Today's Zaman, Turkey
Oct 30 2013

by Sahin Alpay

A most valuable book on Turkey's politics published recently is Markus
Dressler's rigorously researched study "Writing Religion: The Making
of Turkish Alevi Islam" (Oxford University Press, Enhanced Coverage
LinkingOxford University Press, -Search using:Company ProfileNews,
Most Recent 60 Days2013).

The book provides an excellent background on one of the main problems
of the democratization and secularization of Turkey that awaits
resolution: that is, an end to the legal and social discrimination
of the country's largest religious minority, the Alevis, estimated
to comprise about 15 percent of the population.

The main question Dressler's study addresses is how "Kizilbas"
communities, who during the Ottoman period were regarded as heretical,
immoral and disloyal and subjected to oppression, came to be referred
to as "Alevis" in the republican period and identified as Muslims, even
if of a heterodox kind and as an integral part of the Turkish nation.

Dressler argues that one of the major problems faced by the secular
nationalist, Kemalist founders of the Republic of Turkey (established
after the Armenian deportations during World War I and the forced
population exchange on the basis of religion between Turkey and Greece
in the wake of the war), in the context of their efforts towards the
construction of a secular and Muslim Turkish nation, was how it would
be possible to integrate the Alevis. Alevis displayed great ethnic
and religious diversity, with about 20 to 30 percent being of Kurdish
ethnic origin and divided between those who regarded their religious
belief as a (third) sect within Islam and those who perceived it as
an entirely separate religion.

The solution the Kemalists found to this problem, according
to Dressler, was this: They rejected the exclusionary Ottoman
discourse that regarded the Alevis as immoral and disloyal heretics
and identified the Alevis as the carriers of Central Asian Turkish
culture and beliefs. The Kemalists also rejected the discourse of
Western missionaries who traced the ethnic origin of the Alevis at
least partially to ancient Anatolian civilizations and Armenians,
maintained that their beliefs were strongly influenced by Christianity
and instead identified Anatolian Alevism as part of Islam, if of a
heterodox kind.

It is well known that in the 1980s Alevi communities in Turkey
started to question the Turkish-Islamic identity ascribed to them
by the Kemalist state. Anatolian Alevis are today clearly divided
between Turks (who speak Turkish) and Kurds (who speak the Kurmanchi
or Zaza dialects of Kurdish), with the latter displaying the strongest
reaction against their official inclusion within a Turkish-Islamic
identity. Irrespective of ethnic identity, they are divided between
those who regard their religious creed as a third sect within Islam,
while others believe it to be an entirely separate religion.

If Turkey is ever to consolidate a liberal and pluralist democracy it
is absolutely necessary that the state give up its efforts to impose
an ethnic and/or religious identity on citizens. It must lift all
restrictions on the free expression and exercise of their identities.

Under the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government in
Turkey, in response to mounting protests, it has finally put an end
to the sheer denial of Kurdish and Alevi identities and has even
taken certain steps towards their official recognition. The official
imposition of a Turkish-Islamic identity on society still continues,
however, by the state monopoly and control of religion through the
Sunni dominated Religious Affairs Directorate, established in the
early 1920s as one of the main pillars of the Kemalist state.

Full legal secularism is a major achievement of the republic, but
without separation of state and religion, either through the adoption
of an autonomous status for the directorate or its abolition and the
lifting of restrictions on the religious rights of all citizens, Turkey
cannot claim to be a secular state in the proper meaning of the term.

Dressler's study of Alevism in Turkey is a highly valuable contribution
to the understanding of the problems posed by the Kemalist policies
of authoritarian or assertive secularism in Turkey.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress