Traditional temple

Erdogan’s visit to an Alevi temple has angered the large Sunni community

The conflict has rocked the Alevi community, Turkey’s second largest religious community after the Sunnis, although it is not officially recognized. The occasion was a visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to the Alevi (jemevi) temple “Hussein Gazi” in the Mamak district of Ankara, which is under the management of the “Hussein Gazi Art and Culture Foundation” with the President Huseyn Yoz, called “dede” (according to Alevi terminology – leader).

For many years, this is the first visit of the Turkish president to an Alevi temple. Erdogan timed his visit to coincide with the holiday of Muharrem Aya (month of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar), which also includes a 10-day fast (oruch), interrupted by Muslim tradition with an iftar dinner.

In all probability, the visit would not have transgressed the limits of respect for the holiday and tolerance, as was probably intended, if something had not happened which, for the general public, might seem strange and unimportant. It turned out that because of Erdoğan’s visit, the portrait of Prophet Hazrat Ali (Saint Ali), nephew and son-in-law of the Sunni Prophet Muhammad (affection for Prophet Ali was elevated to cult status among the Alevis) and Hünkyar Hadji Bektash-i Veli, considered a religious leader, and also the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

The Alevi Federation (AVF), which brings together associations of the community, accused the organizers of the Hussein Ghazi Art and Culture Foundation of causing a split and a confrontation between the Alevis in favor of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in power and the president. According to AVF President Haydar Baki Dogan, the Hussein Ghazi Art and Culture Foundation is part of the Federation. But information about a visit as important as that of President Erdoğan has not been shared with its leaders.

In an interview with T24, he said the following:

“The foundation, unbeknownst to us, presented the presidency with a list of seven people who hosted the event. But that’s not the main thing. More importantly, the portraits of Hazrat Ali, Hunkar Haji Bektash-i Veli and Atatürk are the permanent inventory of each jamevi, otherwise it is not possible for it to be a temple for rituals and visitation. And their withdrawal is a profound insult and disrespect to the primary feelings of the Alevis. Moreover, in our temple, it is not accepted to break the oruch (fast) in the central hall, as they did during Erdoğan’s visit. This is done in another room (the dining room). All of this hurts the religious feelings of our members and we see it as a profound provocation to confront and divide the community through the Foundation. This is why we have initiated a procedure to exclude him from the Federation”.

From the Democratic Alevi Association and the Pir Sultan Abdal Culture Association, they also opposed the visit, accusing the ruling AKP and the president of hypocrisy and double standards.

“Dzemevi is a place of worship, a holy place, not a place to receive official guests. There are offices for that. Do when we request a meeting with the president or a responsible person, they schedule a meeting for us in their mosques. Wasn’t it President Erdoğan who called james “houses of pleasure”. What has changed for him to enter such a house now? said Ismail Atesh, secretary of the Pir Sultan Abdal Foundation.

The head of the Hussein Gazi Foundation, Dede Hussein Yoz, who hosted Erdogan’s visit, confirmed that the visit had caused deep conflict, which he said was not justified.

Hussein Yoz told pro-government newspaper Hurriyet the visit was a sign of respect.

“The President was accompanied by Vice President Fuat Oktay, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy and Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalan, who came to visit us out of respect. I believe the visit is very important for the Alevi community. In the laws of our country, the Jamevi temples do not appear as places of religious worship, despite the decision of the European Court of Human Rights, which was not implemented by the state leaders. Perhaps this visit will be the opportunity to finally make it happen”.

Another scandal unfolded against the backdrop of attacks on three Alevi temples in Ankara two weeks ago. Police arrested a 30-year-old man from Izmir who, according to his own confession, carried out the attacks on his own. However, three other people were later arrested in connection with the case.

Police determined that the attacks were planned or ordered. Some forces are believed to be deep in the heart of the attack.

A few years ago, nationalist elements attacked opposition leader Kemal Kulçdaloğlu, a representative of the Alevi community, while he was meeting voters. Thanks to Kulçdaroğlu’s safety, the opposition leader’s life was saved.

Reports have also emerged that in a number of cities in Turkey various signs have been placed on Alevi homes.

Among the most tragic dates in the modern history of the Alevis is the arson in 1993 of a hotel in the town of Sivas, in which 37 people, prominent representatives of the intellectual elite of the Alevis, died. The arson was carried out by fanatical Sunni Islamists after prayers at the mosque.

According to various data, the Alevis in Turkey number about 12-15 million people, which is 15% of the Turks. At the same time, however, many Alevis dare not advertise for fear of harassment by the authorities. The dominant religion in Turkey is that of the Sunnis, considered the only “Orthodox”.

The Alevi community in Turkey is considered a pillar of state secularism (for this reason, the portrait of Atatürk is an invariable attribute among jamves) and equality between different faiths. They are among the most serious critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamic-conservative Justice and Development Party.

The leader of the main opposition force – the Republican People’s Party (NRP) – Kemal Kulçdaroğlu is Turkey’s most prominent Alevi politician. Traditionally, Alevis constitute the core of the PNR electorate.

Media close to the opposition associate Erdogan’s visit with presidential and parliamentary elections next year. They define the visit as a tactical move by Erdoğan, who will run again for the presidency, aimed at inducing some of the representatives of the community to vote for him.

Journalist Ihsan Charalan of the opposition newspaper “Diken” wrote that “with this visit, Erdogan aims to kill three birds with one stone: to denounce the latest attacks, to reassure his supporters, namely the Sunni Islamists, that he has actually visited an Alevi cultural place to found and ultimately divide Alevi unity.

And according to opposition newspaper Sozju commentator Deniz Zeyrek, Erdoğan’s visit to the Alevi temple in Ankara is definitely a pre-election tactical move.

“I don’t know if the Alevi will appreciate this decision by the president as a sincere gesture to vote for him, he writes, but it is clear that Erdogan is aware that to win a new mandate, he will have to attract supporters on his side. of Atatürk, whom they really like, those who declare themselves against corruption, anarchy and want an active struggle against them, as well as the voices of the Alevis. And at the same time, he is aware that he will not win without attracting the votes of the Kurds to his side, if, of course, he manages to overcome the resistance of his partner, the nationalist Devlet Bahceli”.

picture by Sushil Nash on Unsplash