Turkey’s top court rules in favor of covering expenses of Alevi houses of worship

Turkey’s top court rules in favor of covering expenses of Alevi houses of worship

Turkey’s top court rules in favor of covering expenses of Alevi houses of worship The Turkish state should cover the expenses of cemevis, Alevi houses of worship, a chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals has ruled, in a move which could mark a watershed on an aspect that many have seen as discriminatory toward the Alevi community.

Accordingly, as in the case of mosques, the electricity expenses of cemevis will be covered by a budget allocated to the Directorate General of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), while municipalities will allocate land for the construction of cemevis. 

The 3rd Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals unanimously quashed a local court decision that ruled in favor of BEDAŞ, the electricity distribution company for Istanbul’s European side, against the Republican Education and Cultural Center Foundation – commonly known as the Cem Vakfı – which aims to publicize Alevi demands.

“With this verdict, it has been openly and clearly declared from now on that cemevis are houses of worship. This ruling, which leaves no room for discussion, has been made in line with universal legal norms. This aspect is important, too,” Erhan Arslaner, a lawyer for the Cem Vakfı, told the state-run Anadolu Agency after the release of the ruling on Aug. 17. 

In its detailed ruling released on Aug. 17, the top court referred to a December 2014 verdict by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) following a complaint filed by the Cem Vakfı. In its complaint, the foundation argued that the government’s policy of not paying the electricity bills of a cemevi in an Istanbul neighborhood, while doing so for mosques, churches and synagogues, was discriminatory.

The top European court of human rights ruled in favor of the complainant, inviting the Turkish government to send a proposal regarding the cemevi in question.

The file before the Supreme Court of Appeals exactly matches the case at the ECHR, the 3rd Chamber said in its detailed ruling. It recalled Turkey was in that case charged with violating Article 9 and Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which respectively cover the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and states the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in the convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground.

Alevis, whom many describe as adherents of a liberal form of Islam, conduct religious practices distinct from Turkey’s Sunni majority.

The Alevi community considers the lack of an official status for cemevis as a fundamental issue, but the government has been reluctant to take steps on this question, despite a series of much-touted “Alevi openings.” 

The government has long refused to recognize cemevis as houses of worship on the grounds that the only place of worship in Islam, the religion to which Alevis putatively belong, is the mosque.