The lifting of compulsory religious education, abolishing the Department for Religious Affairs, transforming the Madımak Hotel in Sivas (eastern Turkey), where 33 people died in a fire, into a museum and acknowledging the 'cem' houses (Alevi houses of assemblage) as places of worship - these were the claims of more than 200,000 Alevi that came together for a demonstration against discrimination in Kadiköy, Istanbul, yesterday (8 November). They also demanded, "Don't build mosques in Alevi villages and don't send imams [prayer leaders]". The demonstrators called the government to be sincere about the rights of the Alevi.
Alevi converging from 3 different starting points
The demonstrators gathered in 3 different places before midday to march to the meeting point in Kadıköy, a popular district by the sea shore on Istanbul's Anatolian side.
Alevi organizations participated in the event as well as political parties and organizations side by side with unions and MPs.
Among the participants were the independent MP Kamer Genç from Tunceli, Democratic Society Party (DTP) MP Ayla Akad and Şerafettin Halis, independent MP Ufuk Uras from Istanbul, Confederation of Trade Unions of Public Employees (KESK) chairman Sami Evren, Eğitim-Sen chairman Zübeyde Kılıç, Republican People's Party (CHP) MPs Mehmet Sevigen, Mustafa Özyürek and Mehmet Ali Özpolat, Istanbul provincial chairman Gürsel Tekin, Ercan Karakaş, Hakan Tahmaz, Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DİSK) general secretary Tayfun Görgün, Labour Party (EMEP) chairman Levent Tüzel, Eşber Yağmurdereli, Freedom and Solidarity Party (ÖDP) chairman Alper Taş, Communist Party of Turkey (TKP) chairman Erkan Baş and Community Centres president İlknur Birol.
The meeting was furthermore supported by the Socialist Party Initiative of the Oppressed (ESP), the Workers Movement Party (EHP), the Greens, the Libertarian Left Movement, the Social Democratic Populist Party (SHP), the Democratic Left Party and by a large number of non-governmental organizations.
Call to the government for sincerity
The event started with one minute of silence to commemorate the victims of the fire in the Madımak Hotel in Sivas on 2 July 1993.
Ritual dancing and music performances accompanied the meeting. The crowd shouted slogans such as "The bill for Sivas will be asked", "Remove the Department of Religious Affairs" and "Down with AKP [the ruling Justice and Development Party]".
The Hacı Bektaşi Veli Association president Tekin Özdil, the Pir Sultan Abdal Culture Association president Fevzi Gümüş and the Alevi Bekatşi Federation (ABF) president Ali Balkız rose to speak during the meeting.
All 3 of them touched the topics of brotherhood between the people and the importance of living in unity. They criticized the government's "Alevi initiative" and the Alevi Workshop. They organization presidents argued "The AKP tried to form the Alevis according to their own ideas, all Alevi should oppose to this".
Moreover, Özdil, Gümüş and Baklız stated that "It is divisive not to recognize the cem houses as places of worship" and criticized Department of Religious Affairs president Ali Bardakoğlu as well as president Abdullah Gül who took of his shoes (a custom for entering a mosque) before he went into a cem house, and prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and culture minister Ertuğrul Günay for not transforming Madımak hotel into a museum. Besides, they urged the officials to effect regulations for a base of equality to lift the insincerity regarding Alevi rights. They also called for the application of court decisions in favour of the Alevis.
Following the speeches, the meeting was brought to an end with musical performances of Emre Saltık, Sabahat Akkiraz, Şevval Sam, Ferhat Tunç, Edip Akbayram and Suavi, accompanied by traditional folk dances. (BÇ/VK)