Turkey’s Alevis Struggle for Religious and Secular Acceptance

Turkey’s Alevis Struggle for Religious and Secular Acceptance

ISTANBUL, Turkey -- This past July, the president of Turkey, Abdullah Gul, spoke to an assembled crowd of Shiite Turks, known as Alevis. The speech, calling for unity and acceptance of minorities, came less than a month after Gul's Islamist-oriented Justice and Development Party (AKP) was spared closure by the constitutional court for anti-secular activity. Much of the Turkish press hailed the moment as a new beginning, the start of a more inclusive and tolerant atmosphere in the country. However, three months later, with the Kurdish dominated southeast alight with riots and the Alevis holding a 50,000-strong demonstration in Ankara in early November, the vision of a multi-ethnic, multiconfessional Turkey has been left in tatters.

In some regards, this is nothing new. The Kurds and Alevis can point to a long history of massacres, assassinations and political disappearances targeting their communities. However, Hakan Yavuz, an expert on Turkish Islam and associate professor of political science at the University of Utah, claims, "Alevis have become even more excluded within the last decade. That's why they are searching for new policies to get recognition and representation. The state continues to see them as alien or foreign."

Indeed, while the AKP speaks of building a broad coalition behind a tolerant, Muslim democracy, critics argue that little has changed, with minorities still suffering at the hands of the state. Professor Vahit Bicak, former chairman of the Directorate of Human Rights of the Prime Ministry, soon became disillusioned with the AKP. He told WPR, "I do not think that the AKP had and has any real and sincere policy on minority and human rights issues."

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