Leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and presidential candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has garnered record attention by publicly talking about his Alevi identity in a speech addressing young people.
Kılıçdaroğlu released a video on April 19 on Twitter titled “Alevi” that has been watched more than 106 million times since then.
“Dear sons and daughters who will vote for the first time [in the upcoming elections]. I am an Alevi,” Kılıçdaroğlu said, adding that he is an honest Muslim who would never violate the rights of others and would never use the state for personal gain.
The CHP leader’s remarks about his Alevi roots unleashed a flood of appreciation and praise on social media, with many congratulating him for breaking a taboo.
Kılıçdaroğlu said every person’s identity is what makes them special and that they should stand behind it proudly. He called on young people to help Turkey cross a “critical threshold” and support his presidency despite claims that an Alevi cannot assume the country’s top state post.
Since Kılıçdaroğlu was elected leader of the secular CHP in 2010, much has been said about his roots in the eastern province of Tunceli and his Alevi identity. Kılıçdaroğlu himself has never made it an issue until Wednesday, when he openly discussed it.
Turkey is a majority Sunni country, with some in the conservative and religious population viewing Alevis as apostates; therefore people adhering to the Alevi faith generally avoid revealing their beliefs in public out of fear of facing discrimination or social alienation.
Alevis follow a heterodox Islamic tradition that separates them from Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Some view it as a cultural identity as much as a religious faith.
Turkey has long denied Alevi demands for state recognition, and Alevi houses of worship, known as cemevis, are not officially recognized by the state, hence given no financial assistance.