Can Turkey send an alevi dede to Germany?
The three million strong communities from Turkey, living in Germany, with different ethnic (Turkish/Kurdish) and sectarian (Sunnite-Alevi) backgrounds and political affiliations, add a particular complexity to bilateral relations between Berlin and Ankara. So much so that, despite the geographical distance, an internal development in one now carries the potential of triggering social dynamics in the other.
It might not be wrong to say that currently the two countries are in a transition phase, looking for ways to achieve better social cohesion. In the course of the last decade, taboos have been broken in Turkey, about the rights of Kurds, Alevis and non–Muslim minorities. The Kurdish question is nowhere near a solution, Alevis demands are still not met, and while there is serious progress concerning non–Muslim minorities, there is still room for improvement.
Germany on the other hand has come to the point of realizing that not only are its immigrants there to stay, but that they better stay if the country wants to maintain its current economic system. However, Germany is still struggling with how to cope best with Muslim immigrants, the majority of whom come from Turkey. In other words, how to make Islam a part of the German culture?
“One needs to adapt to the majority,” a German entrepreneur told me last week, who was in Turkey to attend a brainstorming meeting organized by a think tank from Germany. “The Poles that came to Germany for instance, you can only understand their background from their last names,” he said. I believe he was basically talking about assimilation. This is exactly what is feared by Turkey, and which has not paid enough attention to by the Turkish communities in Germany until recently.
The official Turkish line has no problem with Turks learning German and abiding to the general legal order of the country, which of course does not mean assimilation. Language and religion are seen as the two most important means preventing assimilation. That’s why there have been calls from Turkey to the German Turks to “not forget Turkish.” While Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan’s call to open Turkish language high schools remains difficult to realize, Turkey will continue to ask for the promotion of Turkish in German schools.
Religious courses are a more complicated issue, as Islam is not officially recognized in Germany. But the fact that the number of those among Turks becoming Jehovah’s Witnesses has reached tens of thousands seems to have alarmed Turkish authorities. There are approximately 900 imams of Sunni faith sent by the Turkish Religious Affairs Directorate to Germany. But how about the thousands in Germany with the Alevi faith? This question poses a real challenge, since the Alevi faith is not officially recognized in Turkey. As Alevis are not represented in the Turkish state’s official religious institution, it becomes impossible for the Religious Affairs Directorate to sent Alevi dedes to Germany. But what happens if, let’s say, the Turkish foreign ministry starts talking about the need to send Alevi dedes to Germany?
Soon, the Alevi reality of Germany might push the Religious Affairs Directorate to revise its policy. This in turn might have very positive implications for the Alevi reality in Turkey.