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Turkey: Information on Alevis; on whether most Kurds are Alevi; on problems experienced by non-Kurdish Alevis; on whether there is a distinction between the problems experienced by Kurds and by Alevis

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 1 October 1995
Citation / Document Symbol TUR22069.E
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Turkey: Information on Alevis; on whether most Kurds are Alevi; on problems experienced by non-Kurdish Alevis; on whether there is a distinction between the problems experienced by Kurds and by Alevis, 1 October 1995, TUR22069.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6ac0040.html [accessed 11 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

 

Recent estimates of the Alevi population in Turkey range from 10 to 18 million (MEI 17 Mar. 1995, 15; McDowall 3 Oct. 1995; Günlük Mar. 1994, 2; Le Point 18 Mar. 1995, 21). In a fax sent to the DIRB, researcher David McDowall, an independent specialist on Kurdish and Alevi affairs, estimates that there are three million Kurdish Alevis in Turkey, making up approximately 20 to 30 per cent of Turkey's Kurdish population (McDowall 3 Oct. 1995; see also MEI 17 Mar. 1995, 15). He has noted elsewhere that for many Alevis the question of their ethnic identity is irrelevant as "they define themselves religiously" (McDowall May 1994, 4).

The main reason for the discrimination and mistreatment of Alevis, according to Nergis Canefe Günlük, a researcher affiliated with the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University in North York, is their religious dissidence from the dominate Sunni sect (Günlük Mar. 1994, 2); "the Alevi beliefs and religious ceremonies are claimed to be acts of heretic sects, who are allegedly engaged in defamatory religious ceremonies, who consume alcohol and do not fast or clean" (ibid.). For more information on aspects of the Alevi religion, see Response to Information Request TUR20798.E of 26 May 1995.

Alevis have reportedly grown increasingly uneasy with the recent rise of political Islam in Turkey (MEI 17 Mar. 1995, 15; McDowall May 1994, 5-6). Günlük contends that the rise in Islamic fundamentalism in Turkey has encouraged extremist right-wing movements who believe that religion and blood are sufficient cause for "ethno-religious cleansing in the form of organised political violence" (Günlük Mar. 1994, 3, 5). The Economist questions whether Islamic fundamentalists provoked the March 1995 Alevi riots and protests in Istanbul and Ankara (The Economist 18 Mar. 1995, 49).

On 12 March 1995 anonymous gunmen killed two or three Alevis and injured fifteen others during a shooting spree at four Alevi-owned coffee and bakery shops in Istanbul (Keesing's Mar. 1995, 40474; MEI 17 Mar. 1995, 15; The Economist 18 Mar. 1995, 49). The following day as many as twenty people were killed when police opened fire on Alevi demonstrators protesting the previous day's events (ibid.; MEI 17 Mar. 1995, 15; Keesing's Mar. 1995, 40474). Several days of riots ensued as the Alevis protested poor living standards and "the exclusion of most Alevis from public life" (The Economist 18 Mar. 1995, 49). Turkish authorities charged the fundamentalist group The Great Eastern Islamic Raiders Front with the "coffee house murders", although some Alevis claimed that elements of the Turkish security forces were responsible for the killings (ibid.). For information on previous instances of violence against the Alevi population see Responses to Information Requests TUR20153.F of 30 March 1995, TUR3576 of 11 January 1990 and TUR 2352 of 5 October 1989. See the attached The Economist article for a discussion of the role of Islamic fundamentalism in the March 1995 Alevi riots.

According to one source, in order to succeed in Turkish urban centres and escape discrimination, Alevis are forced to suppress their religious identity, a practice known as taqiya (Günlük Mar. 1994, 1, 3). Citing a 1992 document by David McDowall, Günlük notes that "taqiya is an accepted practice among Shi'i and heterodox Muslim sects as a mode of survival in an hostile religious environment" (ibid.). Günlük writes that Taqiya is more easily practised by Turkish Alevi than Kurdish Alevi, as Turkish Alevi often speak Anatolian Turkish dialects, thus making it less difficult for them to blend in with Turkish society (ibid.). Due to growing unemployment coupled with the prevailing harsh economic conditions in Turkey, McDowall has stated that Alevis are "likely to be discriminated against, or even targeted where they hold jobs wanted by unemployed Sunnis" (McDowall May 1994, 7).

 Günlük maintains that "regardless of the ethnic component of the Alevi communities, that is to say, whether the communities identify themselves as Turkish or Kurdish Alevis, they have been subjected to pre-planned instances of organised political violence" (Günlük Mar. 1994, 4).

McDowall states that to be a Kurdish Alevi is to be a member of "a disparaged minority of a disparaged minority" (McDowall 3 Oct. 1995). Most Kurdish Alevis live around the Tunceli region, which McDowall indicates is a very mixed area with large Turkish and Kurdish Sunni populations (ibid.). As a result, many Kurdish Alevis live in areas where inter-communal tension is high, and at times explosive and "relations ... are undoubtedly worse where the Alevis are Kurds" (ibid., May 1994, 4-5; ibid. 3 Oct. 1995). In addition, most Kurdish Alevi speak Zaza, as opposed to Kurmanji, spoken by most Turkish Kurds, further differentiating the Alevi Kurds from the bulk of Turkey's Kurdish population (ibid.).

See Response to Information Request TUR17867.E of 27 July 1994 for further information on the treatment of Turkey's Alevi population.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the DIRB within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.

References

The Economist [London]. 18 March 1995. "What's the Difference Between Algeria and Turkey?"

Günlük, Nergis Canefe. March 1994. MHP/MCP, the Turkish State, and Alevi Turks: Dangerous Alliances. North York: Centre for Refugee Studies.

Keesing's Record of World Events [Cambridge]. March 1995. Vol. 41, No. 5. "Turkey: Intercommunal Rioting."

McDowall, David. Richmond: United Kingdom. 3 October 1995. Fax received by the DIRB.

_____. May 1994. Briefing Note Regarding the Current Status of Alevi Kurds. (Prepared for the Newfoundland Legal Aid Commission)

Middle East International (MEI) [London]. 17 March 1995. No. 496. Nicole Pope. "Turkey: Communal Discord."

Le Point [Paris]. 18 March 1995. Alexandre Adler. "Turquie: La démocratie peau de chagrin."

Attachments

The Economist [London]. 18 March 1995. "What's the Difference Between Algeria and Turkey?," pp. 49-50.

Günlük, Nergis Canefe. March 1994. MHP/MCP, the Turkish State, and Alevi Turks: Dangerous Alliances. North York: Centre for Refugee Studies, pp. 1-9.

Keesing's Record of World Events [Cambridge]. March 1995. Vol. 41, No. 5. "Turkey: Intercommunal Rioting," p. 40474.

Le Point [Paris]. 18 March 1995. Alexandre Adler. "Turquie: La démocratie peau de chagrin," p. 21.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/. Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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