News / Europe

Sunni-Alevis Relationship Remains Contentious in Turkey

Dorian Jones

The Turkish government is seeking to meet the increasing demands of Alevis - a sect of Islam that differs significantly from the country's majority Sunni followers. Alevis claim they suffer discrimination and persecution. But, reforms remain contentious.

Hatice Kose collects her son from school. She is an Alevi Muslim who has successfully brought charges against Turkey in the European Court of Human Rights over the treatment of their children in schools.

She objects to the system of compulsory religious education in Sunni Islam in Turkish schools.

"My son, every week, faces three hours of indoctrination," she said. "When my son says this not my faith, the teacher says, what kind of Muslim are you? Another child she knows was even beaten by his teacher for refusing to pray."

Education is a key point of contention with the Turkish state.  Although Alevis are considered Muslims, they worship in cemevis -  or assembly houses - rather than mosques.

And, unlike praying in a mosque, their ceremonies feature music and dance, where both women and men participate unsegregated.  Many Alevis also believe in the separation of religion from the state, and are traditional  supporters of secularism in Turkey.

Even though they make up as much as a quarter of the population, their beliefs aren't recognized by the state, which labels Alevism a cultural rather than religious identity.

But, attitudes may be changing.

The state run channel for the first time last December, devoted a program to the Alevi celebration of Ashura. Until now Alevis religious celebrations were ignored by state media.

And, in another ground breaking step, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addressed an Alevi gathering to mark the start of the festivities.

Mr. Erdogan has also set up a series of meetings between Alevi representatives, academics and government members --  a first for Turkey.

Farok Celick is the minister responsible for the initiative. He says they are committed to reform.

He says they will continue their meetings with social institutions, and they are giving utmost importance to their dialog with political parties.  In the coming weeks they will finalize a report. He says they are establishing an alliance on the subject to introduce the necessary reforms with a wide consensus.

The intiative has been welcomed by the European Union. But the Turkish government has repeatedly delayed announcing its planned reforms and observers say initial high expectations are dissipating.

Istar Gozaydin of Istanbul Technical University is an expert on state and religion in Turkey and participated in one of the government sponsored meetings. She says the initiative has reached an impasse.

"For the first time they've been trying quite hard in order to make a dialogue," said Istar Gozaydin. "But its difficult for the Sunni authorities to perceive that there exists another understanding of Islam, which they consider not valid actually. It's important because unless they start accepting it as an other understanding of the religion, its out of the question to come to an understanding of each other. It seems to be dialogue but then it turns out to be trying to assimilate them in their own understanding."  

But recognizing the Alevis as a branch of Islam, is heresy to many pious Sunni Muslims in Turkey.

The call to pray at the Uskudar Mosque in central Istanbul brings the faithful. This area is one of the electoral stronghold of the ruling AK Party. Speaking to people here, there is outright hostility toward Alevis.

"I am a civil servant and I have colleagues who are Alevis and I get along well with them, said a sunni worshipper. "But to be honest, they don't fit with us.  I can't lie about it. Their religious beliefs are not proper."

Despite resistance from many Sunnis,  there is a growing assertiveness among many Alevis.

Though in the past Alevis have kept a low profile, tens of thousands of Alevis protested for greater rights recently.

Alevi analyst Mehmet Ali Calisgun says this growing assertiveness is due, in part, to pressure by the EU and human rights groups.

"After centuries of having problems for the first time, Alevi's are carrying their problem to the legal areas," said Mehmet Ali Calisgun. "For the first time they are assuming the legal area realm is the solution area of their problems."

But with EU backing Alevi demands increasing, Turkish society is under pressure to embrace its diversity. Whether the government intiatives succeed or fail, Alevi rights seem set to remain on the Turkish political agenda for some time to come.

You May Like

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As tumult in Middle East distracts Obama administration, efforts to shift American focus eastward appear threatened More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Saving Global Fish Stocks Starts in the Kitcheni
X
September 22, 2014 11:42 AM
With an estimated 90 percent of the world’s larger fish populations having already vanished, a growing number of people in the seafood industry are embracing the concept of sustainable fishing and farming practices. One American marine biologist turned restaurateur in Thailand is spreading the word among fellow chefs and customers. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Saving Global Fish Stocks Starts in the Kitchen

With an estimated 90 percent of the world’s larger fish populations having already vanished, a growing number of people in the seafood industry are embracing the concept of sustainable fishing and farming practices. One American marine biologist turned restaurateur in Thailand is spreading the word among fellow chefs and customers. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

The western Ukrainian city of Lviv prides itself on being both physically and culturally close to Western Europe. The Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country are 1,200 kilometers away, and seemingly even farther away in their world view. Still, as VOA’s Al Pessin reports, the war is having an impact in Lviv.
Video

Video Chinese Admiral Key in China’s Promotion of Sea Links

China’s President last week wrapped up landmark visits to India, Sri Lanka and Maldives, part of a broader campaign to promote a new “Maritime Silk Road” in Asia. The Chinese government’s promotion efforts rely heavily on the country’s best-known sailor, a 15th century eunuch named Zheng He. VOA's Bill Ide reports from the sailor’s hometown in Yunnan on the effort to promote China’s future by recalling its past.
Video

Video Experts Fear Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid