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

Lion Cecil's Killing Sparks 'Canned Hunting' Debate in S. Africa

Conservationists believe incident, which triggered worldwide outrage, will reshape debate about practice in which hunters are allowed to target animals bred for hunting More

Taliban's New Leader Says Jihad Will Continue

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Environmentalists Issue Warning on Mekong Biodiversity

Scientists say decades of economic development, hydropower-dam construction, lax law enforcement and trafficking have taken their toll 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.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs