Alevis to ‘block legal system’ if rulings not put into effect
Barçın Yinanç - firstname.lastname@example.orgThe Turkish Supreme Court’s decision last week that recognized cemevis as houses of worship will have important consequences for ending discrimination against Alevis when implemented together with European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) rulings, according to Professor İzzettin Doğan, the head of a prominent Alevi organization.
Although he described the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) rule as the “most discriminatory” against Alevis, Doğan said any political power in government will be obliged to implement the decisions.
“If there will not be proper implementation, thousands of court cases will be filed that will end up blocking the justice system,” said the head of the Cem Foundation, which initiated the cases at the Strasbourg-based ECHR.
How do you evaluate the Supreme Court’s ruling last week that the Turkish state should cover all the expenses of cemevis, in the same way as it does for mosques, churches and synagogues?
First of all, this decision introduces an important novelty to the Turkish legal system. While previously there had been references to the rulings of the ECHR, never before was such a hierarchy established [between local legal rulings and ECHR rulings]. It states that if the ECHR has made a verdict then the Turkish courts have to endorse decisions in conformity with that verdict. In the past we have seen Turkish courts ignoring ECHR rulings.
The ECHR ruled [last year] that cemevis are houses of worship for Alevis and they should benefit from all the rights and privileges granted by the legal system to other recognized houses of worship. From now on, Turkish courts can’t say “I think differently.” The verdict that Alevis’ cemevis are indeed houses of worship cannot be changed.
Do you think this decision will be implemented?
I have no doubt about it. If the government is unwilling to implement the decision then Alevi citizens - and in fact even Sunni citizens - will open new legal cases and the government will be ordered to pay huge compensation fees.
As a lawyer I say I have no doubt. But as someone who lives in Turkey, I have my doubts. A while ago we received a call from the Justice Ministry and the Foreign Ministry saying they need to reach an agreement on a road map for how to implement the ECHR decision. We had decided to meet on July 27, but just a day before that date we were told the meeting had to be postponed.
Do you know why they decided to postpone the meeting?
Maybe they are waiting for the election. Perhaps they will make an announcement about Alevis just before the election in order to woo Alevi citizens.
What do you think will be the consequences of these rulings?
They will bring about very important outcomes. They will help the development of an awareness that the state should not discriminate against its own citizens. If this awareness is not there, then the state will face legal cases from its citizens that could number in the thousands. These [legal cases] could even block the functioning of the judicial system.
To this day we have acted out of good intentions. We have never provoked our citizens, never told them to open legal cases wherever they are. We see that Turkey doesn’t have the strength, neither in its democratic system nor its political system, to handle the kind of contention we could be involved in. Unfortunate things could take place, but we are trying to solve the problem within legal means.
The 10th article of the constitution establishes the equality of citizens before the law. But an Alevi cannot be a governor. There are no Alevis in the state’s decision-making mechanisms. There is open discrimination against Alevis.
But the government is under an obligation to implement the rulings. This is for two reasons: First, the justice system could end up being blocked by Alevis if the rulings aren’t implemented and they might file thousands of cases. Second, Turkey will have to face the consequences as far as the ECHR is concerned. The court has given six months to the parties to reach an agreement to solve the case [on the cemevi]. No member country has dared to disrespect the ECHR’s rulings.
So do you think these rulings will start a process whereby the problems of Alevis will be alleviated?
This is an important decision. It followed an equally important ruling on mandatory religious classes (taken last February). The outcome of that ruling was this: You [the government] cannot write what Alevism is on behalf of Alevis. They have to give their consent [to what will be included in textbooks about Alevism].
What is the situation on the implementation of the mandatory religion ruling?
A 114-page chapter has been inserted into textbooks. In order to encourage this positive step, we said “fine but this is not enough.” We were promised that it will be improved. But there is still no progress, as there is no progress on teaching the Alevi faith to children. The government has indicated two possible districts in Istanbul to open schools to train Alevi dedes [religious leaders]. But we have not reached an agreement on the management of the schools.
Actually we are now waiting for another, essential, ECHR ruling. This case is about the status of the Alevi faith in the constitution. The last hearing took place on June 3. The Directorate of Religious Affairs [Diyanet] has 180,000 people on its payroll and the total amount of money paid to them is 6 million Turkish Liras per year. All this comes from Turkish tax payers. You pay imams so they teach the Sunni faith, but what about the Alevis? After the cemevis are recognized as houses of worship, those working there should be recognized as public officials, their salaries should be paid [by the Diyanet]. For that to happen, the constitution needs to be implemented.
At the end of the AKP’s third term in government, what would be your general evaluation about its approach to Alevis?
It has been extremely wrong, extremely polarizing and discriminatory. I said this to the president in our face-to-face meeting. I said, “You are discriminating against your own citizens. You almost openly say ‘I don’t want votes from Alevis.’ Actually you say ‘In fact I specifically don’t want Alevis to vote for me, I want Sunnis to vote for me.’ This is simple politics: Sunnis make up around 70 percent and Alevis 25–30 percent of the population. He [President Erdoğan] plays to the Sunnis, and I told him “this is your policy and this is very wrong.”
Do you think the AKP governments have been any different from previous governments as far as Alevi citizens are concerned?
They have been much more discriminatory.
But the AKP government introduced the Alevi opening.
That was delusional. There were previous Alevi openings too, in 1997 for instance.
Some argue that Alevis are being assimilated and they are forgetting their traditions. Others argue that in recent years younger generations have started to endorse their Alevi identity more, especially in reaction to the government policies. Some say there is also a kind of radicalization among Alevi youths.
The diagnoses are right, but not the results. If you don’t let the Alevis learn their faith, how will they learn about it? Some of them could then slide into reactionary attitudes. If they see that they are rejected and not recognized then they could go in the opposite direction. Radicalization is to oppose the established order. This is the path some want the Alevis to take. But we say, “let’s be more patient. We will get results, but through legal ways without hurting anyone. That’s our success, which is not properly appreciated. The Kurds are around 6-7 million of the population while there are around 25 to 30 million Alevis. $450 million has been spent on the Kurdish issue, while 40,000 have been killed. But we Alevis have come so far without shedding blood.
But you do admit that some Alevis are becoming more radicalized. The outlawed Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party–Front [DHKP–C] is being identified with Alevis.
This is a big lie and it aims to further polarize Sunnis and Alevis. There could be some youngsters within the DHKP-C, just as people come from Holland to join ISIL, but you cannot generalize. Some funerals [of DHKP-C member Alevis killed by security forces] are taking place in cemevis. But if the families have brought the body of the deceased, cemevis cannot discriminate against them. People may endorse different ways to act in life, but when they die and are in the coffin they are equal.
Who is İzzettin Doğan?
Born in 1940 in Malatya, İzzettin Doğan graduated from Galatasaray High School in Istanbul. He then studied in the Law Faculty of Istanbul University before becoming a member of the academic staff in the same faculty right after graduating in 1964.
Doğan later went to Geneva and Nancy to complete his postgraduate studies.
He gave courses on state law and European law in several universities before joining the Law Faculty of Istanbul’s Galatasaray University in 1994.
He is the founding president of the Cem Foundation, established in 1995.
As the author of several academic articles on international law, foreign policy and human rights, Doğan has appeared on several TV programs and given interviews to the media as a prominent representative of Turkey’s Alevi community.