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Alevis charge AKP with double standards

Wednesday 18 June 2008, by Mustafa Oguz

The foreign minister has complained about restrictions on freedom of belief and religion, but the attitude of the government towards Alevis suggests the government is not so alarmed when creeds other than Sunnism are concerned, claim many pro-Alevi organizations.

The recent resignation of Justice and Development Party, or AKP, deputy Reha Çamuroğlu, who was the figurehead of the “Alevi initiative” kicked off with much media hype in January, from his post as a consultant to Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (he keeps his position as an AKP deputy), spelled an end to government efforts to address the grievances of the Alevi community, with many leading Alevi associations saying the government was never sincere about the initiative in the first place.

“The AKP’s structure would never allow a genuine opening for Alevis. Under the guise of democracy, they preach a Sunni state,” Professor İzzettin Doğan, president of the Cemevi Foundation told the Turkish Daily News Friday. “The AKP fears it might lose international support if it goes easy on the Alevis. Wahhabism, stemming from Saudi Arabia, has a very different look to Islam from Alevis. Director of Religious Affairs Ali Bardakoğlu has always had one foot in Riyad or Jiddah. They conduct religious services from directives taken from Saudi Arabia,” he argued.

Ali Balkız, president of the Alevi Bektasi Federation, said his organization submitted a petition to the prime minister asking him to comply with a European Court of Human Rights decision and change the content of compulsory religious courses in high schools, which preach a Sunni version of Islam. “We told the government that they are violating the Constitution and no one can arbitrarily postpone or ignore the court decisions,” he maintained, adding that the organization’s demands have remained unanswered.

“There was only one point of discussion within the AKP for a new Constitution and it was on religious courses. The AKP was harmonious on other subjects, but objected to any change concerning religion courses,” underlined the vice-chair of the Alevi Bektasi Federation, Ali Kenanoğlu. “The AKP is an Islam-based Party that has two sensitive spots, Alevis and women. These two are the last or not on the democratization list for AKP,” he stated.

Alevi rights are trampled

Many representatives of Alevi associations claim the AKP has been especially resistant on the recognition of cemevis as houses of worship under the law, a move that would grant Alevi places of worship the same status as mosques, churches and synagogues. “We open cemevis under the name of associations, but they can be shut down easily. The state appoints imams to Cemevis in villages,” Kenonoğlu stressed.

Tahir Aslandaş, president of the Sivas Ali Baba Association, said the group gave a petition to the Sivas governor in January to demand withdrawal of an imam sent to the Beykonağı village populated by Alevis. “The petition was never heeded,” he said. “This is a general phenomenon in Sivas. It is an attempt for an assimilation policy. No one goes praying, but the Imam reads the call to prayer nevertheless.” He added that the Beykonağı village also suffers from poverty and a lack of medical care, with eight households and elderly people in need of medical attention and only a small clinic that has no doctors or nurses.

An expert on the Alevis from Middle East Technical University, Assistant Professor Aykan Erdemir, noted that the AKP top administration is made up of people raised with prejudices against the country’s 15 million Alevis, prejudices that also create material divides in the society. “From promotions to bids and contracts, from employment to nomination to key state posts, being a Sunni conservative is a great advantage over being an Alevi,” he underlined.

President of the Pir Sultan Abdal Cultural Association Fevzi Gümüş noted that mosque construction in Alevi villages has resumed with greater speed. “Discrimination against Alevi students increased to unprecedented levels. Our demands about Cemevis merely served as a government show who wanted to appease the European Union. It is clear that the AKP only cares about freedom of religious beliefs when it concerns headscarf wearing,” he underlined.

No expectations, no disappointment

Major representatives of the Alevi community in Turkey were not impressed with Çamuroğlu’s attempt to address their concerns through the Alevi opening project. Doğan said the resignation hardly surprised him. Gümüş noted that Çamuroğlu got media attention for his claims that he would solve Alevi problems when he became an AKP deputy. “He told the Alevi community that the AKP had changed. Now after admitting it did not, his decision to remain within the AKP ranks is a contradiction of his statements,” he said.

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Source : Saturday, June 14, 2008 TDN

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