It’s not just about cemevis, Diyanet remains the problem

It’s not just about cemevis, Diyanet remains the problem

Two recent court rulings, one from Turkey and one from Europe, have strengthened the Alevis’ case for cemevis, which the state refuses to recognize as houses of worship, but the main source of injustice against them is still the Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet).

Turkey’s top appeals court issued a landmark ruling yesterday regarding demands for cemevis to be officially recognized as houses of worship, one day after a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on the same issue.

The Civil General Council of Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals said in a ruling that the judiciary “cannot decide whether cemevis are houses of worship,” but ruled that establishing an association with the purpose of building a cemevi is not against the law, despite an opposite ruling from a local court and a civil chamber of the top court.

The ruling overturns the earlier decision, which had said “legally, no place other than mosques and masjids can be recognized as a house of worship,” ordering the closure of the Çankaya Cemevi Construction Association on the grounds that its charter referred to cemevis as “houses of worship.”

According to Anadolu Agency, the majority of judges in the General Council said “judicial decisions cannot decide whether or not a place is a house of worship, it is a decision a person should take.” According to the same report, a number of the judges cited an ECHR ruling that came one day earlier as a basis to the decision.

The ECHR ruled on Dec. 2 that Turkey violates the religious rights of Alevis in the country by refusing to pay the electricity bills of cemevis, while it pays the costs for mosques, churches and synagogues.

The state channels money to the mosques through the Diyanet, the country’s top religious body.

The Diyanet, founded in 1924 with a mission “to administer affairs related to faith and worship of the Islamic religion,” serves only the Sunni majority in Turkey. Today, it is one of the country’s biggest state institutions, overseeing 85,412 mosques and over 120,000 personnel, according to data on its website.
With the particular importance attached to it by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the budget allocated to the Diyanet has been on the rise, as has its number of personnel. The government has allocated 5.7 billion Turkish Liras ($2.6 billion) to the institution in the 2015 budget, which is equal to the budgets of the Foreign Ministry, the Energy Ministry and the Culture and Tourism Ministry combined.

Not a single lira of that budget is spent on non-Muslims, or even non-Sunnis. Although the money allocated to the Diyanet comes from the state budget, hence from every single citizen paying taxes, the institution only works for the Sunni majority. It pays the wages of imams and muezzins, builds new mosques, organizes Quran courses for children, etc. It even builds mosques outside Turkey - Diyanet has funded the construction of many mosques across Europe and has even offered to build one in Cuba – but the purpose is still the same: To serve Sunni Muslims.

Not only does the Diyanet serve only Sunni Muslims, it has also been highly politicized during the AKP era.

When bans were imposed on social media last March due to the leaked recordings revealing alleged corruption involving ministers, Diyanet said in its Friday sermon that “freedom required responsibility,” adding that “the world is smaller with the mass communication tools and increasing numbers of people are trying to make a hole in the deck of the ship.”  

Diyanet head Mehmet Görmez has even taken sides in the rift between the ruling party and the Gülen movement, accusing the movement of “violating laws by moving away from its true mission in the name of obtaining a meaningless power.”

A politicized Diyanet, which receives billions of dollars of state funds to serve only the Sunnis in Turkey, is not a problem just for the Alevi community. Simply paying cemevis’ electricity bills will not make this problem go away.