.
The Undersecretaries of Public Order and Security an organization under the prime ministry that plays a pioneering role of the governments' reforms, currently revising the new plan that will address problems of the Alevi community and according to sources, the key point in the reform package will be the status of cemevis. Alevi population uses houses of worship known as cemevis rather than mosques as centers of worship and prayer.
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. However, with the reform package the cemevis will actually be considered as places of worship. The reform package also plans to offer Alevi religious figures (dede) a salary after providing them with a certificate of "religious leader." Moreover the plan aims to get all Alevi and Bektashi associations and foundations connected to the Foundation of Hacı Bektaş-ı Veli and suggests setting up the new Deputy Directorate under Directorate of Religious Affairs (DİB) to work only on Alevi's issues.
The official status of cemevis in Turkey is directly linked with the state's perception of Alevism. The other dimension of the issue is the legal aspect regarding the law that closed down dervish lodges in 1925. According to that law, only mosques and masjids are protected while all dervish lodges were shut down. But for cemevis to remain active as religious and cultural centers they will have to be considered outside the scope of the law.
The common claim made by a variety of groups in the Alevi community involved in this struggle is that they seek public recognition of the Alevi identity and institutions and acknowledgement of grievances caused by the Turkish state.
In previous years, AK Party governments have undertaken a series of steps to understand and respond to Alevi identity-based claims. Popularly known as the "Alevi opening" in 2010, the process is the first systematic effort to deal with the identity-based discontent of the Alevis. This step was also part of the broader policy of the "democratic opening," which intends to address the burning problems of various identity groups in Turkey (the Kurds, Alevis, religious minorities and the Romanis). The government holds meetings with several Alevi associations to listen to their problems and note their proposals.
Moreover, Prime Minister Erdoğan visited a cemevi and became the first Turkish prime minister to visit one and also the first Sunni leader to visit Ali's mausoleum in Iraq. Furthermore, Erdoğan offered a public apology for the 1938 massacre of thousands of Alevis in the southeastern province of Tunceli during the single-party period of the Republican People's Party (CHP).
Reforms related to the Alevi population had been expected in the democracy package that was announced by the prime minister in September last year. However, the only measure for them was the decision to rename Nevşehir University as Hacı Bektaşi Veli University. Hacı Bektaşi Veli is a prominent Sufi, who lived in Nevşehir in the 13th century and was very respected by Alevis. Government officials stated that a separate package aimed at resolving the Alevi community's problems was under preparation.
Alevis are the second largest religious faith community in Turkey. However, language, belief and ethnic background is not registered in the national census; therefore, it is not possible to have official statistics about the number of Alevis. On the basis of reliable academic research, the population of Alevis is estimated at approximately 10 million out of a total population of 77 million in Turkey. An Alevi is one who follows the faith of Alevism. As mentioned, the concept of Alevism is a broad concept that covers various ethno-cultural communities that have their own communal names such as Alevi, Bektashi, Kızılbaş, Tahtacı, Nusayri and Abdal, all within the general concept of "Alevi."
Over its decade-long tenure, successive AK Party governments undertook extraordinary reforms in Turkey. With the new reform package AK Party would like to end the age-old the "Alevi issue" which is one of the most complicated and at the same time, largely misunderstood problems in Turkey.