Turkey: The situation of Alevis (2001 - October 2003)
|Publisher||Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada|
|Author||Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada|
|Publication Date||11 November 2003|
|Citation / Document Symbol||TUR41723.E|
|Cite as||Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Turkey: The situation of Alevis (2001 - October 2003), 11 November 2003, TUR41723.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/403dd21e4.html [accessed 19 June 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This 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.|
In his book entitled Islam and Society in Turkey, David Shankland reportedly states that
[Alevis] are extremely diverse: "Their costumes, nomenclature, dances, prayers, rites and even annual ritual calendar often differ substantially among groups and locations. They have no church, no codified doctrine, no accepted clergy and no school to teach Alevi customs (Middle Eastern Studies 31 Oct. 2000)
For additional and more detailed information on Alevism, including its origins, modern history, beliefs and practice, please refer to the attached journal article from the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA).
Differences Between the Sunni Faith and Alevism
The Sunni faith differs from Alevism in several ways, including: (1) Alevis fast during the Ten Days of Muharram and not during Ramadan (UK Apr. 2003, sec. 6.148); (2) Alevis do not prostrate themselves during prayer (ibid.); (3) Alevis do not go to mosques, but use cemevleri, or places of religious worship, that are also used as socio-cultural centres (ibid.; CEU 15 Apr. 2002, 92; International Religious Freedom Report 2002 7 Oct. 2002, sec. II; UNHCR/ACCORD 13-14 Nov. 2000, 97); (4) Alevis "do not have obligatory formal almsgiving, although they have a strong principle of mutual assistance" (UK Apr. 2003, sec. 6.148); and (5) Alevis "tend not to attribute great importance to theology/a fixed creed or performance of religious rites" (ibid.).
The Relationship Between Sunnis and Alevis
The relationship between Sunnis and Alevis is occasionally "tense" and "polarized" (CEU 15 Apr. 2002). Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, reported in February 2002 that Alevis have "difficult relations" with the state and with Sunni Islam (28 Feb. 2002). However, in the updated November 2002 edition of the report prepared by researchers who were commissioned to conduct a fact-finding mission in October 2000 to Turkey, David McDowall observes that
Strict Sunnis see the Alevi religion as deviant and have ascribed to it all sorts of fictitious immoral practices. With the greatly increased drift of Alevis to towns and cities during the last 25 years or so, a growing number of ordinary Sunni citizens have got to know Alevis at a personal level and their prejudices have often dissipated. ...
Yet there is still an institutional and political (as well as social) Sunni bias against Alevis in urban areas, and this is expressed both by ordinary citizens and also by the police. ...
... Alevi children can be at risk of torture in police detention. (Nov. 2002, 58).
For additional information on the relationship between Alevis and Sunnis in Turkey, please refer to the attached journal article from MERIA.
Treatment of Alevis in Turkey
Alevis, according to Martin van Bruinessen, professor of Islamic studies at Utrecht University in The Netherlands, are "'a social group that has long been discriminated against and that has a strong awareness of always having been second-rate citizens'" (RFE/RL 28 Feb. 2002). However, David McDowall's report provides that even though Alevis have not been "wholeheartedly embraced as citizens in the fullest sense of the word ... broadly speaking, Alevi Turks have not been persecuted within the Republic" (McDowall Nov. 2002, 57). McDowall indicates that although anti-Alevi prejudice is "dissipating in Turkish society at large," he acknowledges that this dissipation is "inevitably patchy" (ibid.). He adds that this prejudice "remains mostly deeply entrenched within the security forces, partly because of the close police connection with the MHP [Grey Wolves]" (ibid.). The Grey Wolves are the "unofficial militant arm" of the National Movement Party (MHP), which "supports the government's military approach to an 11-year insurgency by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in southeast Turkey, and it opposes any concessions to Kurdish separatists" (FAS 8 Aug. 1998). The Grey Wolves have been involved in street killings, gun battles with leftists, and assassinations in Turkey (ibid.).
The International Religious Freedom Report for 2002 states that in Turkey "Alevis freely practice their beliefs and build 'Cem houses' (places of gathering)" (7 Oct. 2002, sec. I).
Similarly, the 2002 Official General Report on Turkey, prepared by The Netherlands delegation to the Council of the European Union, indicates that since the incidents of violence directed at Alevis in 1978, 1993 and 1995, "[n]o further incidents overtly victimising Alevis are known to have occurred" as at January 2002 (15 Apr. 2002, 93). Reports of more recent incidents involving the victimization of Alevis were not found by the Research Directorate among the sources consulted.
The most recent Alevi complaints concern five general issues. First, Alevis are regarded as Muslims, and not as a separate religion by state authorities (CEU 15 Apr. 2002, 89, 91). As a result, they are not an officially recognized religious minority, and their identity cards have "'Islam'" written as their religion (ibid., 91). Alevis allege that by regarding Alevism as a culture rather than as a religion, the Directorate of Religious Affairs, which provides financial aid to religious establishments such as Sunni mosques, does not allocate any funding to them or cemevleri (Country Reports 31 Mar. 2003, sec. 2.c; Hurriyet 9 Aug. 2002; International Religious Freedom Report 2002 7 Oct. 2002, sec. II; UNHCR Sept. 2001, 55; UNHCR/ACCORD 13-14 Nov. 2000, 97; McDowall Nov. 2002, 58). Accordingly, Alevis allege that the Directorate is "geared solely towards the Sunni faith" (CEU 15 Apr. 2002, 92).
Second, the Directorate of Religious Affairs is responsible for building Sunni mosques in Alevi villages, which, according to several sources, the Alevi find very offensive (UNHCR/ACCORD 13-14 Nov. 2000, 97; UNHCR Sept. 2001, 55; McDowall Nov. 2002, 58).
Third, Alevi children are subject to compulsory religious education that only includes information on Sunni Islam (UNHCR/ACCORD 13-14 Nov. 2000, 97; Hurriyet 9 Aug. 2002; International Religious Freedom Report 2002 7 Oct. 2002, sec. II; Country Reports 31 Mar. 2003, sec. 2c; McDowall Nov. 2002, 57-58; Sabah 1 Sept. 2002; CEU 15 Apr. 2002, 89). This does not "allow any room for the Alevi interpretation of Islam" (ibid., 92). Accordingly, Alevis complain that religious instruction should be more objective (ibid.).
Fourth, state controlled radio and television stations do not broadcast religious Alevi programs (Hurriyet 9 Aug. 2002; Sabah 1 Sept. 2002).
Fifth, Alevis are "being kept out of the government mechanism" and are "hardly permitted to become governors or undersecretaries" (Muilliyet 29 May 2001; also see Turkish Daily News 28 Jan. 2003). They complain that they are "'only remembered prior to elections and then continuously forgotten'" (Sabah 1 Sept. 2002). Politically, Alevis tend to support parties "which endeavour to curtail Sunni domination," including those that are secular and left-wing (CEU 15 Apr. 2002, 92; UNHCR/ACCORD 13-14 Nov. 2000, 97).
That Alevis have been allowed to set up cultural centres in Turkey without official permission from the Ministry of Interior (RFE/RL 28 Feb. 2002), and that the Cem Foundation and all the other smaller Alevi organizations do not experience any problems or opposition from the government as regards their publications and activities (CEU 15 Apr. 2002, 93), is, according to McDowall, a "calculated use of one religious community as a counterweight to other political forces" and not "an indication of liberalisation or of tolerance" (Nov. 2002, 7).
On 28 February 2002, the Ankara Second Court of First Instance issued its verdict in a case filed to close the Cultural Association of the union of Alevi-Bektasi Establishment (Anatolia 28 Feb. 2002; RFE/RL 28 Feb. 2002; International Religious Freedom Report 2002 7 Oct. 2002, sec. II). The court ruled that the association was "promoting a sectarian belief and religious separatism" (RFE/RL 28 Feb. 2002) and that according to the Turkish Associations Law, this was forbidden (ibid.; Anatolia 28 Feb. 2002; International Religious Freedom Report 2002 7 Oct. 2002, sec. II; Turkish Daily News 11 Oct. 2002). This decision was appealed, and in November 2002, the Appeals Court overturned the decision and ordered a retrial (Country Reports 31 Mar. 2003, sec. 2.c). In January 2003, the Ankara Court approved the Court of Appeal's decision to reverse the Second Court's decision (Turkish Daily News 30 Jan. 2003). According to the defending attorney, "Parliament has passed a new legislation on the founding of various associations as part of a reform package in order to harmonize the Turkish system with the Copenhagen criteria [for EU accession]" (ibid.).
In May 2002, the Turkish High Audio-Visual Board (RTUK) banned the "Voice of Anatolia" for 180 days after they aired a programme on the closure of the Cultural Association of the union of Alevi-Bektasi Establishment (Turkish Daily News 11 Oct. 2002; Country Reports 31 Mar. 2003, sec. 2.a).
In January 2001, Nese Deuzel, a "respected" journalist with the daily Radikal, was charged with inciting sectarian hatred or religious conflict for publishing an interview she conducted with Murteza Demir, leader of Turkey's Muslim minority, in which he "complained about [the] official discrimination against Alevis, claiming they are denied rights and a communal identity and are treated with contempt" (CPJ 2001). In October 2001, Deuzel was charged again with inciting sectarian hatred or religious conflict for the content of her book, The Hidden Face of Turkey, which included an interview she had entitled "Alevis Are Considered as Terrorists" (ibid.). In June 2002, Deuzel was acquitted of these charges (Country Reports 31 Mar. 2003, sec. 2.a).
In October 2001, Mustafa Duzgun, head of the European Alevi Academy, was detained at the Istanbul Ataturk Airport upon his arrival from Germany, where he had been since 12 September 1980 (BBC 26 Oct. 2001). The detention was a result of "[n]umerous political suits [which] had been filed against him" in his absence from Turkey (ibid.).
Additional information on the treatment of Alevis in Turkey can also be found in TUR37722.E of 5 September 2001, TUR37724.E of 5 September 2001; TUR37948.E of 12 October 2001; TUR40949.E of 14 March 2003 and TUR38531.E of 16 April 2002 which are available on the Website of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB).
According to McDowall,
Alevi Kurds frequently report an assault or trashing of merchandise etc. by people they often describe as 'fascists' or 'Grey Wolves ... only to be warned off or beaten up by the police for the temerity of reporting the incident. As one of our informants stated: 'Police hate Alevis because they are left wing. This is the crucial issue. There is very generalised hostility to leftist people.' The expectation on the part of the security forces that Alevi Kurds were likely to be leftists, and therefore liable to mistreatment, was voiced by a number of our informants. We asked human rights workers and lawyers of nine different locations in Turkey whether, all other things being equal, an Alevi Kurd would be treated the same or differently from a Sunni Kurd or a Sunni or Alevi Turk. Without exception each confirmed that an Alevi Kurd could expect to be treated worse. Mr. Bayraktar [a lawyer in association with the Turkish Human Rights Association and the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey] summarised the issue pithily by quoting a bitter observation current among many lawyers: "If you are a Kurd and an Alevi, then you must also be a Communist, and this being so, you must prepare yourself for severe torture" (Nov. 2002, 60).
Additional information on the treatment of Alevi Kurds can be found in TUR38531.E of 16 April 2002, TUR40949.E of 14 March 2003 and in Country Assessments - Turkey of April 2003.
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 to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.
Anatolia News Agency. 28 February 2002. "Turkey: Court Issues Verdict on Closure of Alevi-Bektasi Association." (FBIS-WEU-2002-0228 4 Mar. 2002/Dialog)
BBC. 26 October 2001. "Turkey: Head of European Alevi Academy Arrested on Arrival From Germany." (Dialog)
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). 2001. "Middle East and North Africa 2001: Turkey."
Council of the European Union (CEU). 15 April 2002. The Netherlands Delegation. Official General Report on Turkey (January 2002).
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2002. 31 March 2003. United States Department of State. Washington, DC.
Federation of American Scientists (FAS). 8 August 1998. "Grey Wolves."
Hurriyet [Istanbul, in Turkish]. 9 August 2002. Yalcin Bayer. "Turkish Daily Highlights Call for Meeting to Discuss Alevis' Religious Rights." (FBIS-WEU-2002-0812 13 Aug. 2002/Dialog)
International Religious Freedom Report 2002. 7 October 2002. United States Department of State. Washington, DC.
McDowall, David. November 2002. Asylum Seekers from Turkey II. A Revised, Updated Edition of the Report of a Mission to Turkey, October 2000.
Middle Eastern Studies [London]. 31 October 2000. Vol. 36, No. 4. "Islam and Society in Turkey." (Dialog)
Milliyet [Istanbul, in Turkish]. 29 May 2001. Serhat Oguz. "Turkey: Alevi Leader Said Complained of Ostracism." (FBIS-WEU-2001-0531 1 June 2001/Dialog)
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). 28 February 2002. Jean-Christophe Peuch. "Turkey: Court Ruling Shows Authorities' Refusal to See Alevism As a Religious Community."
Sabah [Istanbul, in Turkish]. 1 September 2002. Hayati Kilic. "Turkey: Meeting of Alevi Community Representatives Indicates Support for CHP." (FBIS-WEU-2002-0902 3 September 2002/Dialog)
Turkish Daily News [Ankara]. 30 January 2003. "Ankara Court Approves Court of Appeals' Ruling."
_____. 28 January 2003. Beril Aktas. "Ali Ates: A Young Politician Who Can't Abandon Turkey."
_____. 11 October 2002. Edited by Ilnur Cevik. "Letter to the Editor." (Dialog)
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). September 2001. UNHCR Background Paper on Refugees and Asylum Seekers From Turkey.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees/Austrian Centre for Country of Origin and Asylum Research and Documentation (UNHCR/ACCORD). 13-14 November 2000. "Final Report: Turkey." 6th European Country of Origin Information Seminar in Vienna, Austria.
United Kingdom (UK). April 2003. Immigration and Nationality Directorate. Country Assessments - Turkey.
Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA). December 1999. Vol. 3, No. 4. David Zeidan. "The Alevi of Anatolia."
Additional Sources Consulted
Arab Studies Quarterly (Winter 2001 - Fall 2002)
The Cem Foundation, in Istanbul, did not respond to a letter requesting information within time constraints.
The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, in Ankara, did not respond to a letter requesting information.
The Middle East (Sept. 2001 - Aug./Sept. 2003)
Middle East International (14 Sept. 2001 - 22 Aug. 2003)
Middle East Report (Summer 2002 - Summer 2003)
A professor at Utrecht University did not respond to a letter requesting information within time constraints.
Internet sources, including:
European Country of Origin Information Network (ECOI)
Human Rights Association of Turkey
Human Rights Foundation of Turkey
Human Rights Internet, The Human Rights Databank
Human Rights Watch
Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights
MAZLUMDER (Organization of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed People)
Middle East Times
Middle East Review of International Affairs
Minority Rights Group
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
United States Agency for International Development (USAID)