Alevi leaders as well as other public figures have reacted strongly to remarks made by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu stating that the government does not need to take a lesson from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which has urged Turkey to end compulsory religious courses at Turkish schools, regarding discrimination.
“Davutoğlu’s indifference to the ECtHR was unacceptable, as the court’s ruling was clear that compulsory religion courses violate the freedom of religion and thought, as well as the right to education,” said Cengiz Hortoğlu, president of the Anatolian Alevi Bektaşi Federation in a phone interview with Today’s Zaman.
“This type of hollow statement and out-of-place remark by government officials is nothing new. I am not surprised, because Davutoğlu already made his stance clear when the ECtHR announced its final decision about the compulsory courses [on Sept 16], saying that he does not see compulsory religious courses at Turkish schools as a form of religious pressure and that these courses are essential even for atheists.”
Davutoğlu paid a visit on Saturday to the predominantly Alevi town of Hacıbektaş in the central Anatolian province of Nevşehir in order to spend the Day of Ashura with Alevi citizens and commemorate the martyrs of Karbala.
Speaking at the Hacıbektaş Day of Ashura event, the prime minister said that if there is a situation in which Alevi citizens are subjected to discrimination, we can fix it without the need for a decision from the ECtHR. Davutoğlu angered Alevis for not mentioning their demands, such as granting legal status to cemevis (Alevi places of worship) and offering salaries to Alevi dedes (Alevi religious leaders).
An Alevi thinker, Cafer Solgun, who heads the Yüzleşme Derneği (Confrontation Association), said that defending the compulsory courses is meaningless, since they were initially introduced by those who carried out the Sept. 12, 1980 coup:
“Davutoğlu’s statement in Hacıbektaş is nothing but empty remarks. The demands of the Alevi citizens are clear. Those demands are not impossible to fulfill. Their demands are completely legal and fundamental — the removal of the compulsory religious classes, official recognition for cemevis, etc. There is no point in equivocating. But yesterday, Davutoğlu made it really clear that they have no intention of solving this problem.”
Işık Çuhacıoğlu, an Alevi artist who also attended the Hacıbektaş Day of Ashura event, stated that he was disappointed with the prime minister, as he did not even say a word about recognizing cemevis as an official place of worship in spite of the strong demand from Turkey’s Alevi minority.
“We were there that day, expecting him [the prime minister] to announce some libertarian reforms regarding Alevi citizens. We expected to hear something about granting cemevis legal status as a house of worship. But instead, he told us that we could enter the Hacı Bektaşı-I Veli Museum without paying an entry fee. In this country, our children are being forced to study the Sunni way of Islam at school. It does not matter whether we enter the museum for free or not. What we expected and what we got are very different,” Çuhaoğlu stated.
Davutoğlu stated that entry to the Hacı Bektaşı Veli Museum would now be free. Hacı Bektaş-I Veli was a 13th century mystic whose thoughts have been very influential among Alevi believers.
Turkey’s Alevi population, estimated to be around 10 million, uses houses of worship known as cemevis rather than mosques as centers of worship and prayer.
The government does not formally recognize the status of cemevis as houses of worship, despite significant demand from the Alevi minority.
According to the official data, there are more than 400 cemevis in Turkey.