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“We Did Not Ask for Alevi Courses”

Last Update 20.06.2012

Prominent representatives of Turkey’s Alevi minority sharply criticized the government’s move to include elective courses on the Alevi faith in school curricula as part of the new controversial education reform bill.

The new education reform bill is set to introduce elective courses on Islam, Christianity, Judaism and the Alevi faith that will be offered on demand under the "Religion, Ethics and Values" group at schools.

Prominent Alevi representatives Selahattin Özel and Ali Kenanoğlu questioned the initiative, however, and said they had never asked for a course on the Alevi faith. "Moreover, who will instruct this course and determine its contents?" they asked.

"No one asked for our opinion"

Ali Kenanoğlu, the head of the Hubyar Sultan Alevi Association, said they had learned of the inclusion of an elective course on the Alevi faith in the new curriculum through news stories that appeared in the press, adding that this demonstrated the extent to which the government cared for the Alevi community's views on decisions pertaining to themselves.

"Alevis do not have the right to speak on matters that relate to them or to play a decisive [role] in such decisions. The government itself decides what is right and what needs to be done on our behalf," Kenanoğlu said.

The Alevi community opposes the provision of religious education at schools, and families can provide their children with such education at houses of worship which suit their own faith, Kenanoğlu said, adding that for the Alevis this place was the Cem House.

The draft law that is set to introduce a new education system consisting of three tiers composed of four years of schooling each and thus known to the public as the "4+4+4 law" stipulates that Alevi teachers would instruct the elective courses, and that "Alevi elders," the traditional religious leaders of the Alevi community, would determine the contents of the course materials.

"Alevis 'created' by the [religious Gülen] community to give these courses?"

"The government will manage this process with 'Alevi elders' whom it sees fit for its own understanding of the Alevi faith, as in the past. Do these elders and their understanding of the Alevi faith have any validity in the eyes of the public, however?" Kenanoğlu asked.

"There are 'artificial Alevi organizations' backed by the Gülen community but whom the Alevi community does not recognize. Will the process move ahead with these organizations? We are deeply worried. This seems like an attempt on internal assimilation," he said.

"What a grave contradiction"

Selahattin Özel, the head of the Alevi Bektashi Federation, also said the government had never consulted with them, and they had never requested courses on the Alevi faith in the first place.

"A [certain] sect of Islam is taught in religion classes in Turkey, and this is mandatory. This will continue under the new system. We had requested for mandatory religion classes to be abolished in the lawsuit we had won at the European Court of Human Rights" he said.

The Alevis have a clear request for the abolition of religion classes at school, Özel said, adding that instructions on religion ought to be provided as part of philosophy classes and so as to encompass all religions.

"Now they are to provide a course on the Alevi faith as if they are atoning. No one consulted us. Who are to instruct these courses? Are state institutions to define what the Alevi faith is? Even if that definition was correct, this is still wrong procedure-wise," he said.

"We never requested the addition of a course on the Alevi faith [in the curriculum.] [They] disregard the Alevi faith and [refuse to] grant official recognition for Cem Houses but then attempt to provide courses on it. What a grave contradiction. We want the abolition of the Religious Affairs Directorate as well. We would also oppose it if the Religious Affairs opened a Cem House in the same vein as they open mosques. The state ought to be an arbitrator, not a judge," Özel added.

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