Democratic Initiative - Religious Groups - Alevi Initiative

Alevi Initiative

Academics estimated the Alevi population at 15 to 20 million, including ethnic Turks and Kurds. In general, Alevis follow a belief system that incorporates aspects of both Shia and Sunni Islam and draws on the traditions of other religions found in Anatolia as well. The government considers Alevism a heterodox Muslim sect; however, some Alevis and Sunnis maintain that Alevis are not Muslims.

Alevi "cem houses" (places of gathering) have no legal status as places of worship in the state. However, Kuşadası and Tunceli municipalities ruled that Alevi cem houses could receive free water and electricity from the municipality like other recognized places of worship, but they did not have the authority to grant formal "temple status" to cem houses.

In 2008, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan broke his fast with 1,000 Alevis in Ankara. For the first time in the history of the republic, a Turkish prime minister sat with Alevis to share their mourning and participate in a typically Alevi event. Prime Minister Erdoğan gave a message of unity and solidarity. He also hinted that his government is ready to engage with the Alevis in a serious manner and respond to their demands.

The Alevi initiative is the first systematic effort to address Alevis’ identity-based contentions. During the years 2009 and 2010, the government took steps to recognize and address the concerns of the Alevi population. State Minister Faruk Çelik is charged of coordinating the government’s Alevi initiative aiming to find a solution to the problems of Alevis living in Turkey. The government held quarterly Alevi workshops aimed at addressing the concerns of the Alevi population. After seven workshops, a report is prepared and submitted to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for his consideration. Some Alevi groups complained that these workshops did not address the needs of all Alevi groups, but only the ones close to the government.

Faruk Çelik has announced that Alevi children should receive religious education in Alevi houses of worship, or cemevis. The minister has launched commissioning bodies that will work toward the legal recognition of cemevis as houses of worship and Alevi textbooks to differentiate religious education and religious culture within the curriculum for children.In the next academic year, there will be a clear definition in the curriculum between religious practice and religious culture, Çelik said. “In culture lessons children will be taught about who Alevis are and what it means to be an Alevi in addition to daily Alevi practices,” he said.

In December 2009, state-owned TRT broadcast documentaries and religious and cultural programs about Alevism during the first 12 days of Muharram, a month held sacred by Alevis and other Muslims. On January 7, 2010, the 12th day of the month, TRT aired live programs from three large cemevis in Istanbul and Ankara.

On March 31, 2011, the Turkish government released its final report on the Alevi workshops. The report was the result of a series of workshops organized by the government to hear the Alevi community. The report said the cemevis should have a legal status and that they should be financially supported by the state in accordance with the principle of equality. The views of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and those of the State Minister Faruk Çelik, who coordinated the workshops, were also included in the final report. Noting that certain layers of society have been neglected, despised and subjected to unjust treatment as a result of social trauma in the past, Erdoğan said the workshops were the first time the problems of Alevis had been listened to by the state.

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