Joint Declaration by Alevi organizations in Turkey, Europe, North America and Australia to the world and Turkish public
The Turkish media are reporting the presence of proposals relating to the Alevi community in the so-called “democratization package” that is currently being prepared by the AKP government. As much as we can gather from the media, these proposals – presented as the “Second Alevi Opening” in the Turkish media even though the Alevi organizations had no input in their preparation – include items such as the legal recognition of Alevi houses of worship, the cemevis, merely as “centers of culture and/or faith,” and the payment of salaries to Alevi religious leaders, the dedes, by the state. We, as legitimate representatives of Alevi communities in and outside of Turkey, believe that these proposed regulations, which fall far short of our demands and even conflict with them, ultimately aim to reduce Alevism into an ordinary Sufi order and the cemevis into ordinary Sufi convents as understood in Sharia-bound Sunni Islam, and likewise seek to reduce the dedes to being employees of state as is the case with the Sunni imams. We also hereby declare that projects such as the establishment of combined “mosque-cemevi” complexes put forward by certain individuals and religious groups in parallel with the assimilationist vision of the AKP government have no meaning or weight for the Alevi community, and that such artificial constructs are nothing but products of a crude and patronizing attitude that looks down on Alevism and that tries to define it in spite of Alevis, and are as such unacceptable to us.
Alevism is an ancient belief-system with its own doctrines, institutions and rituals. Even though historically related to currents of Islamic mysticism, Alevism is not an ordinary Sufi order as understood within Sharia-bound/Sunni Islam. Alevis do not differentiate between (scripture sanctioned) worship (ibadet) and mystical ceremonies (ayin), and perform all of their rituals in cemevis. Hence, just as Alevism is not an ordinary Sufi order, cemevis are not Sufi convents (tekkes) in the common sense of the word. Cemevis are the Alevis’ “houses of worship” (ibadethane), and like any other faith community, Alevis have the right to organize and utilize their places of worship freely and without any outside pressure.
The Alevi dedes similarly contrast with the ulema in Sharia bound/Sunni Islam in that their status is based on an inherited spiritual connection between individual Alevi saintly lineages and their disciple communities. In Alevi practice, services provided by Alevi dedes to their disciples are based on the initiative of the disciples themselves, not the dedes or the state; in other words, a dede can fulfill his function as a religious leader only upon the request and invitation of his disciples. This important doctrinal difference, taken together with the Alevis’ history of religious and political nonconformism, reveals the total incompatibility with Alevi creed and traditions of proposals to turn dedes into employees of the state similar to imams employed by the state in mosques.
It is beyond the limits and power of any outside group or individual to interfere with, or to change or deform through social engineering, Alevi teachings and institutions that have developed organically over the centuries. Like any other belief-system, Alevism has been shaped, and will continue to be shaped, only collectively by the adherents of this belief-system and culture. We strongly underline that the state and all non-Alevi groups and individuals must respect the autonomous space of the Alevi creed, and that they should pay utmost attention to staying out of that space.
It must also be clear to everybody that the only legitimate representatives of the Alevis in the political arena are the organizations that originated from within the Alevi community itself. It is completely unacceptable that the government, other political actors and certain analysts have disregarded this fact during the Kurdish peace process and the so-called Alevi opening, and treated the Alevis as if they were passive objects to be arbitrarily acted upon. As a community represented by its civil societal organizations, the irrevocable goal of the Alevis is to live as equal citizens in a truly democratic-secular system. Our immediate demands that will ensure the achievement of this ultimate goal of equality include the following items which have previously been expressed in multiple other venues:
1) Our cemevis should immediately be given legal status as “places of worship” (ibadethane). It is unacceptable for the cemevis to be demoted to, and treated under, any other category such as “Sufi convents” (tekke) or “centers of faith” (inanç merkezi).
2) The compulsory building of mosques in Alevi villages and neighborhoods must be abandoned. It must be clear that the creation of artificial demands for mosques by connecting the provisioning of public services to the presence of a mosque in a locale is a form of “compulsion,” and as such is undemocratic and unethical. Such indirect forms of compulsion must end.
3) The mandatory and elective religious classes at schools that are configured on the normativeness of Sharia-bound/Sunni Islam and taught by individuals trained in Sunni theology are a gross violation of Alevis’ freedom of religion. These classes must be immediately removed from the school curricula. Religious education should be at the discretion of families and civil societal organizations, not the state.
4) The Ministry of Religious Affairs must be eliminated. In line with the principle of an impartial state, every faith group should organize on its own and arrange and maintain its faith-based services using its own funds and according to its own preferences.
5) The “religion” box on the national identification cards must be removed. The coding of people through this or other methods should be prevented, and public services must be provided equally to all citizens.
6) The state should immediately abandon all of its open or subtle assimilationist policies and practices.
7) Derogatory remarks about Alevism, as well as insults, threats and attacks against Alevis should legally be included among hate crimes and punished accordingly.
8) Definitions and statements offensive to the Alevis that are present in school books, dictionaries, encyclopedias and in other books recommended to the students by the Ministy of Education need to be revised or removed, and in cases when neither is possible, the use of such publications must be forbidden.
9) The state must officially apologize to Alevis for the Dersim, Maraş, Çorum, Sivas and Gazi massacres and commissions should be formed in the Turkish Parliament to investigate these massacres.
10) The government must refrain from giving names such as “Yavuz Sultan Selim” (the Ottoman sultan infamous for his persecution of Alevis) that are distasteful to the Alevis to neighborhoods, roads, streets and other public projects. Existing such names should be changed.
11) Madımak Hotel building (where 33 artists and musicians attending an Alevi festival died in the intentional burning of the hotel by a gang of fanatic Sunni Muslims) must be converted to a commemorative museum of shame.
12) All Alevi-Bektashi pious endowments that were confiscated by the government, including first and foremost the Dergâh of Hacı Bektaş Veli, must be returned to the Alevi-Bektashi community.
We hereby respectufully declare to the world and the Turkish public that no one should question our commitment to continue our struggle with increased resolve and enhanced organizational skills until all of our rightful demands are met, or doubt our firm and unshakeable belief in achieving, sooner or later, our goal of equal citizenship.
The Alevi-Bektashi Federation of Turkey and its Affiliates
The European Confederation of Alevi Associations and their Affiliates (including
Federation of Alevi Associations in Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, Holland, Belgium, Sweden, England, Denmark, Romania, Norway, and Italy)
The Australian Alevi-Bektashi Federation
American Pir Sultan Abdal Cultural Association
Canadian Alevi Culture Centre
9 September 2013
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