Cablegate: Turkey's Southeast: Alevi Communities Seek Higher

Published: Tue 2 Aug 2005 08:08 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ANKARA 004456
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/01/2015
Classified By: (U) Polcounselor John Kunstadter; reasons: E.O. 12958 1.
4 (b,d).
1. (U) This is a Consulate Adana cable.
2. (C) Summary: Alevis in southeastern Turkey of varying
ethnic backgrounds recently have offered useful insight into
the ongoing Anatolia-wide debate about the future shape of
their faith and how they feel that the EU accession process
might impact on that community-wide discourse. End Summary.
3. (C) In a July 19 meeting in Adana with visiting Turkey
desk officer Baxter Hunt, a Kurdish (not Zaza) Alevi contact
who was born in Elazig explained his background as an active
officer in the Cukurova region's Pir Sultana organization and
past national Pir Sultana executive board. He said that he
was a self-described modernist in the current community
debate. He said that there were considerable Alevi desires,
if necessary, through the European Court of Human Rights and
explicit EU demands to Turkey in the accession process, that
the Religious Affairs Department either be dissolved or
changed to include support for Turkey's Alevis. The Alevi
contact said that what he counted as Turkey's 12
million-member Alevi community will resist what he called the
"Sunni Religious Affairs Department's assimilation policy."
(Note: This figure is a matter of debate, even among Alevis.
An Alevi contact in Diyarbakir on July 26 asserted to AMCON
Adana PO that there were 25 to 30 million Alevis in Anatolia,
with other Alevi friends of his suggesting later that such a
number is exaggerated even if it included the many Alevis who
do not regularly go to a cem or dede-led home services in
urban areas, but that there are many more Alevis than the 6
to 7 million that Sunni activists claim. Official but
confidential Turkish State figures, based on detailed family
registers, show seven million Alevis in Turkey. End Note)
4. (C) He also described a generational discussion which has
developed within the Alevi community, which he described as
unique to Anatolia, as to whether the Alevi faith should have
a place in the Islamic community. He said that older, more
traditional Alevis, even though one would not find a Koran in
their house or their praying in a mosque, still considered
Aleviism as a faith with its roots in Islam. He noted,
however, for example, that almost all Alevis feel that the
fourth caliph, Osman, altered the original text of the Koran
and that they therefore reject it as a spiritual guideline.
Younger Alevis, he said, increasingly see their Alevi faith
as one based on humanism which "has no room to grow and
express itself if bound by the broad confines of Islam or
interpreted primarily by dedes (traditional Alevi community
religious leaders)." The Alevi contact also asserted that
Alevis need groups of at least twelve to perform some common
and important rituals, which usually are performed in a cem
evi, and as a result, require group rights as well as
individual freedoms to worship. He said that he had pointed
this out to Council of Europe and European parliament figures
in Strasbourg in late 2004 meetings.
5. (C) Somewhat in contrast, Diyarbakir-based Alevi contacts
from the Pir Sultana association described their perception
of the debate, which they agreed was ongoing in the Alevi
faith in slightly different terms. They explained that the
Diyarbakir Alevi community, whose active membership stood at
about 12,000 strong, had mixed roots in Zaza "Cult of the
Angels" Alevism, Turkmen practices from the late Ottoman era
whose community migrated to Diyarbakir and southeast Anatolia
before the First World War, and many Kurdish Alevis who speak
the Kermanji variant of Kurdish, and have ritual traditions
akin to their western Anatolian Turkish-speaking kin. All
lamented the lack of a cem evi in Diyarbakir and complained
loudly about how a Diyarbakir municipal decision in 2003 had
allotted them land for a cem evi, but that a new
religious-affairs department-linked religious activities
zoning board put in place in the governor's office during the
AK party era had blocked any construction permits for the
site, claming it suitable for a mosque which Alevis, as
Muslims in the Religious Affairs Department's assessment,
were free to attend.
6. (C) The Diyarbakir Pir Sultana officials, which included
a Zaza-speaking Kurdish president; Kermanji-speaking Kurdish
deputy president; a Turkmen Turkish-speaking secretary and a
Turkmen Turkish and Arabic-speaking dede, said that they were
harder line toward the Religious Affairs Department "policy
of assimilation which Prime Minister Erdogan is trying to
force on us." They bristled when recalling past Erdogan
characterizations of Aleviism as a culture rather than a
religious faith and denounced an AKP government report to the
EU referring to Alevis as minorities. While one member
asserted that there were as many practicing Alevis as Sunni
hanafi muslims (not everyone in the group agreed with this
assertion), but you just could not count them in mosque
gatherings, all agreed that the AKP government language was
intended to marginalize their community in the EU's and other
outsiders' eyes. Unlike the Cem Foundation, which they said
had called for either the religious affairs department's
dissolution or its inclusion of a new and autonomous Alevi
branch, they said that the Pir Sultana foundation would
accept nothing less than the end of the religious affairs
department and its support for Sunni imams and compulsory
religious education in Turkish public schools.
7. (C) The dede with the group also said that today's Alevi
youth, after growing up with parents who had to hide their
Alevi faith because of systematic state persecution in the
1970's and 1980's (he pointed to a wall poster displaying a
picture of the 37 Alevi intellectuals killed in an arson
attack on a hotel in Sivas in 1993 while saying this), were
exploring their faith with more vigor than possible in
Anatolia in the last 20-30 years and taking pride in their
Alevi identity. That said, who would be the next
generation's dedes, determined by blood line, is still
unclear, he said. He described Alevi youth as very actively
debating issues whether the Koran should be on an Alevi table
(he said older Alevis accepted the Koran as an element of
their religion's roots, but not a determining one), how Islam
might confine the future of Islam, and whether and how Alevis
should seek definitive religious rights for their community
from the Turkish government. The dede said that he was not
optimistic that the current AKP government which was so
strongly steeped in Sunni hanafi tradition would relent in
its "assimilation" policy. They cannot accept us because of
independence of Alevi religious strictures and customs (like
use of music, especially the saz, a lute-like instrument),
gender equality, past political support of Ataturk, and use
of cem evis rather than mosques.
8. (C) Like their Adana counterparts, the Diyarbakir Alevi
groups described a feeling of empowerment first from
Anatolian diaspora Alevis of different customs who now lived
in western Europe and closely followed and actively
participated in the Alevi-wide debate about its future path.
They also said that these groups had offered them insight
into the potential for change and autonomy they could win if
working with EU governments to advocate religious freedom in
Anatolia. This realization both strengthened their resolve
in the face of perceived sunni persecution and rekindled
interest and energy in charting a new course for the
community which was based on their potential rather than the
limits of what Sunnis in Anatolia were prepared to tolerate.
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