By Beatrice Maria Zanella
The Alevi have been discriminated for centuries; not only in Turkey, but in many Islamic countries. Information about them and their traditions was so inadequate and unreliable that they are considered heretics by other Muslims. For this reason, Alevi practice taqiyya, the dissimulation of their faith and customs. Even today it is unclear how many Alevi there are in Turkey, with different sources claiming they make up 3% to 30% of the population.
Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right, and as such should be implemented and respected by every country. However, the Alevi still do not enjoy this right in Turkey. In fact, they are not officially recognised and, hence, are instead protected as a minority.
Alevis are the second largest religious community in Turkey, after the Sunnis. They differ from the latter ones in general by not fasting during Ramadan and for not using mosques. They believe in Mohammad, but also in Ali, who was killed on his way to the mosque. As such, they refuse to join the other Muslims in the five daily prayers. Also, veiling is not a common practice.
The Turkish government has frequently announced a ‘democratization package’ which would include protecting the fundamental rights of the Alevi, but it has always failed to implement these laws and regulations. Alevis have been the victims of religious based massacres over the years, such as in 1978 in Kahramanmaras and in 1993 in Sivas.
Despite the fact that Turkey is officially a secular state, religious influences are very strong and condition politics, the economic system and the educational system. The daily life of Turkish people is driven by religious aspects, for instance Ramadan, prohibitions (food and clothing) and traditions (circumcision). Therefore, it is necessary that these religious issues are settled for good.
While all the clergy serving in official places of worship (i.e. mosques) are financed and supported by the state, this does not apply to the Alevi clergy. The mandatory religious lectures in public schools focuses only on Sunni Islam, discriminating the other strands. Jews and Christians are allowed to skip these lectures as recognised minorities, whereas Alevis cannot.
The Diyanet, the Directorate for Religious Affairs, is composed mostly by Sunni Muslims. Many times Alevis have called for a change of its composition, yet without success. The Diyanet is responsible for the administration of the places of worship, and generally, for all religious issues and topics.
Turkey must fix this internal problem in order to prove to the European Union and its institutions that the country is ready for entering the Union, which requires the respect of fundamental human rights.
It is clearly the government’s task to take over this issue and try to solve it. There are not clear signs yet that such an intention exists; still it is the only way for Turkey to reach a real unity.