Istanbul: Tens of thousands of Turkey’s minority Alevi community on Sunday held protests in Istanbul for greater freedoms they claim were ignored by a reform package passed a month ago.
Alevis from several cities flocked to Istanbul’s Kadikoy port on the city’s Asian side to shout slogans for equality and religious freedom and denounced policies designed to assimilate them.
Alevis have been a loyal ally of Turkey’s secular system, but the state has never recognised their faith, perpetuating discrimination against a group that comprises about a quarter of the Sunni-majority country’s population of 76 million.
Alevis are an Islamic sect who revere Imam Ali, the son-in-law and cousin of The Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).
The Alevi faith, closely related to Sufism and Anatolian folk culture, is the specifically Turkish version of Alawism, also prominent in Syria, and its adoration of Ali makes it heretical in the eyes of some Sunnis.
Alevis do not attend mosque with other Muslim sects and do not fast during the holy month of Ramadan. Alcohol is not forbidden and men and women mingle in religious rituals at shrines called “cemevi” (houses of gathering).
The European Union, which Turkey is seeking to join, has regularly pressed for reform to grant equal rights with Sunnis, who enjoy financial support from the state and whose faith dominates the curriculum of religious education in schools.
The protesters on Sunday called for recognition of their worshipping houses and the removal of compulsory religious courses at schools.
On September 30, the Islamic-rooted government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan introduced a package of reforms meant to improve democracy, but it stopped short of addressing the Alevi community’s grievances.
Many of the reforms were aimed at enhancing the rights of minority groups, including Turkey’s 15 million Kurds.
Erdogan also announced the lifting of a long-standing ban in the secular country on women wearing headscarves in government buildings.