An Analysis of ALEVI communities position in Turkey.

Alevi philosophy and belief system have been introduced to Anatolia, Balkans and to Middle East as of beginning of 10th century, after Turcoman dervishes and tribes started moving to Anatolia and to Middle East from Central Asia.

Seljukies and later Ottoman State based their social law and philosophy on highly tolerant ALEVI belief system and this highly tolerant belief allowed them to convince different ethnic/belief groups to easily accept their governance. While Ottoman’s were rapidly expanding to west during 13th / 14th centuries, on their east other Turcoman tribes also established their own states with almost the same socially / religiously tolerant parameters. By 15th century Ottoman State found itself in conflict with three other Turcoman origined states, sharing the same belief system and traditions. Namely AKKOYUNLU, DULKADIROGULLARI and SAFAVİ states. Late 15th century saw increases of these conflicts and as result first major clash with these states OTLUKBELI war, was fought in 1483 with Akkoyunlus, this was followed by CALDIRAN war in 1514 with Safavis.

Ottoman emperor YAVUZ SELIM after winning a series of wars in Eastern Anatolia / Iran and Egypt decided to acquire KHALIF SHIP from Arabic reigns of EMEWIS and became the religious authority of Muslim World with the aim of using religious power for higher political stability and reduced resistance of ALEVI – Turkish population in especially Anatolia and other Eastern provinces that he was ruling.

As result of this political decision and after establishing stronger links with SUNNI Muslim theologists and authorities, OTTOMAN EMPIRE gradually converted itself to a SUNNI MUSLIM country, in spite of the fact that there was a continuous resistance from local population and various political / social unrests all over the country. SUNNI MUSLIM religious practices and superiorities given to ARABIC or Arab educated legal / religious staff, kept disturbing ALEVI Turcoman community in Anatolia and BEKTASHI community in BALKAN provinces, after 17th century Ottoman lived series of local unrests, especially Anatolian population kept resisting to SUNNI MUSLIM applications.

State became more and more fundamentalist and people were either forced to accept Sunni practices or face ignorance, degradation ,penalties etc. The situation got worse by late 18th century and in 1826 when last major ALEVI organization of the empire (YENIDJERI army) was dismantled, the pressure on Alevi community increased even to levels of destroying ALEVI Prayer locations, burning their handwritten books, converting these areas to SUNNI centers or simply handing over the properties to SUNNI (NAKSHIBENDI) believers.

The trend of assimilating ALEVI’s slowed down during late 19th century. As young Ottoman Army was also resisting to Muslim Fundamentalism and wishing to see a more secular state. Independence War and formation of new TURKISH REPUBLIC under leadership of ATATURK changed the whole attitude. New Turkish republic was founded as a totally secular system and the only governmental reference made to religious affairs was formation of a department named DIYANET ISLERI (RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS) which was supposed to take care of all religious matters in country.

As religious practices of Christian / Jewish minorities in country was independently under the responsibility of those minorities community organizations according to LOUSANNE Agreement, there was not much to do for DIYANET for non-muslim believers. They concentrated providing religious services to muslim society .

The initial years of the REBUPLIC was totally secular and no tolerance was shown to Muslim Fundamentalist movements. So Alevi society was quite relaxed after a 500 years of heavy pressure period. However after Turkey decided to introduce multi parties to the political system in efforts of establishing / strengthening democracy around mid 1940s the new parties found the fundamentalist SUNNI muslim society as a nice vote source. Following elections of 1950, when right wing (Democrat Party – DP) got majority votes, political leaders started to tolerate non-secular attempts and flirt with SUNNI fundamentalism.

One significant indicator of this non-secular attitude is the conversion of EZAN (invitation to prayer) from TURKISH to ARABIC right after DP – Democratic Party took power in 1950 elections from ATATURK’s secular CHP – Republican Folk Party.
Another significant indicator has been that DP started to open religious high schools (IHL) for educating religious staff, however they forgot to be neutral and all of the schools that they opened gave highly strong SUNNI MUSLIM education.

There was a military coupe and secular correction on 1960, the rise of fundamentalism slowed down. 1968 youth actions of world created it’s reflections in Turkey as well and as result we had a political intervention in 1971 which resulted in increased strong criticism towards left wing and towards ALEVI society which was a strong supporter of secularism. Following the 1971 incident, right wing coalition (MC) started opening Religious High Schools in a growing number and openly supporting SUNNI MUSLIM, openly converting DIYANET to a SUNNI educational / practice department.

The number of IHL schools were increased to 339 from 72 , high schools increased to 249 from 39 during 10 years between 1970 and 1980. The attitude also did not help to political stability of the country and we saw another military coupe in 1980.

Right wing fundamentalism used 1980 Military Coupe as an opportunity for further strengthening SUNNI MUSLIM in country. The most significant indicators of this period are:

ELECTIVE Religious lessons were converted to COMPULSORY with the 1982 constitution.
DIYANET built mosques to ALEVI settlements and appointed staff to some villages for those mosques that were almost never used by the ALEVI society.
Saudi Arabian sources paid the salaries of DIYANET staff in Turkish consulates and embassies in abroad .

The above developments have allowed to the rise of Fundamentalist SUNNI Muslim movements in country and further ignorance of ALEVI community in country.

DIYANET Religious Affairs organization today has 113 000 staff and uses a budget of 1 124 billion TL, which is around 830 million usdlrs. while ALEVI share from this budget is ZERO.

After 1970 ALEVI population, started feeling the SUNNI pressure more and more, following some local clashes in Corum, Malatya and Maras cities between Alevi / Sunni communities, ALEVI population started to organize in associations, foundations and other non governmental organizations. Alevi organizations started building CEMEVI (Prayer and cultural houses) centers in cities, with their own limited capacities and capabilities. Today about 500 major CEMEVI buildings in cities are under construction and/or operative in Turkey, there are thousands of small buildings and places used as CEMEVI in rural areas All have been built by contributions of ALEVI community without any contribution from budget. Ironically number of mosques in country is about 90 000 and most of them have no or extremely few attendants.

Population of ALEVI’s are not known statistically, as this question was not asked in any public census, our own indicators give us the figure of around 20 million today. SUNNI authorities (DIYANET) argue that the actual figure is much lower, however Parliament discussions in 1922 officially indicated to 2 million ALEVI’s while population of country was about 10 million. (First census in 1927 was 13 648 270 – second one was in 1935 with 16 158 000.) During exchange of Turkish population from Greece ,official figure of incoming Turks were 388 146 , and 90 percent of this population was BEKTASHI ( a major ALEVI sect.) so the officially recorded 2 million of 1922 must have increased to at least 2.3 during exchange operations and if the growth of the population is in the same ratios with the overall population, a min of 16 million of todays 70 million must officially be accepted as ALEVI . However we still believe that this figure is much higher in spite of all efforts of assimilations and ignorance spent during the last 50 years.

ALEVI’s are not getting their share neither from the budget that is spent for Religious affairs nor from the budget that is spent for education.

We, as CEM FOUNDATION, are at the opinion that following two major cases must be resolved as quickly as possible :

Funds spent for Religious Affairs has to be distributed in a logical / realistic ratio and (DIYANET ISLERI) Religious Affairs has to serve to religious affairs of all belief groups living in this country. We would like to see a board in R Affairs composed of Sunnı , Alevi, Suryanide, Christian, Jewish and other communities religious staff and departments that are organized parallel to needs / population of the belief groups living in Turkey. Current Religious Affairs organization and staff can only act as SUNNI department of the logical / rational “Religious Affairs organization” that we seek to see.
Curriculum of Religious Lectures in schools has to be limited with general information about “history and introduction of religions”. SUNNI practices should be taken out of the curriculums, such information may be given to students with elective lessons that will be available for both SUNNI and ALEVI population.

Article 10 of Turkish Constitution is almost equal to the Article 6 of Kingdom Of Netherlands. Alevi organizations have been trying to find an amicable solution with the governments during the last 10 years for an equal application of the rules and orders of the constitution. .However due to political reasons, governments have failed to apply the constitutional requirements. Our next step, which is about to take place in coming weeks is to open massive number of court cases with Turkish courts and get orders from Turkish legal system to Government ordering legally applicable and acceptable solutions to existing de facto situation which contradicts with the constitutional requirements. In case we fail to achieve a true and just application of the constitutional requirements and in case Governments keep acting as they did so far, we will continue pressing government via court applications made to European Court of Human Rights. We believe our constitutional rights will be obtained and necessary practices will be introduced to our life without any need to carrying the cases to ECHR.


- Figures about IHL’s are obtained from TESEV researches.

- Kingdom of Netherlands Constitution – Article 6
1. Everyone shall have the right to profess freely his religion or belief, either individually or in community with others, without prejudice to his responsibility under the law.
2. Rules concerning the exercise of this right other than in buildings and enclosed places may be laid down by Act of Parliament for the protection of health, in the interest of traffic and to combat or prevent disorders.

-Turkish RepublicConstitution – Article 10
Equality before the Law

All individuals are equal without any discrimination before the law, irrespective of language, race, colour, sex, political opinion, philosophical belief, religion and sect, or any such considerations.

No privilege shall be granted to any individual, family, group or class.

State organs and administrative authorities shall act in compliance with the principle of equality before the law in all their proceedings.