Last Updated: Friday, 19 September 2014, 13:55 GMT

Turkey: Treatment of Alevis by society and government authorities; state response to mistreatment (2008-May 2012)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Publication Date 1 June 2012
Citation / Document Symbol TUR104076.E
Related Document Turquie : information sur le traitement que réservent la société et les autorités gouvernementales aux alévis; les mesures prises par l'État en cas de mauvais traitements (2008-mai 2012)
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Turkey: Treatment of Alevis by society and government authorities; state response to mistreatment (2008-May 2012), 1 June 2012, TUR104076.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fead9552.html [accessed 22 September 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.

According to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, the beliefs and practices of Alevis are debated both within the group, as well as within Islam (US Mar. 2012, 207). The Ministerial Advisor and Coordinator of the Alevi Initiative noted in an article published in the journal Insight Turkey that, as a group, the Alevis do not have a "unified discourse" and there is disagreement among them about whether Alevism is a "religion, a culture, an ethn[icity], or an ethno-religious structure" (Subasi 2010, 169). An article in the academic journal Peace and Conflict indicates that there is a "wide variety of beliefs and practices among those who call themselves Alevi" (Yildiz and Verkuyten 2011, 247).

Alevism is a sect of Islam that contains elements of Shi'ite and Sufi Islam (Yildiz and Verkuyten 2011, 244; US 2 Feb. 2012, 11; Today's Zaman 29 Jan. 2012). The US International Religious Freedom Report for 2010 notes that Alevism contains elements of both Sunni and Shi'a Islam (US 13 Sept. 2011, Sec.1). The US Commission on International Religious Freedom notes that the Turkish government considers Alevis to be heterodox Muslims (US Mar. 2012, 207). Two academics writing in the journal South European Society and Politics note that the Alevi culture and lifestyle are more secular than those of the dominant Sunni group, and there are "striking contrasts" in theology and religious practice between the two groups (Carkoglu and Bilgili June 2011, 352, 353). In a Turkish Studies article on Alevism and politics in Turkey, academics indicated that Alevis consider themselves non-Sunni (Soner and Toktas Sept. 2011, 425). In 25 May 2012 correspondence with the Research Directorate, a researcher of Turkish and cultural studies at the University of Cyprus in Nicosia, Cyprus, indicated that because conservative Sunnis consider the Alevi religion to be "atheism" they are unaccepting of Alevis. A research report from the US Congressional Research Service notes that Alevis consider the secularism of the Turkish state as a type of protection from the Sunni majority (US 2 Feb. 2011, 11). Historically, there have been many sectarian clashes between the Alevis and the Sunnis (Soner and Toktas Sept. 2011, 422). According to the Turkish studies researcher, the "historical conflict between Alevis and Sunnis is still very decisive for the relationship between these groups" (Researcher 25 May 2012).

Estimates of the size of the Alevi population in Turkey range from 6 million (Today's Zaman 29 Jan. 2012), to 10-20 million (US 2 Feb. 2012, 11), to 15-20 million (Freedom House 2011, 9). The academics writing in Peace and Conflict note that the majority of Alevis live in Anatolia (Yildiz and Verkuyten 2011, 244). An article in Today's Zaman, an English-language Turkish newspaper, notes that Alevism is practiced in the following areas, among others: Elazig, Nevsehir, Malatya, Maras, Sivas and Yozgat (3 Nov. 2011). A 2009 research report by Bogazici University and the Open Society Foundation in Turkey listed the following places as having a large Alevi population: Erzurum, Kayseri, Malatya and Sivas (Toprak 2009, 41).

Several sources indicate that historically and at present Alevis have been the focus of discrimination (Subasi 2010, 167; Soner and Toktas Sept. 2011, 425; Yildiz and Verkuyten 2011, 245). The article in Turkish Studies indicates that historically the Sunni majority has been, and continues to be, responsible for the suppression of the Alevi minority (Soner and Toktas Sept. 2011, 425; Toprak 2009, 41).

According to the Freedom House Countries at the Crossroads 2011 report, Alevis have reported "a pattern of discrimination and administrative uncertainty" (2011, 9). The Alevi community faces "legal discrimination and a policy of assimilation" (Yildiz and Verkuyten 2011, 246). For example, in a report on the 2011 Parliamentary elections in Turkey, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) noted that members of Alevi associations indicated that during the 2011 parliamentary campaign their religious beliefs were presented as "inferior" and the fact that some of the candidates were Alevis was used against them (OSCE 31 Oct. 2011, 24).

2. Treatment by Society

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) indicated that Alevis "continue to suffer discrimination on a number of levels" ([2010]). The US report on religious freedom also states that Alevis are one of the religious minorities facing societal abuse and discrimination (US 13 Sept. 2011). According to a 2010 study supported by the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights "three out of four Alevis indicated that, in the last year, they had faced discrimination at least once in, for example, housing, on the streets, and in finding a job" (Yildiz and Verkuyten 2011, 246). The Turkish studies researcher noted that Alevis continue to experience "verbal (written and oral) harassment" (Researcher 25 May 2012).

According to the researcher, Alevis are generally "not accepted in Turkish society (25 May 2012). The researcher noted that conservative Muslims see Alevis as "not clean," both physically and in their "moral behaviour" (25 May 2012). Similarly, the 2009 research report published by Bogazici University and the Open Society Foundation in Turkey, when discussing the discrimination of Alevis in Anatolia, noted that many consider Alevis to be "not clean" (Toprak 2009, 44). The same report cites examples of Sunnis rejecting food offered to them by Alevis or meat butchered by an Alevi (ibid., 43). Alevis are also considered by some to be "not trustworthy" and many Alevis have complained that they were "held responsible whenever an unpleasant or disturbing incident occurred in their city" (ibid., 45).

The Bogazici University research report also includes examples of instances in which public employees and government officials expressed "prejudice" towards Alevis through words or actions, such as blessing an Alevi construction site with Sunni prayers, or ignoring requests to fix roads in Alevi areas (Toprak 2009, 47, 48). The report also noted that even when Alevis adopt Sunni customs in order to improve relations with the Sunni community, such as fasting for Ramadan, wearing a headscarf, or going to the mosque, they are still met with "discrimination" (ibid., 49). Unemployment and difficulty finding jobs are also reported to be issues for Alevis because of their identity, in both the public and private sector (ibid., 50-52). The Bogazici University research report writes that many do not disclose their Alevi identity in public, but that some names and birthplaces can indicate that they are Alevi. Corroboration for the statements in this paragraph could not be found among sources consulted within time constraints of this Response.

3. Incidents against Alevis

Today's Zaman reportes that a bus carrying an Alevi group heading to the Pazarcik district of Kahramanmaras province to commemorate the 1978 Maras massacre, during which 111 Alevis were killed and thousands wounded, was stopped by the gendarmes (25 Dec. 2011). The Minister of the Interior reportedly blocked the group because their presence could cause "tension" in the city (Today's Zaman 25 Dec. 2011). This incident led to clashes between the protesters and the gendarmes; some protesters were taken into custody and were later released, while the rest gave up trying to reach Kahramanmaras (Today's Zaman 25 Dec. 2011). The same source reports that in 2010, an "ultranationalist" Sunni group disrupted the Alevi commemoration of the massacre and that the police had to intervene in several skirmishes (ibid.). Corroborating information on these incidents could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

3.1 Defacement of Alevi Houses

Turkish media sources report on several instances in 2012 when houses belonging to Alevis were defaced (Hurriyet Daily News 8 May 2012; Today's Zaman 1 Apr. 2012). Hurriyet Daily News reports that in May 2012, two Alevi houses located in Dimdim, a resort in the Aegean, were marked with crosses and the message "'Death to the Alevis'" (8 May 2012). The same source indicates that similar incidents have taken place in Adiyaman, Erzincan, and Istanbul (Hurriyet Daily News 8 May 2012). Today's Zaman reports that incidents of defacement of Alevi homes occurred in Adiyaman, Gaziantep, Izmir and Erzincan (1 Apr. 2012).

News sources indicate that 45 Alevi houses in the neighbourhoods of Yenimahalle and Karapinat in Adiyaman province were marked with signs at the end of February 2012 (Today's Zaman 1 Apr. 2012; Hurriyet Daily News 29 Mar. 2012). Similar markings were used right before the 1978 Maras massacre of Alevis (ibid.; Today's Zaman 9 Mar. 2012) and before clashes in Corum in 1980 (ibid.). The markings are reported to have provoked fear in the residents that they would be "attacked" (Hurriyet Daily News 4 Mar. 2012). Similarly, Today's Zaman noted that the markings raised concerns of potential "violence" (9 Mar. 2012). The Minister of the Interior said that the markings were made by children (Today's Zaman 11 Mar. 2012; Hurriyet Daily News 2 Mar. 2012), a conclusion reached by the police based on the height at which the markings were drawn (ibid.). Today's Zaman reported that at the beginning of March 2012 red marks appeared on approximately 200 Alevi houses in the province of Adiyaman (11 Mar. 2012). A security expert indicated that similar markings were observed in the city of Hatay in February 2012 but were not reported on by the media (Today's Zaman 11 Mar. 2012).

Today's Zaman reports that in Avcilar, a village in Erzincan, Alevi house walls were defaced with "hate-filled messages" (1 Apr. 2012). It adds that in Gaziantep, houses in the neighbourhoods of Kibris, Onur and Ulas were also marked (Today's Zaman 1 Apr. 2012).

4. Treatment by Government

The 2011 OSCE report noted that the Alevi religious community is not "officially recognised" by the Turkish state (31 Oct. 2011, 24). The Turkish government has interpreted the Lausanne Treaty of 1923 as giving official minority status to three non-Muslim groups, excluding the Alevis (US 13 Sept. 2011, Sec. 2; Researcher 25 May 2012). The Turkish Studies article indicates that the Alevis have "rejected" the label of "minority" but seek similar rights and freedoms that apply to recognized minority groups (Soner and Toktas Sept. 2011, 419).

However, the Ministerial Advisor writing in Insight Turkey indicated that the Turkish government has noted on various occasions the need to take action to "limit the discrimination suffered by the Alevi community" (Subasi 2010, 165, 166). Today's Zaman notes that

[s]tate leaders have sought warmer relations with Alevi leaders and paid numerous visits to cemevis [Alevi worship houses], including a landmark visit by President Abdullah Gul to a cemevi in the predominantly Alevi city of Tunceli in 2009. In 2011, the government took the bold step of formally apologizing for the 1937 Dersim massacre, an acknowledgement of the government's killing of thousands of predominantly Alevi tribesmen in the southeastern town of Dersim. (13 May 2012)

However, the Turkish studies researcher noted that although discussions about Alevi rights, both community and individual, have been taking place, the authorities, including the local and national governments and the police, are "still not ready to defend [Alevi] rights or to punish [their]violation" (Researcher 25 May 2012).

4.1 The Alevi Opening

The Turkish Studies article indicates that, after coming into power in 2007, the AKP (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi, Justice and Development Party) initiated a dialogue with the Alevi community called the "'Alevi Opening,'" which is "still ongoing" (Soner and Toktas Sept. 2011, 420).

The Ministerial Advisor notes that the AKP government organized a series of workshops between the government and Alevi stakeholders as part of the Alevi Opening, (Subasi 2010, 165). According to the Turkish Studies article, the goal of the seven workshops, held between June 2009 and January 2010, was to determine the policy parameters for Alevi demands (Soner and Toktas Sept. 2011, 429, 430).

Sources mention that during the workshops, the following issues were discussed: legalizing cemevis (US Mar. 2012, 207, 208; Hurriyet Daily News 16 Jan. 2011); stopping compulsory religious education (US Mar. 2012, 207, 208; MRG [2010]); the end of building Hanafi Sunni mosques in Alevi villages (US Mar. 2012, 207, 208); restoring Alevi property confiscated by a law in 1925 (US Mar. 2012, 207, 208); and the elimination of "assimilation" policies (Hurriyet Daily News 16 Jan. 2011). The Hurriyet Daily News reported in March 2011 that during a meeting with the parliamentary commission drafting the new Turkish constitution, Alevi representatives demanded that the new document include protection for Alevis against "hate crimes" and that it recognize Alevi identity (Hurriyet Daily News 6 Mar. 2012). The same source indicates that Alevi representatives also demanded the legalization of cemevis (ibid.).

Sources indicate that the workshops did not produce "concrete" decisions (MRG [2010]; Hurriyet Daily News 16 Jan. 2011). For example, the Alevis' request for their children to be exempted from obligatory religious classes centering on Sunni Islamic teachings was denied (MRG [2010]). The two academics writing in Turkish Studies state that "many things remain to be done to provide Alevis with the same social, political and legal status as Sunni citizens" (Soner and Toktas Sept. 2011, 431). Similarly, the Turkish studies researcher stated that the Turkish government has not taken any legal measures to defend the Alevis (25 May 2012).

Some Alevi groups reportedly considered the Alevi Opening as a political "'manipulation'" and accused the Alevis supporting it of aligning themselves with the government (Subasi 2010, 173). The head of a leading Alevi organization is quoted in the Hurriyet Daily News as saying that the government is "attempting to destroy Alevi traditions with its ongoing 'Alevi initiative'" (Hurriyet Daily News 16 Jan. 2011). Some Alevis have also reportedly complained that these discussions "include only community groups that are close to the government" (US Mar. 2012, 207, 208).

The South European Society and Politics article notes that the steps taken by the AKP to fulfill some Alevi community demands "have not been uniformly favoured by Alevi groups" and that "the multiplicity of voices on both sides has made it harder for the AKP" to meet these demands (Carkoglu and Bilgili June 2011, 360).

4.1.1 Cemevis

Cemevis do not have legal status as worship houses in Turkey, and the government refers to them as "cultural centres" (Freedom House 2011, 9; US Mar. 2012, 207, 208). The US Commission on Religious Freedom noted that in November 2011, an Ankara court ruled that cemevis can be publicly referred to as houses of worship, but did not grant them legal status (US Mar. 2012, 208). However, the article in South European Society and Politics indicated that in 2008, Kusadasi and Didim, districts of the province of Aydin, and the city of Tunceli in eastern Anatolia officially recognized cemevis as houses of worship; in 2009 the province of Antalya made the same decision (Carkoglu and Bilgili June 2011, 356, 357). The Oslo-based online news source Forum 18 News Service notes that in 2011, government authorities started legal proceedings to close the Cankaya Cemevi Building Association because it stated that it was a place of worship in its description (2 Mar. 2011). Today's Zaman reports that the Ankara 16th Court of First Instance dismissed the case on 4 October 2011, noting that cemevis are socially accepted as places of worship (2 Nov. 2011). According to lawyers quoted in the article, this ruling set a precedent which allows for cemevis to be legally defined as places of worship (Today's Zaman 2 Nov. 2011). Sources report that in January 2012, the Alevi Cem Foundation petitioned the European Court of Human Rights for the legal recognition of cemevis as houses of worship (US Mar. 2012, 208; Today's Zaman 29 Jan. 2012).

Several sources note that Alevis face "obstacles" when trying to establish cemevis (Freedom House 2011, 9; Carkoglu and Bilgili June 2011, 356; US 13 Sept. 2011, Sec. 2). An article published by the Hudson Institute notes that the government has denied construction permits for cemevis (26 Aug. 2011). Today's Zaman reports that the lack of official status for Alevis has "denied access to state funds for the construction of … cemevis… and compensation for the expenses needed to run them" (Today's Zaman 13 May 2012). The Turkish Studies article noted that there are some municipalities in Turkey that have allowed the construction and operation of cemevis (Soner and Toktas Sept. 2011, 423).

Today's Zaman reports that in 2011, a decision by the Izmir City Council to finance a cemevi was vetoed by the governor (6 Jan. 2012). In January 2012, the Mersin local assembly issued a decision to pay for the operation of the local cemevis, which was then vetoed by the governor (US Mar. 2012, 208; Hurriyet Daily News 12 Jan. 2012). In April 2012, in the district of Sirrin, the Sanliurfa Governor's Office approved the building of a cemevi and allocated financial support (Today's Zaman 13 May 2012).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References

Carkoglu, Ali and Nazli Cagin Bilgili. June 2011. "A Precarious Relationship: The Alevi Minority, the Turkish State and the EU." South European Society and Politics. Vol. 16, No. 2.

Freedom House. 2011. Adam Smith Albion. "Turkey." Countries at the Crossroads 2011. [Accessed 15 May 2012]

Hudson Institute. Elizabeth Prodromou and Nina Shea. "Religious Freedom for Turkey?" [Accessed 23 May 2012]

Hurriyet Daily News. 8 May 2012. "CHP Deputy Demands Cemevi in Parliament." [Accessed 15 May 2012]

_____. 29 March 2012. "Mysterious Crosses in Turkish Province Target Alevis: NGOs." [Accessed 15 May 2012]

_____. 6 March 2012. "Alevis Demand Charter be Harsh on Hate Crimes." [Accessed 15 May 2012]

_____. 4 March 2012. "Alevis Protest Door Markings in Southeast Turkey." [Accessed 15 May 2012]

_____. 2 March 2012. "Crosses on Alevi Doors 'Child's Play,' Minister Says." [Accessed 15 May 2012]

_____. 12 January 2012. "Gov. Vetoes Decision for Alevi Worship Houses." [Accessed 15 May 2012]

_____. 16 January 2011. "Turkey's Alevi Opening is Tool of Assimilation, Says Community Leader." [Accessed 4 May 2012]

Minority Rights Group International (MRG). [2010]. "Alevis." [Accessed 15 May 2012]

Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. Republic of Turkey Parliamentary Elections 12 June 2011. [Accessed 16 May 2012]

Researcher, Turkish Studies and Cultural Studies, University of Cyprus, Nicosia, Cyprus. 25 May 2012. Correspondence sent to the Research Directorate.

Soner, Bayram Ali and Sule Toktas. September 2011. "Alevis and Alevism in the Changing Context of Turkish Politics: The Justice and Development Party's Alevi Opening." Turkish Studies. Vol. 12, No. 3.

Subasi, Necdet. 2010. "The Alevi Opening: Concept, Strategy and Process." Insight Turkey. Vol. 12 No. 2.

Today's Zaman. 13 May 2012. "Cemevi in Parliament to be Test for Alevi Rights." [Accessed 13 May 2012]

_____. 1 April 2012. "Defacing of Alevi Homes Continues in Erzican Province." [Accessed 15 May 2012]

_____. 11 March 2012. "Adiyaman Door Marking Incident Mired in Suspicion, Questions." [Accessed 15 May 2012]

_____. 9 March 2012. "Turkish PM Assures Safety of Alevi Minority." [Accessed 15 May 2012]

_____. 29 January 2012. "Alevis Look to European Court of Human Rights for Cemevi Recognition." [Accessed 15 Mar. 2012]

_____. 6 January 2012. "Alevis Hail Mersin Council Decision to Pay Cemevi Expenses." [Accessed 15 May 2012]

_____. 25 December 2011. "Alevi Group Prevented from Commemorating Maras Massacre." [Accessed 15 May 2012]

_____. 2 November 2011. "Court Declares Reasons Behind Rejection of Cemevi Closure Case." [Accessed 23 May 2012]

_____. 3 November 2011. Charlotte McPherson. "Islam and Alevis: Background and Beliefs." [Accessed 15 May 2012]

Toprak, Binnaz, Irfan Bozan, Tan Morgul, and Nedim Sener. 2009. Being Different in Turkey: Religion, Conservatism and Otherization. [Accessed 17 May 2012]

United States (US). March 2012. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Annual Report 2012. [Accessed 15 May 2012]

_____. 2 February 2012. Congressional Research Service. Jim Zanotti. Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations. [Accessed 15 May 2012]

_____. 13 September 2011. Department of State. International Religious Freedom Report for July-December 2010. [Accessed 23 May 2012]

Yildiz, Ali Aslan and Maykel Verkuyten. 2011. "Inclusive Victimhood: Social Identity and the Politicization of Collective Trauma Among Turkey's Alevis in Western Europe." Peace and Conflict. Vol. 17.

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: A professor of social and cultural anthropology at the University of Utrecht could not provide information for this Response. The Alevi Institute in Ankara and a researcher with the European Research Centre on Migration and Ethnic Relations at Utrecht University did not reply within the time constraints of this Response.

Internet sites, including: Amnesty International; Avrupa Alevi Birlikleri Konfederasyonu; ecoi.net; Factiva; Human Rights Watch; UN — Integrated Regional Information Networks, Refworld.

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.

Search Refworld

Countries