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Erdogan’s Turkish Government Suppresses Alevi Muslim Minority

4:25 PM, Jul 18, 2012 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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“There were many Islamic theologians, especially in the last meeting, including past and present theologians from the state Islamic affairs directorate, who were invited by the government as if they were there to assert that Alevis’ demands were not acceptable according to the Sunni interpretation of Islam,” Solgun recalled. “In the end, it was a disappointment—a real surprise for us that the final report of the Alevi workshops highlighted the Islamic affairs directorate’s priorities. The mutual demands of the Alevi organizations have been ignored. There was an implication in the final report that if cemevis were recognized, the Sunnis would be greatly disturbed.”

The disillusionment with Turkish party politics articulated by Solgun, as a Kurdish Alevi, was not limited to the AKP. Alevis are an important opposition constituency in Erdogan’s Turkey. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the CHP, is an Alevi. Solgun argued, “There are about 10-15 Alevi deputies from the CHP in parliament, and their family roots are Alevi, but they are not known for their Alevi identities. The same goes for CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu. His roots are Alevi, but he is not very interested in the Alevi issue.”

Solgun remarked bitterly, “most of the Alevis have been seen as the guardians of a system that does not recognize them. . . . They carried the banner: ‘Turkey is secular, and it will remain secular.’ However, the system, which claimed to be secular, [did] not recognize Alevis!” In his view, “Alevis also believed that if there was no CHP, the Sunnis would massacre them. Alevis’ interest in the CHP is built upon fear.”

Nevertheless, Solgun concentrated his criticism on the AKP. He declared, “The AKP leadership probably believed that no matter what they do, the Alevis would not vote for them, so they’ve given up on it. . . . We are talking about demands for equal citizenship rights. It should not matter to the government who those people vote for.” Solgun called for abolition of the state Islamic affairs directorate, which employs 100,000 people and has a budget equal to that of five government ministries. He said, “The state should not be a part of this issue of belief and religion. The only thing that the state should do is ensure that there is freedom of religion and that nobody imposes his or her own beliefs on others.”

Solgun’s remarks gained further relevance early in July, when parliamentary speaker Cemil Cicek denied an Alevi request for a cemevi to be erected on the premises of the legislative body. The petition was put forward in May by CHP deputy Huseyin Aygun. As described in the leading Turkish daily Hurriyet (Freedom), Cicek dismissed the proposal rudely, charging, “Alevism is not a separate religion,” and that the house of worship for Alevis, as for other Muslims, is the mosque. The problem was aggravated when deputy prime minister Bekir Bozdag repeated the claim, according to Hurriyet, that “Alevism was an interpretation within Islam and that Alevis are all Muslims.” Specifically, Bozdag emphasized, “The place of worship for all Muslims around the world is the same; their common house of worship is the mosque.” There are widespread exceptions to this allegation, of which Bozdag appeared ignorant.

Outsiders may perceive the Sunni-Alevi controversy in Turkey as obscure and irrelevant, yet Cafer Solgun and other Alevis warn that a religious collision could surpass the threat of Kurdish radical leftism to national stability. Erdogan has demonstrated anxiety over the bloodshed in Syria, but should be equally concerned about religious strife in his own land. For the welfare of Turkey, the Alevis should be granted equal standing as a religious community with conventional Sunnism.

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