The lost voice of the Alevi – A religious minority’s fight from coercion and human rights violations

Although the coronavirus has caused impediments in the world, many issues have still been occurring regarding human rights violations within countries such as religious freedom as well. One such example is the Alevi minority group in Turkey who make up roughly 15-20 percent of the Turkish population. Harsh discrimination has been imposed for decades in which their Alevis religion has not been recognized nor do they receive support from the government causing other countries to respond to such injustices. 

Turkey has a history stemming from the 1980s of desiring the implementation of the mandatory religious study of Sunni Islam within its education system with a purpose to instill values and defense against communism. Children are taught that this helps in promoting the concept of unity in Turkey which gives the implication that going against it means not being a true citizen of Turkey and a threat. 

What is Alevism?

Alevism is often taught that it is a branch of the Shia Muslim religion but that is false. Alevism can actually be defined as taking ideas from different religions and placing them into one such as ideals found not only in Islam but Christianity, Shamanism, pre-Christian religions as well. Some examples to see what it contains are their practice in oral tradition and personal morality, respecting the Koran but not thinking certain practices are mandatory such as fasting, to women not wearing the hijab but being able to pray alongside the men.

The Discrimination against the Alevi Minority

Alevi

The difference the Alevi minority have is a site that Sunni Muslims have grown a distaste for especially since Sunni Islam is what’s being taught to express the standard of Turkish unity. That is why they have grown to become a threat to the traditions they have placed which has resulted in the Alevi community facing threats, unjust killings, restrictions to certain religious rights such as being allowed to have a place to worship, to not even being considered a religion and much more as seen in the following examples:

1990s: A Sunni mob made a hotel caught on fire while the Alevi were celebrating a festival which caused over 30 Alevi people to die.

2001: Report was given that a daughter of an Alevi man was coerced into practicing the Sunni Islam religion

2005: Turkey’s own prime minister didn’t consider Alevism to be a religion but called it a culture instead hence not acknowledging them. 

2013: A Gezi Park protest broke out which advocated certain governmental policies such as removing green spaces, authoritarianism, and establishing a national identity of the Sunni religion yet the government framed the Alevi for causing the protest despite them not doing so which resulted in many Alevi people being treated brutally or detained.

The Fight for their Rights

Alevi

Regardless of the injustices, the Alevi people continued to fight for their rights as well as for acknowledgment of Alevism in itself. This resulted in our countries having a word about it and court cases occurring in which human rights violations were brought up again in 2019 as well. 

The European Court of Human Rights started to take note of the human rights violations being presented to this minority group and condemned Turkey for their actions in not allowing them to freely practice their faith. This sentiment can be seen in a report concerning court cases recognizing the same.

When the CUMHURİYETÇİ EĞİTİM VE KÜLTÜR MERKEZİ VAKFI GROUP was presented, they brought about concerns such as how those who practiced Alevism were denied in not being charged an electricity fee in the places they used for worship unlike those who practiced Sunni Islam because those who practice Alevism are considered a cultural group rather than a religious one. The group spoke about how Alevism was a religious foundation which is why these rights should have extended towards them hence why the Court ended with this summary:

“The court rules that the plaintiff foundation was subjected to differing treatment, without objective or reasonable cause, and the method of exemption from payment of electricity bills for religious sites in Turkish law was enacting discrimination on the basis of religion…” 

Furthermore, in the Izzetin Dogan case, they brought about concerns about how those who practiced Alevism were denied in their requests for many things. Some of their requests involved their services to be seen as religious services versus something that’s just public, for their religious leaders to be recognized, to be able to have a place that’s considered a place of worship, and for them to be able to receive support from the government in order to help their members as well. These were areas that were still not being recognized.

This case continued on to speak about how it is an injustice for those who practice Alevism to experience the discrimination they do because of the fact places such as the Religious Affairs Department acknowledge the Muslim religion more in specific ways such as Sunni Islam which is different to Alevism in itself. The exclusion of the Alevi would not be fair.

Lastly, the Zengin v Turkey case spoke out about the injustice of those who practice Alevism not being exempt from compulsory courses on religion or morals in the Turkish education system with a bias in teaching Sunni Islam as the predominant form of teaching. 

There have been many people in parliament that agree with the court rulings and the Court was able to recognize that the Turkish educational system was not objective or pluralist hence should have shown the concerned Alevi parents more respect for their requests as well. There were still issues.

“In 2014, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Alevi houses of prayer should be recognized as places of worship. The Turkish Supreme Court accepted a similar ECHR ruling in 2015, meaning that the judgement was also legally valid in Turkey. Most recently, in 2018, the Higher Administrative Court handed down another verdict that supported the recognition of cem houses as houses of prayer. But to date, these judgements have not been put into practice.” 

Nonetheless, there were no stated specifics in what the consequences were but that the Turkish State had six months to create an estimate for the damages they have caused in their discrimination towards Alevi.  Ironically, a protest later broke given a plan to build a Sunni Mosque near an Alevi place of worship was instigated hence showing the potential sign of still getting the Alevi to take in the Sunni Islam faith as well. 

All citizens within a particular state or country must be protected versus biases in only particular individuals. It must be understood that individuals practice a particular faith for a reason and that religion can be a part of one’s identity or even a means to build community. If a state has agreed to accept laws for human rights which include religious freedom, it must be practiced. 

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