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

Photogallery Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa More

Multimedia Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

Refugees receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed More

India’s Ruling Nationalist Party Makes Gains in Regional Elections

Bharatiya Janata Party’s huge margin over its rivals puts it on course to form governments in the northern Haryana and western Maharashtra states 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.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid