Turkish Alevis Fight Back Against Religion Lessons

May 5, 2008

Author: Staff Writer

Source: The New York Times

Wire Service: Reuters


Dancing to express their piety, the young women and men in a solemn circle are part of a Turkish religious community whose members say they are fighting assimilation by the government.

Turkey's largest religious minority, some 15 to 25 million people across the country share the Alevi faith. It has roots in Islam but is steeped in shamanist tradition, and has never been recognized by the Turkish state.

The status of Alevis is central to European Union concerns about freedom of religion in Turkey as it weighs up Ankara's membership bid.

A court case -- one of 2,000 or so -- opened by minority representatives against the government has become a rallying cry for recognition, and put pressure on the ruling AK Party to increase religious freedoms in Turkey, where most of the population of around 71 million practice Orthodox Sunni Islam.

The cases centre on compulsory school religion classes, which Alevis say impose practices alien to their traditions. Despite court victories for the Alevis, the government has taken them to appeal citing its own limited power.

"We've come to a point where one cannot escape the fact that freedom of religion is limited in Turkey, for Alevis and other religious minorities, regardless of the democratic claims made by the ruling party," said Ali Yaman, professor of social anthropology at Abant Izzet Baysal University in Bolu.