Alevis protest against controversial omnibus bill for failing to address their demands

Photo by Murat Çepni

Alevi organizations on Tuesday staged a protest against an omnibus bill concerning Alevi houses of worship (cemevis) in Turkey, which was adopted by a parliamentary committee despite objections from the opposition in late October and is widely criticized for failing to address the basic demands of the minority group, Turkish Minute reported.

Alevis have historically been the largest religious minority group in Turkey, and they fulfill religious obligations and hold ceremonies not in mosques but in cemevis. Alevis make up as much as 20 percent of Turkey’s 85 million population.

The omnibus bill, titled “Bill on Making Amendments in Tax Procedure Law and Some Other Laws,” came to the parliamentary agenda after president and ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan introduced a “democratization package” last month.

It includes provisions authorizing municipalities to provide drinking and utility water to cemevis free of charge or with a discount and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to meet their lighting expenses.

The government already covers such expenses of the mosques of the Sunni majority through the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet).

The criticism of the bill mainly focuses on the fact that it fails to address the decades-long demand of Alevis for the official recognition of cemevis as places of worship, rather than cultural venues.

The protestors on Tuesday marched towards the parliament building in Ankara despite police intervention, shouting the slogan, “Not omnibus bill, [but] equal citizenship.”

Among the participants were representatives from seven Alevi organizations, including the Pir Sultan Abdal Culture Association (PSAKD), the Federation of Alevi Associations (ADFE) and the Anatolian Cultural Foundation of Hacı Bektaş Veli (HBVAKV), in addition to Workers’ Party of Turkey (TİP) deputies Barış Atay and Ahmet Şık, and Veli Ağbaba, deputy chairman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

According to Turkish media reports, the group made a statement to the press in front of parliament and then shouted the slogans, “AKP, take your hand off my faith,” “Alevism is a right, it cannot be prevented” and “We want equal citizenship.”

ADFE president Celal Fırat and HBVAKV president Ercan Geçmez were taken to a hospital as a result of excessive force used by police in Tuesday’s demonstration, according to a report by the Birgün daily.

Posting a video showing the moments when police intervened in the protest, Ağbaba said in a tweet, “Here is the AKP’s Alevi opening.”

Alevi leaders have repeatedly expressed concern that the situation of Turkey’s Alevi population is becoming increasingly precarious as the government of President Erdoğan has failed to fulfill its promise of granting them more rights to enable the free practice of their beliefs and has imposed its own version of Islam on various segments of society.

The Turkish government launched an initiative called the “Alevi opening” in 2009, aimed at achieving a better understanding of the problems of Alevis through a series of workshops and enacting reforms based on that understanding. Yet, the government failed to follow the recommendations in a report based on the outcome of the workshops and only took some symbolic steps. Such promises as officially recognizing cemevis and changing the law regarding compulsory religious education classes were not kept.

Moreover, hate crimes against Alevi communities are common. Cemevis have occasionally been vandalized, with insults painted on their walls.

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