If the government is preparing to launch an Alevi initiative
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made some remarks related to Alevis in the wake of the rally in Cologne where he practically announced his candidacy for president.

What we can gather about these remarks is that the government is preparing a "package" of reforms about Alevis. We don't know what this package contains. We don't know when it will be made public, either. We can arrive at some conclusions by reading between the lines of his remarks, but they can hardly be of any use in settling the issue.

The so-called "democratization package" announced on Sept. 30, 2013, was a total disappointment for Alevis. Before the official announcement, government papers and columnists had misleadingly suggested that the government would recognize the legal status of cemevis (Alevi houses of worship). It was not the first time that the government created hopes among Alevis and then foiled them.

This was what happened regarding the Alevi workshops held in 2009. In seven workshops, everyone heard about the issue, but as everyone was expecting the government to take concrete steps, it abandoned the plan. The government not only abandoned the initiative, but Erdoğan started to employ rhetoric that really hurt Alevis. This discriminatory discourse has continued to this day.

Thus, Erdoğan has refrained from conveying his condolences to the families of the Alevis who lost their lives during the Gezi Park protests and he has openly otherized Alevis in his election rallies. He has wielded an irresponsible attitude in exploiting the mutual distrust and prejudice between Alevis and Sunnis in an effort to secure the support of the Sunni majority.

This policy to polarize the domestic political arena may have enabled Erdoğan and his party to win the local elections, but it did and still does great harm to the country's social integrity. The price of this policy is great. This is what I have been stressing for years. Can we say that this dangerous and irresponsible policy has been abandoned with his recent statement?

To our dismay, for Erdoğan and his government, an Alevi initiative means nothing but paying salaries to Alevi dedes (religious leaders). However, Erdoğan knows that the vast majority of Alevis do not care about it. "They should reach an agreement among themselves first," he says.

I must warn that giving salaries to Alevi dedes will do no good, but will turn them into public servants. Given the fact that Alevis have raised objections to the current status of the Directorate of Religious Affairs (DİB), demanding that it be transformed into an autonomous civil institution, it is not an initiative to subordinate Alevis to the state and DİB in this way. This move will only help to aggravate the Alevi issue.

Actually, Alevis are not after reforms or initiatives that are specific to them. Alevis just want to be equal citizens. This demand also covers the recognition of their right to practice their faith and worship freely. And this is what freedom of religion and conscience, a sine qua non fundamental norm of democracy, entails, isn't it?

Therefore, the first step the state must take without complicating the issue or indulging in demagoguery is to officially recognize cemevis as places of worship for Alevis. Then, the job description of DİB should be revised and the directorate should be made autonomous.

More importantly, Erdoğan and his government must abandon polarizing politics, take the lead in overcoming negative image and prejudices about Alevis and pay an apology for discourse that hurts Alevis.

Indeed, this mentality should change before moving on to an initiative regarding the Alevi issue.

The freedom of religion and conscience is one of the prerequisites of democracy, and all shadows on this freedom should be abolished so that not only Alevis' problems can be settled, but so that a sound and smoothly functioning democracy can be established in Turkey.

CAFER SOLGUN (Cihan/Today's Zaman) CİHAN
Last Modified: 2014-05-30 07:00:02
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