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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 11/19/22

Turkish Parliament approves crucial law for suppressed Alevi citizens

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The Turkish Parliament Wednesday approved legislation containing important amendments for funding Alevi houses of worship (cemevis).

The law allows provincial directorates to construct, maintain and repair sites, including historical and cultural properties, as well as 1,585 cemevis.

The Alevi houses of worship will also be entitled to receive discounted or free access to water, provided by municipalities and their subsidiaries. The power expenses of cemevis will be subsidized by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, according to the new law.

This will mark the first time Alevi houses of worship will receive official state funding.

Alevis, who make up the second-largest religious community in the country with approximately 20 million followers, have a list of concerns about various issues, including the public recognition of their identity, the legal status of cemevis and funding, as well as the prerogative for Alevi students to be excluded from compulsory religion classes in elementary and high schools.

The cemevis are currently regarded as foundations under the Interior and Culture and Tourism Ministries, rather than recognized as houses of worship, which would legally entitle them to receive state funding like mosques, churches and synagogues of recognized religious minorities in the country. Some 80% to 90% of all cemevis in the country were built during the successive ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) governments since 2002.

Turkish government criticized

Many members of the Alevi community and the opposition parties criticized the bill as a cosmetic step that ignores the community's actual needs and denies it recognition as a religious and not a cultural community, according to Al Monitor.

"What the Alevis want is the recognition of their cemevis as places of worship, not as cultural centers," Mithat Sancar, the co-chair of the pro-Kurdish People's Democracy Party, said in the parliamentary debate. "They want a liberal, secular education for their children" rather than a curriculum that focus on Sunni Islam and refer to Alevism as a culture.

Sancar said that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, instead of respecting the rulings of European courts on Turkey's Alevi community, seeks to exploit the Alevi situation as a campaign strategy to "divide the community."

In a statement, Celal Firat, the head of the Alevi Associations Federation, reiterated that the Alevis want cemevis to be recognized as places of worship and not as cultural centers along with equal rights as citizens.

President Erdogan's overture follows a series of attacks against Alevi leaders and places of worship in Istanbul and Ankara in August. Following the attacks, Erdogan paid a visit to the Huseyin Gazi cemevi in Ankara for the first time in his 20 years of rule.

The Alevi community's distrust in the government stems partly from previous derogatory remarks by members of the ruling party, including the president himself. When he was the mayor of Istanbul, Erdogan, a devout Sunni, referred to cemevis (cemevleri in Turkish) as "cumbusevleri," a play of words that means "houses of spree." More recently, he has said in the past that cemevis were cultural centers and that Muslims "worshipped in mosques," which can be interpreted to mean that Alevis are not real Muslims.

Turkey's Alevis have faced centuries of violence and discrimination at the hands of the country's Sunni Muslim majority. Persecuted as heretics in Ottoman times, they remained on the state's watch list during the republic due to their strong leftist leanings and ethnically Kurdish segments. In 1993, a crowd of Sunni fanatics set fire to the Madimak Hotel in the central Anatolian city of Sivas, where famous Turkish author Aziz Nesin was holding a conference. They killed some 37 intellectuals, mostly Alevis. The Alevi community's demand for the hotel be transformed into a museum was ignored.

The Alevi faith is defined as a combination of Shi'a Islam, the Bektashi Sufi order and Anatolian folk culture, rather than a separate religion, according to Turkish Sabah daily.

The Alevi Faith [1]

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
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