Turkey’s Alevi Community

Turkey’s Alevi community (they represent nearly 20 million people) is in a shock. Once again, they have realized that they are the forgotten majority, the orphan child of the Republic.

Kurdish-Alevi members of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) are increasingly leaving the party following Turkish CHP Deputy Chairman Onur Oymen’s remarks about a 1937 rebellion in the Kurdish-Alevi town of Tunceli (Dersim). On the other hand, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan critics Chairman Onur Oymen over his remarks two weeks ago.

Just recently, in a demonstration organized by the Alevi Bektasi Federation in İstanbul’s Kadıköy district in November 8th under the theme “Equal Citizenship Rights Against Discrimination,” thousands of Alevis came together to voice their demands for the same rights as the Sunni majority expecting that they would draw attention of democratic platforms to the problems and demands of Alevis in the country. 

How naïve this assumption was. Even the Republican People’s Party (CHP) failed to understand their unique needs, diversity, and cry for more religious freedoms. Because we live in a partially free society, we have a tendency to forget that people still lack fundamental political freedoms in many of the Eastern and European countries such as freedom to practice their own religion and religious beliefs. 

In a country where Prime Minister (Mr. Erdogan), speaks at the 3rd Grand Congress of his Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party), even quotes Seyit Rıza, the Alevi leader who led the 1937 Dersim revolt in the Alevi town of Tunceli, which was violently suppressed by the government of the time using a military campaign that resulted in the deaths of some 90,000 people, a lot is being expected from opposition parties, especially from Republican People’s Party (CHP). 

It is believed that economic freedoms and political freedoms can hardly be separated and they are very much interconnected. The restrictions imposed on individual, political, and religious freedoms can only be improved and removed if and only if the county adopts the essential features of a free market economy. Therefore, economic arrangements fill a dual purpose in promoting a free society. 

Let me explain this in detail. 

According to the organizers of the protest, The Alevis’ main demands are:

  • the abolishment of compulsory religious lessons offered by the government
  • the recognition of Alevi praying houses
  • the abolishment of the Religious Affairs Directorate (RAD),
  • turning the Madimak Hotel, where 37 Alevis were killed in 1993, into a museum

If Alevis are being asked to attend compulsory religious lessons, if their Alevi praying houses are not being recognized by the government, if the Religious Affairs Directorate is only funding the mosques but not the Alevi praying houses, it is clear that the government policies and programs are limiting the religious rights and basic individual freedoms of the citizens’ of Turkey. 

It is evident that some compulsory government programs and policies deprive people of their religious, individual, and political freedoms. So where is the connection between the political and economic freedom? 

In a free private enterprise, society uses its resources to control goods and services where possibility of coordination and cooperation through voluntary involvement of the agents is respected. In a free private enterprise, society also maintains law and order to prevent coercion of one individual by another and to enforce contracts voluntarily entered into. The other great advantage of free private enterprise is also its ability to offer diversity and options. 

In essence, free market provides economic freedom. In the event that the economic power is concentrated in the hands of a few then this political power will also be a threat to the individual freedoms.

The existence of the free market does not eliminate the need for a government to offer other cultural freedoms listed above. And, especially this government has an important role of determining the rules of the game.

To put this argument in a different perspective, we may easily claim that the Turkish Government is eliminating the options and diversity of individual options as it aims to regulate the religious society. 

In our case, with the Alevis, we come to observe that theTurkish Government activity should insist on “limiting” and “renouncing” its religious programs and religious activities and enabling a more diverse society. 

It is clear that further steps should be taken to enforce this decision. 

Religious education should not be made compulsory and individual taxes collected from the Alevis should not be funneled to the creation and construction of the Sunni religious infrastructure. 

In addition to that, The Directorate of Religious Affairs should limit and renounce its religious programs and religious activities where and if individual freedoms are refrained. 

Do you really believe that the Republican People’s Party (CHP) will understand the basic and fundamental needs of Alevi community and their cry for more religious freedoms? 

I remind you, once again, Prime Minister Erdogan’s speech at the 3rd Grand Congress of his Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party), even quoting Seyit Rıza, the Alevi leader who led the 1937 Dersim revolt in the Alevi town of Tunceli, which was violently suppressed by the government of the time using a military campaign that resulted in the deaths of some 90,000 people. 

Given the facts, a lot is being expected from opposition parties, especially from Republican People’s Party (CHP).

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