İstanbul municipality to demolish Sultangazi Cemevi, signaling further crackdown on Alevis

İstanbul Sultangazi municipality ordered the demolition of Pir Sultan Abdal Cemevi, a house of worship for Alevis, on the grounds that the building was unlicensed, the T24 news portal reported. The ruling came only two days after a historic referendum on switching Turkey’s system of governance to an executive presidency amid reports of voting fraud allegations across the country.

However, Sultangazi Mayor Cahit Altunay has denied claims that there is a decision to demolish a cemevi, an Alevi place of worship due to its “unlicensed construction,” and claimed that reports of the demolition decision for the Pir Sultan Abdal Cemevi did not reflect the truth. Altunay noted that the decision referred to another piece of land adjacent to the place of worship.

“The notice is about a 40-square-meter sales space for offerings built bordering here. However, there will be no demolition due to the proceedings of a new plan in this area, which will be reviewed according to the new plan,” Altunay said in a written statement.

An earlier report by daily Cumhuriyet and T24 quoted the local Alevi community as saying that they had received a notice from the municipality, which is controlled by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), threatening the demolition of the cemevi on the grounds that its construction was “not licensed.” The decision, which came on April 18, raised eyebrows over its timing, as it came just two days after the referendum on replacing the parliamentary system with an executive presidential system, the report said.

Zeynal Odabaş, the head of the cemevi, said the demolition decision was taken last year but was only sent for implementation right after the April 16 referendum. “The demolition decision was only conveyed when the ‘yes’ side emerged in the aftermath of the referendum. This is deliberate. We will not be deceived and we will not let even a single brick be brought down,” Odabaş said.

Cemevis are currently not recognized as official places of worship by the Turkish state. In April 2016, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled in favor of Alevi community in a case brought for the official recognition of Cemevis and employment of Alevi faith leaders.

Even though then-Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said several times in 2015 that Cemevis will be granted legal status by the Turkish government, and works on a program of financial aid to Cemevis and “Dedes”, Alevi faith leaders, were underway, no concrete step has ever been taken to that end.

Though exact figures are not present, with its approximately 20 million adherents Alevis constitute the second-largest religious community in Turkey after Sunni Muslims.

Tensions between the Alevi and Sunni communities in Turkey date back to Ottoman times. In 1511, the Ottoman army brutally suppressed a revolt by the Kızılbaş Turkmens of the Alevi faith on Anatolian soil and as many as 40,000 were killed. The Battle of Çaldıran, fought between the Ottoman Empire under Yavuz Sultan Selim and the Safavid Shah İsmail in 1514, resulted in the sultan issuing an edict to kill all the Kızılbaş in the region.

During the republican era, thousands of Alevis were massacred in Dersim in 1937 and hundreds of Alevis were killed in pogroms, which many now believe were masterminded by groups inside the state, in the cities of Çorum, Yozgat and Kahramanmaraş in the 1970s. Thirty-four Alevi intellectuals were burned to death in 1992 inside the Madımak Hotel in Sivas. In other incidents, such as in İstanbul’s predominantly Alevi Gazi neighborhood in 1995, Alevis were targeted by individuals armed with machine guns. (SCF with turkeypurge.com) Updated April 20, 2017

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