Between the 10th and the 15th Centuries, Turkey was governed under the Ottoman Empire which had the Sharīʿah law as the fundamental rule of life for both the rulers and the believers. The Sharīʿah was meant to enforce God’s eternal laws that were considered universal and infallible. Both the matters of religion and civil laws were administered from the Sharīʿah courts. During this time, the Sharīʿah law was the constitution and the civil law that governed the governance of the state. Towards the end of the 15th Century, it was becoming increasingly difficult to run state affairs by the old religious principles in the rapidly changing world. It was during this period that the Western laws and institutions were creeping into the state, causing a slight separation between the religious and the constitutional affairs. The religious courts were beginning to handle only the private cases of the citizens and the new secular courts modeled after the Western world was handling the state affairs.
Despite the fact that the Sharīʿah law had still permeated every aspect of the Turkish government during these latter Ottoman Empire times, the civil, the criminal, the commercial, and the administrative law of the country has always been, at least ambiguously, separated from its domain. This separation can be described as ambiguous since it was not explicitly and formally codified until the dawn of the 19th Century. It is for this ambiguity that many commentators reason out that the Turkey of the Ottoman Empire had the religious law as its civil law. In other words, the pre-republic Turkey society had practiced a miniature separations ideology. A radical change occurred at the turn of 1923 when the state of Turkey was completely secularized after becoming a republic, creating a clear, explicit, and formal separation between state and religion
Over the years, and in almost all organized states, one of the functions of the constitution has been to alter the state-religion relationship.3 These changes often swing between sacred and secular codes as well as civil and religious codes of law. With regard to this function, the constitution of various countries, including Turkey has tried to establish a peaceful coexistence among the citizens with highly varied religious beliefs. Under the Ottoman Empire, the Turkish states were strongly religious and offered extensive support and protection to the Islam religion which was considered the majority religion and the symbol of national identity. In this case, most of the religious moral principles formed the basic component of civil law. Such a relationship has been described as a religion-dominant strong establishment. However, national interests took a new turn at the formation of the Republic brought about by the Atatürk’s Reforms in which strong secularization (laïcité) ensued. Secularization came alongside the democratization of the state to pave way for the establishment of various basic freedoms and rights.
When the Democrats took power in the 1950s, the government again tried to weaken the secularization but was stopped in 1960s by a soft military intervention which demanded that the states stop exploiting religion for political gains and interests. The 1961 Referendum that ushered in a new constitution ensured that the state remains strongly secularized, a case that has been in court even to the present day Turkey.
1.1.1. 1924 Constitution: Establishment of Laicism and Radical Reforms
The Atatürk’s Reforms that birthed the Republic of Turkey brought a lot of reforms in 1923. These reforms spanned across the political, the social, the legal, the religious, and the economic aspects of the nation. All the reforms had the one goal of converting the Modern Turkey state into a secular society in accordance with the Kemalist Ideology. The central dogma of all these reforms was that the Turkish state should be westernized in order to fit in the economic and cultural context of the Western world where it is located. The Atatürk’s Reforms began with the modernization of the country’s constitution that came into effect in 1924 to replace the 1921 constitution. This constitution largely adapted the European jurisprudence and law into the legal system of Turkey’s society, allowing for a stronger secularization. Consequently, the administration of the state was extensively modernized and democratized the educations system became the main focus of secularization. The Reformers understood that secularizing the education system will go a long way to alter the national culture of Turkey and sustain the desired systemic and systematic changes.
The establishment of the secularized Turkey was mediated by three basic mechanisms namely exit, sincere voice, and self-subversion.  The exit mechanism was the means of ensuring that opponents were purged of the power of decision-making. After the exit, the mechanism of sincere voiced followed that was characterized by the expression of dissenting opinions against the secularization reforms by the public. Self-subversion was the mechanisms by which the Kemalist projects were concealed from the public perception thus eliminating unnecessary public pressure that could ensue. The exit mechanism allowed the Kemalists to intimidate the opposing force into self-subverting themselves. The self-subversion by the opposition figures made them clog their sincere voices of dissension and thus allowing for the unanimous approval of the secularization reforms in the parliament. The secularization reforms in Turkey were thus achieved by the domination of the self-subversion-exit interplay that out-phased the dissenting voices.
Between 1920 and 1921, the Young Turks that spearheaded the reforms focused on diluting the power of religion on states affairs to allow the easily re-shape the national culture and social capture the culture in the constitution.  To this effect, the 1924 constitution effectively rid the cabinet of the Minister of Religious Affair, thus limiting his authority over religious matters. Most of the affairs of religion were transferred to the Ministry of Education. Some were integrated into the Ministry of Justice. The other strategy of weakening the religious grip over state matters was the introduction of the Family Code which made marriage a secular affair in an Islamic nation. By secularizing the most basic unit of the society, the monopoly of religion over citizens’’ lives ultimately waned. The other major reform that aided the establishment of laicism was the empowerment of women through education. This gave them the capacity to participate in important areas of nation-building such as various economic activities and professional engagements.
Perhaps the major achievement that greatly propelled the establishment of the laicism was the abolition of the Sultanate in 1922. This marked the complete fall of the Ottoman Empire that had been dominant since 1299, at least losing its control over the Turkish affairs. Prior to this turn of event, the Empire under the leadership of Mehmed V and the Young Turk had successfully fought against the British Commonwealth troops when they sided with the Central Powers during the WWI which included Germany, Bulgaria, and Austria-Hungary. Despite this initial success in the war, the empire began to steadily lose its territory to its allied forces. At the end of the war, the national pride of the Turkish state had been greatly injured that it considered independence from the weary centuries-long Ottoman’s political domination and system.
When Mehmed VI dissolved the Parliament in response to the Turkish displeasure, the later formed their national movement which culminating conflicts that would eventually lead to its independence. General Kemal Mustafa led the Turks in establishing another government in Ankara with the aim of opposing the advancement of the invading allied forces and the Constantinople monarchist with its Sultanate system. In the meantime, the Turkish War of Independence ensued mainly between the nationalist and the Greek armies. The Guerilla engagements by the Turks prevented the Greek’s occupation of their mainland. In the latter part of 1922, the Grand National Assembly of the nationalists declared the Sultanate’s Constantinople government illegitimate to the Turkish government. Despite the resistance to the Ankara government by the Sultanate’s Constantinople and even formed the Army of the Caliphate as the countering force, the nationalist force prevailed thus strengthening the Ankara government.
The 1924 constitution is considered to have introduced strong secularism in the newly formed Republic of Turkey despite the fact that it was less democratic than the previous.  It is considered that this constitution was largely inspired by the system of governance in France, even to the extent of instituting the French laïcité ideologies. Laicism is a term describing the strong secularization in the countries that practice it such as France and Turkey. In essence, the term refers to the tact of controlling religious leaders through non-religious entities and people. In this sense, Turkey may not be considered a secular country since they do not practice a significant control over the clergies. However, many scholars argue that Turkey and France are the only two countries in the Middle East and Europe respectively that practice assertive secularism as a constitutional principle.
With the entry of Kemal into the top leadership of the nation and the promulgation of the 1924 constitution, the Turkey state underwent subtle reforms that mixed its system after the forms in Europe democracies and in the Middle East. The outcome was a hybrid governance system that had the traits of both the systems. For instance, Kemalism shifted Turkey to adopt the Western cultures while at the same time preventing it from completely adopting Western democratic principles. The result is the current assertive non-democratic secularism that is practiced in the nation to this date. Modified Western secularism and the mutation of the Islamic precept have since resulted in republicanism, nationalism, populism, and revolutionism alongside the secularism.
18.104.22.168.Secularizing the Educational System under the 1924 Constitution
Mustafa Kemal, after the ratification of the 1924 constitution, implemented numerous secular reforms and these reforms has since greatly transformed the political, educational, social, and administrative structure of the Turkish society. Even the legal system of the country has undergone remarkable changes deviating from the pre-republic theocratic system. The Unification of Education is a major phenomenon is the history of the republic of Turkey that has taken the powers of the religious leaders from directing the cultural practices of the nation.
The state took full control of the educational matters and terminated the Madrasahs at the onset of the secularization. The religious schools were all closed down including the faculty of theology in 1933. A radical modification took place leading to the termination of the optional religious studies that were offered between 1924 and 1931. By 1932, the secondary school syllabus did not accommodate the optional religious studies any further, and this marked the final stage of secularizing the Turkish educational system under the dispensation of the 1924 constitution. After the constitution forbade the religious studies in the public schools, it was required that the history of Kemalism be taught to the students from primary to secondary schools. Further, much of symbols found their way into the educational system after the termination of both the compulsory and optional religious studies.
22.214.171.124.Secularization of the Judicial System
Just like the education system that underwent rapid termination and closure of religion-oriented institutions, the judicial system of the Turkish government under the 1924 constitution saw the closure of the Sharia courts which mainly dispensed justice from the religious perspectives. The state increasingly adopted the Swiss civil code into the legal system, including the abolition of polygamy in 1926. Women were further accorded equality in matters of divorce and inheritance. Two years later, the major judicial reform took place in which the 1924 Constitution article affirming Islam as the state religion was scrapped off. By 1937, the principle of laicism had been formally and officially entered into the constitution. This further reinforced the assertive non-democratic secularism of Turkey.
126.96.36.199.Secularization of the Art and other Cultural aspects
Turkey’s state secularization touched almost all aspect of the society including the arts and linguistics. In 1928, the Latin alphabets replaced the Arabic alphabets in a moved conceived as a measure to lean more towards the Western civilization than the Arab world. This revolution in linguistic aspect was more than the mere substitution of alphabets. To an extended level, the words of Persian and Arab origins were eliminated and the Sun Language Theory adopted. This was an intentional effort to create a national linguistic identity that could be associated with Turkey as a nation.
More secularization went further to touch on music and the clothes. For instance, oriental music was restricted through the mediation of the state. Certain clothes and their variant forms were also banned from the Republic of Turkey.  While the oriental music was temporarily banned, the Western musical forms thrived within the republic and these greatly challenged the Islamic stance on the role of women in the society. Western clothes and dressing codes were established by the enactment of the “hat law” in 1925. When a section of the society tried to reject the newly state-imposed clothing, 800 people were arrested and 60 of them sentenced to death. This was an indication the reforms were of serious state interests.
Though there is a process underway to establish a new constitution in Turkey, the current government is the product of the great transformation that took place in 1960. This is the year that a military coup was executed in the country, leading to mega social and political changes. The coup was preceded by a social tension that grew out of the suspicion that the government regime of the time intended to take back the country to the one-party state. The Democrat Party government of Adnan Menderes had shown the ambiguous intention of abolishing the reforms championed by Kemal between 1920 and 1938. The military intervention was thus an effort to save the state from plunging back to a perceived dictatorship that comes with one-party governance
The drafters of Turkey’s 1961 constitution perceived that there was a problem with the majoritarian legislature since it confronted them with the threat of destroying the Kemalist predominance due to its partisan capture characteristic.  With this perception, the drafters of this were bent on devising a mechanism of preventing this threat. The new constitution, therefore, had a separation of power to sap the government’s excessive power that came with the majoritarian legislature as a measure of ensuring a greater autonomy for the various independent institutions. This is unlike the intention of power separation principles in other European countries that focuses on establishing an all-effective liberal political system.
Despite the fact that the Democratic Party had ruled modestly for a decade, an occasion arose in which its leadership was marked by increasing political and social unrest, especially towards the late 1950s. The unrests were the result of political polarization and increasing efforts in persecuting the minority groups. The dissenting political voiced raised alarm on the government’s actions that restricted the freedom of expression and destruction of the Kemalist reforms. When these unrests escalated, the military overthrew the government and executed the top officials.
After the 1960 coup, the military generals saw the need and initiated the process of constitutional change to cure the perceived ills that befell the country. As per the generals, the constitutional changes were meant to strengthen the legal and the administrative structures of the state. However, the changes were meant to strengthen their grip on the political landscape of the state. Harris (2011) states that:
“These changes aimed to reinforce the powers of the government against threats to national unity, public order, and national security on one hand and to increase the autonomy and freedom of action of the commanders on the other. The left now was seen as the principal enemy of national security and hence prohibitions were expanded against the exploitation of class, sect, religion, race or language to divide the nation. Restrictions were placed on the possibility that the press would encourage violations of national unity. Unions were restricted as was the autonomy of universities, where students had previously enjoyed sanctuary from police incursions. To bolster the position of the armed forces, amendments provided right to increase the authority of the Minister of Defense and enhanced the powers of the military members of the National Security Council. Further, civilian administrative courts were not allowed to review military personnel actions.”
A “yes campaign” conducted by the National Unity Committee ran through 1961 and culminated into the promulgation of a new constitution that aimed at re-instituting the reforms of the Kemal regime. In their opinion paper about the necessity for constitutional review, the NUC states that: “To refrain from relying, even partly, on religious grounds for determining the social, economic, political and legal foundation of the State, is advisable for those who wish to exploit it for political or personal purposes.” When it was passed and ratified, the new Turkey constitution of 1961 had an article (article 2 in particular) proclaiming that: “The Turkish Republic is a national, democratic, secular, and social state.” Article 153 further stressed that “No provision of this Constitution shall be construed or interpreted as rendering anti-Constitutional the Reform Laws which aimed at raising Turkish society to the level of contemporary civilization and of safeguarding the secular character, which was effective from the date this Constitution was adopted by popular vote (referendum).”
To various constitutional commentators, Turkey’s 1961 constitution was the firmest in instituting the secularism that seemed to be under dilution during the Democrats in Power regime. It strictly forbade any attempt to exploit religion for political gains. Article 19 affirmed that:
“No person shall be allowed to exploit and abuse religion or religious feelings or sacred things in any manner whatsoever for the purposes of political or personal benefit or for gaining power, or for even partially basing the fundamental social, economic, political and legal order of the state on religious grounds. Those who violate this prohibition, or those who induce others to do, so, shall be punishable under the appropriate laws. In the case of associations and political parties the former shall be permanently closed down by order of authorized court sand the latter by order of the Constitutional Court.” (Turkish Constitution of 1982, Article 19)
The Constitution of 1961 has elicited much constitutional debate perhaps more than any other reforms in the country. For instance, some commentators argue that increased religious does not in any way interfere with secularism and modernization of a state. This argument, by implication, supports that the social tension in 1960 that emerged as a result of perceived interference by the state into religious matters was well deserved and the coup was not the best alternative to restore it. Such commentators further argue that though the Democrats wanted to exploit the religious capital for their political benefit, they remained more conservative and committed to continued modernization of Turkey. The interpretation of secularism to the Democrats differed significantly from the model used by Kemal to bring about the political revolution in the early 1920s. To them, secularization did not mean the exclusion of religion from the affairs of the state. The Kemalist secularism was modeled after the Western culture while the Democrats wanted to model the secularism after the Islamist perspective.
The 1961 constitution is unique in the way it enshrines a wide range of right. Most of these rights were inspired by the 20th Century human rights revolution that swept across Europe culminating into the establishment of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  While the French System of governance was the great inspiration for the Turkeys 1924 Constitution, the 1961 Constitution leaned more to the Germany system. This is undoubtedly the reason the constitution enshrined numerous democratic freedoms, liberal safeguards, and labor-friendly economic provisions. While the 1924 Constitution failed to clearly articulate the separation of powers and put in place the various and relevant checks and balances, the 1961 Constitution clearly delegation power among the three branches of the government. It established the autonomy of the various administrative agencies and strengthened judiciary independence. For the first time, the judicial review was established for the constitutional courts. At the same time, the higher education was an institution was given some elevated levels of autonomy and this further distanced it from the religious affiliations.
The drafters of Turkey’s 1961 constitution perceived that there was a problem with the majoritarian legislature since it confronted them with the threat of destroying the Kemalist predominance due to its partisan capture characteristic. With this perception, the drafters of this were bent on devising a mechanism of preventing this threat. The new constitution, therefore, had a separation of power to sap the government’s excessive power that came with the majoritarian legislature as a measure of ensuring a greater autonomy for the various independent institutions. This is unlike the intention of power separation principles in other European countries that focuses on establishing an all-effective liberal political system Turkey, therefore, appears to be different from both the West and the Middle East, including its establishment of laicism. Once again, all the reforms had the one goal of converting Turkey state into a secular society in accordance with the Kemalist Ideology which dominated it between 1924 and 1938. Under the 1961 constitution, therefore, there was a stricter restriction that prevented religion from intervening in any action taken by the state. The constitution went through various amendments after the coup, particularly in 1970, as the military officials continued to investigate and device the various mechanisms of defending the interests of the states from being overtaken by the religious principles and practices.
Notwithstanding the effectiveness of the 1962 constitution, Turkey was placed under a politically tense atmosphere that culminated in another coup in 1971. At the happening of the 1971 coup, the military command forced the government of the day – the Justice Part – to cede power to a non-elected cabinet. The cabinet made all the necessary efforts to restore the social order and relieve the country of the political duress but only found consolation in the introduction of the martial law, leading the suspension of the ordinary law. The technocrat cabinet curtailed most of the constitutional rights of the citizens and firmly established a public order without considering the civil liberties accorded the people by the 1961 constitution. All these establishments were achieved through a series of constitutional amendments that followed the coup. The cabinet focused its energy on protecting the republic and the unity of the state, fostering national security, and serving the common good of the society. Consequently, such fundamental freedoms and rights as the press freedom, the freedom of association, and the due process of law were curtailed.
Despite the curtailment of the 1961 liberal safeguards, neither the civilian government nor the military remained satisfied with the changes to oppress the people. The political repressions that followed the coup and the introduction of the martial law led to the civilian governments and the military contravening the law. The unbalanced joint government comprising of the military and the civilian government culminated into a severely bloody coup in 1980. The commander of the military seized power and banned all political party cadres as well as dissolving the national assembly and detaining the civilian politicians. This was followed by a constitutional review to draft a new constitution which was ratified in 1982. The differences between the 1982 and the 1961 constitution are minimal. The similarities, however, can be observed on the fact that the drafting of both the constitutions was initiated after a coup and the drafters were selected by the military command. The other similarity is that the military command dictated the content of the drafts as well the resulting amendments. By implication, though both the constitution drafts attempted to attribute sovereignty to the people, they were not democratic in their processes of generation.
The difference between the two documents regards their establishment of a long-lasting military-political hegemony in the country. The 1961 constitution allowed for the military to ease its grip on power and a return to the civilian life immediately the democratic institutions were handed power. The case with the 1982 coup is different. The constitution was drafted in such a manner that did not allow it to exit the political scenes even after it allowed for the resumption of the parliamentary rule. In this way, the military considers itself as an integral part of the player that safeguard the civil liberties of the people, especially Kemalism that established secularism. This implied that even though the soldiers were in their barracks, they were keenly following what the civilian government was doing. Any case of constitutional indiscipline could lead to their return and take over the government.
Most importantly, the 1982 constitution further reaffirmed the Republic of Turkey as a secular state. In Article 2, it is indicated that:
“The Republic of Turkey is a democratic, secular and social State governed by the rule of law; bearing in mind the concepts of public peace, national solidarity, and justice; respecting human rights; loyal to the nationalism of Ataturk, and based on the fundamental tenets set forth in the Preamble.” (Turkish Constitution of 1982, Article 2)
Article four of the constitution affirms that secularism in Turkey cannot be removed from the constitution by amendments. The Article reads:
“The provision of Article 1 of the Constitution establishing the form of the state as a Republic, the provisions in Article 2 on the characteristics of the Republic, and the provisions of Article 3 cannot be amended, nor can their amendment be proposed.” (Turkish Constitution of 1982, Article 4)
Various constitutional commentators have argued that the 1982 Constitution has the paradox of protecting the state against the action of the citizens rather than protecting the individual rights of the citizens against any inversion by the state.
188.8.131.52. Sabotage to Secularism Principle
Turkey’s 1982 constitution contains some two provisions that are viewed by many constitutional commentators as a contradiction of the principle of secularism in the perspective of the Kemalian Ideology.  Article 136, in particular, reintroduced the Department of Religious Affairs. The staffs of the departments are considered as civil servants and are allocated administrative budget funds every fiscal year just like any other department. The responsibility of the department includes the regulation of the public lives of the Muslims living in the country. It is also charged with the duty of appointing the imams as well as paying their stipends. However, the same article of the constitution directs that the religious affairs must be directed in line with the secularism principle and must be removed from all political perspectives. It promotes the Sunni Islam, which is the dominant and prevalent orthodox Islamist in Turkey’s jurisdictions. With some of the minority Islamic groups such as the Alevism being in the country, the endorsement of a state religion by the 1982 constitution undermines one of the fundamental principles of democracy.
The 1982 Constitution reintroduce religious education which had been removed by the 1924 constitution. Article 24 of the constitution states that:
“Education and instruction in religion and ethics shall be conducted under state supervision and control. Instructions in religious culture and moral education shall be compulsory in the curricula of primary and secondary school.” (Turkish Constitution of 1982, Article 24)
This Article that reintroduced compulsory religious education, especially when there is an official state religion is a contravention of the principle of “equality of opportunity.”  This is mostly true since the children whose parents are not Sunni Islam are compelled to study Sunni Islam without their approval.
Remembering that the 1982 constitution was dictated by the military commands, it is crucial to consider and understand Turkey’s Army understanding of the state-religion principles. The Army states that religion is a conscientious matter and everyone is free to obey their own conscience. The Army also states that they respect religion. Further, the Army states that while they are not against the people’s free will to think and generate new ideas, there just want to keep religion from interfering with the functions of the state in its administrative responsibilities. With such kind of understanding, it is not a surprise that the military commands dictated the reintroduction of religious education into the public school and thus diluted the secularism principle from the perspective of Kemalism. The two varying construction of secularism ideology keeps emerging in Turkey’s politics from time to time.
Towards the end of the 15th Century, there was an increasing difficulty in running state affairs by the old religious principles in the rapidly changing world. It was during this period that the Western laws and institutions were creeping into Turkey, causing a slight separation between the religious and the constitutional affairs. Turkey underwent a swift secularization between the years 1920 and 1938 when General Kemal was the chief reformer. The Atatürk’s Reforms that birthed the Republic of Turkey led to the establishment of a new state with a new constitution in 1924. These reforms spanned across the political, the social, the legal, the religious, and the economic aspects of the nation. However, there have been a different understanding of the principle of secularism by various government regimes, contributing to the varying ways in which the state related to religion at different times. The 1924 removed religion completely from the state, but the Democrats almost revived the control that religion had on state affairs before the military intervened in 1960. The 1961 constitution also fostered secularism in the perspective of Kemalism. The 1982 constitution, however, partly reversed some of the reforms of 1924 by reintroducing religious affairs in the state governance realms in a move considered sabotage of Turkey’s secularism.
Irrespective of the economic and other optimistic developments that it has accomplished over the recent century, Turkey’s safeguarding of the minority groups and their rights is still significantly lagging behind the standards of Europe as well as other international levels. Since the beginning of the 20th century, Turkey has been observed to exercise a policy, which is predominantly referred by other authors as a Turkification policy, a form of social acclimatization that fails to recognize the rights to religious, and ethnic self-identification, but objectively aims at an obligatory acclimatization with a Turkish identity.
Primarily, this policy pertains numerous strategies whose basis intrudes, in different ways, the internationally established pledged standards for the minority rights. Some of these strategies include limiting the participation of the minority in political affairs, refuting of formal acknowledgement and recognition of the minority groups including religious minority groups, infringing the freedom of expression of the minority groups, impeding the minority’s freedom of religion, deterring the minority’s access to the media, and tolerating of other forms of discrimination directly or indirectly against the minority groups. In this section, the historical perspective of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, and the Non-Muslim minorities are comprehensively explored. Additionally, the None Sunni Muslim minorities in Turkey, particularly the Alevi, and Shiites are explored lengthily but from an historical perspective.
The signing of the Treaty of Lausanne between Turkey, and the Entente Powers is traced back to the 24th of July, 1923. Immediately after the Turkish-Greco war which lasted for almost three years from the year 1919, ended, the fallout of the Ottoman Empire, expansion of the Greek territory, and the creation of Turkey as a national state was discussed at the Lausanne conference. It is from this conference that an agreement or treaty was reached by the two nations which lead to the establishment of a new era between Greek and Turkey. The founding of the Today’s Turkey was done based on a wholesome national personality whereby non-Muslim minorities were considered as entities, but not contributors in the founding processes. In the early years after the validation of the Lausanne treaty, the building of Turkey to become a nation was first attained by combining the components of the Turkish language and Islam, and the idea of a common ancestry people followed as the new era of Turkey as a nation. Nevertheless, the basis of modernization processes of Turkey by its founding forefathers entirely relied on the idea of unbending secularism as well as eradication of the expression of religion associations as perceived during the Ottoman’s epoch. As a result, religion in combination with the Turkish language was viewed as the principal means of forming a more majority-based national identity.
Intrinsically, ethnic and religious minorities were seen as an undesirable vestiges of the past, and should be least tolerated or completely eradicated.  Since then, successive governments of Turkey including the apparent government regime have claimed to only be bounded by the Lausanne treaty. These successive government regimes have also considered protection of the minorities to mainly emerge from this treaty. However, the treaty no longer meets the modern standards of minority protection both at the European and global level. Furthermore, whereas the third section of the treaty protects all non-Muslims minorities, all the successive governments of Turkey including the Today’s government have obstinately interpreted this section of the treaty differently and provided protection to only three groups of non-Muslim minorities which include the Greek Orthodox Christians, Armenian Orthodox Christians, and the Jews. In Greece, Muslims religious minorities are recognized by the treaty of Lausanne, and provided with protection as other minority groups. While Turkey’s interpretation of the treaty is not conventional to the treaty’s articles or sections concerning religious minorities, Greece’s interpretation of the treaty slightly conform to the terms of the treaty. The Greek government decline considering Muslim minorities from Turkey as a Turkish national identity but as Muslim minorities in reference to the treaty of Lausanne.
Although the non-Muslims minorities such as the Greek Orthodox Christians are the only minority group legally recognized and protected by law as minorities in Turkey, but there have been certain difficulties between the association of the State and the legal minority groups especially with regards to ownership of properties as well as dissolution of minority groups. In a 2003 report by human rights commissioner, the difficulties faced by the non-Muslim religious minorities is described to have its roots on the ownership of properties. A law enacted in 1936 enabled Non-Muslim minorities to acquire legal personality, and register all their immobile properties in the registry of lands. However, most of the non-Muslim legal minorities have been faced with difficulties to freely manage, and marshal of their properties as well as acquire new ones.
There are a vast number of the properties belonging to parishes but were not granted legal personality, have been registered in the land registry with no ownership whereas others that belonged to some religious minorities groups were taken by the states after the minority groups were dissolved due to lack of sufficient number of members. For instance, the Greek Orthodox Christian Minority have had their legally registered properties under the 1936 law being dispossessed from them and passed to the state as a result of their declining number which has significantly reduced from over one hundred thousand in the early 20th century, to less than four thousand in the 21st century. The Greek Orthodox Ecumenical of Istanbul is not mentioned anywhere within the sections of the Treaty of Lausanne as part of the minority, however, Turkish senior governmental officials and politicians frequently mention the word Ecumenical in association with Patriarch which literally infringes the terms of the Lausanne treaty. Additionally, since the Patriarch of Istanbul does not have any legal personality, and some of the clergy are not associated with minority organizations, a vast number of the properties registered under the Greece Orthodox Christian minority group as the owners have been dispossessed from them, and passed over to the government.
Categorically, in spite of being recognized as the legal minority group in Turkey, and receiving all the legal benefits such as protection of the minorities as per the demands of the Treaty of Lausanne, non-Muslims minorities in Turkey have experienced a difficult environment with regards to their relationship with the states especially with a significant number of the past government regimes since the establishment of the Treaty of Lausanne. Nonetheless, the current regime recasting and reforming the strictures of freedom of religion, and working towards improving its relationship with the non-Muslim minorities.
In the whole world, there are two branches of Islam which include the Sunni branch of Islam, and the Shiites or Shia branch of Islam.  Mainstream population of the World’s Muslims are followers of the Sunni branch of Islam, while about 10 to 15 Percent of the global Muslim population are followers of the Shiites branch of Islam. While only a small percentage of the Muslim population worldwide are followers of the Shiite branch of Islam, some of the countries where a majority of the population are followers of the Shiite branch of Islam include Bahrain, Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Iran. Additionally, Lebanon, Kuwait, Pakistan, Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen have a significant portion of their population as followers of the Shiite branch of Islam. In Turkey, majority of the population are followers of the Sunni branch of Islam. In fact, Sunni Islam is acknowledged and recognized as the State religion. However, a significant percentage of Turkey’s population are followers of the Shiite branch of Islam. The Shia or the Shiites Muslims in Turkey are made of mainly four groups which include the Alevi, Ja’fari, Bektashi, and Nusayriya. In this section, the historical background of the Shiites or the Shia Muslims as well as the Alevi in Turkey is extensively explored.
The origin of the Shiites Muslims in Turkey is traced back to the (11-12th) century which was the Seljuk period, long before the Ottoman regime.  It is in this period of time that the great Turkish spread-out from Central Asia into Anatolia as well as Iran occurred. Most geographical parts of the modern day Turkey are ancient Anatolia. While migrating from one region to another during the Seljuk period, the Turkmen migrants accepted Pro-Ali and Sufi form of Islam which blended with their pre-Islamic believes and customs. For centuries, the Central and Eastern Anatolia were dominated by these tribes, and they had religious fighters called the ghazi who mainly fought against the Slavs, and the Byzantines. Along with these tribes were the Armenians who converted to their form of Islam while retaining some Christian practices. It is documented that the extremism ideology exercised by the Shia or Shiites Muslims was significantly facilitated by the unorthodox Armenian Christianity. Some of these tribes included the Taraqah of Alevi, Baktashiyyah Sufi, and the Kiszilbashs. The Baktashiyyah was a Turkish tribe and a Shia or Shiite Islam followers founded by Bektash Veli in the 13th century.
Bektash Veli was an escapee from the Mongol invasion in Central Asia in the early 12th century, and found refuge in Anatolia with the Seljuks. The founding of the Kiszilbashs tribe occurred in the early 16th century. The tribe emerged from a group of militant called the Kizilbas headed by Shah Ismail who later became the leader of the Safaviyya Sufi in conquering Persia. As a result, Safavid dynasty began, and it is from this period of time that the beginning of conversion of Iran to Shiism began. Under the formed Safavid Persian State, many Iranians and Turkish tribes were followers of Shiism Islam, and in fact, the Twelver Shiism was proclaimed as the state religion. A Turkmen tribe called the Qizilbash who were followers of the Safavid Sufi order and claimed to be progeny from the Ali later conquered the Eastern side of Anatolia, and in 1501, its Sheikhs went on and conquer the entire Iran. Additionally, during the ottoman regime, its missionaries and Sheikhs sent rebellion against the Sunni Ottoman Islam.
In the early 13th century, Ottomans agreed to accept and follow the Sunni Islam as a way of unifying their territory, and years later declared themselves as protectors of their religious believes against the Safavid Shia States as well as heterodox Christians. This initiated the conflict between the Safavid as well as the Alevi Anatolian following the Shia Islam, and the Sunni Islam. In the early 1500s during the reign of Sultan Bayezid II as the leader of the Ottoman Empire, the Safavid Sufi, and numerous Turkish men who had converted to Shia Islam were pushed into Iran from the Eastern parts of Anatolia after an instigation by the Shah Ismail, the Safavid Tariqa Sheikh and the founder of the Safavid Dynasty as well as the commander in chief of the Kizilbas Army. In the midst of the 16th century, Suleyman I, also known as Suleyman the magnificent brought peace to the Eastern parts of Anatolia through campaigns which yielded an outcome of the peace of Amasaya which recognized the Eastern Anatolia as a territory under Ottoman rule.
Among the consequences of the Amasaya peace is that the Kizilbash, and the Bektash remained in the Eastern side of the Anatolia which was under the Ottoman rule while the Safavid Sufi Empire was pushed into Iran. Since they commonly shared numerous religious beliefs and practices, the Kizilbash, and the Bektashis intermixed as Alevi. Nevertheless, they were weakened militarily, politically, and even religiously as they were separated from their source of all these amenities which was in Iran (the Safavid Sufi Kingdom) where the Safavid Sufi Empire was pushed to by the Ottoman Empire under Suleyman I. But even then, Kizilbash, and the Bektashis underwent severe persecutions and massacres by the Ottoman which carried on into the 18th century. In order to survive in the hostile environment, the Kizilbash, and the Bektashis, intermingled as Alevi, and went subversive by using taqiya, a religious concealment which was acceptable by the Shia or Shiite Islam, and they pretended to be Sunni Islam so as to survive. Since then, the Kizilbash, and the Bektashis intermingling as the Alevi, the followers of the Shiites Islam have remained as unrecognized minorities in Turkey.
The Alevis in Turkey are predominantly made up of two tribes which are of the Kizilbash or Bektashi origin. As mentioned in the prior subsection, Kizilbash and Bektashi intermixed with one another as Alevi in order to survive the hostile environment in the Ottoman Empire after the Safavid Sufi dynasty under Shah Ismail were pushed to Iran, and these two tribes were left powerless in the Eastern side of Anatolia. These tribes have numerous commonalities in terms of their beliefs, but they are differently organized. While the Kizilbash are traditional and mainly rural settlers who acquires identity through ancestry, the Bektashi are predominantly urban settlers who officially appealed that membership to their tribe was open to any Muslim.
With regards to language spoken, the Alevis in Turkey comprises of mainly four groups which include the Turkish, Kurdish, Arabic, and the Azerbaijani Turkish. The Kurdish is made up of two subgroups which include the Zaza, and the Kurmanci, and together with the Turkish, they form the largest group of Alevi in Turkey. Historically, the Alevis of Turkey have underwent persecutions and massacres in different government regimes since the founding of Turkey in 1923 after the end of Ottoman ruling. Moreover, the Alevis of Turkey have struggled to be recognized formally as a religious minority as well as for religious freedom, but their appeals have not been heard by the sequential government regimes since the establishment of Turkey in 1923. A number of the main massacres contrary to the Alevis in Turkey include the 1921 Kocgiri Massacre, the 1937 to 1938 Dersim Massacre, the 1978 Malatya Massacre, the 1978 Maras Massacre, the 1980 Corum Massacre, the 1993 Sivas Massacre, and the 1995 Istanbul Massacre.
In 1919, a section of the Alevi, particularly dominated by the Kurdish tribe launched Kocgiri rebellion at a place known as Kocgiri region which covers places such as Kurucay, Sariz, and Hafik.  Kocgiri uprising was mainly formed to attempt and regain independence from the harsh Ottoman rule against the Alevi. In the early 1921, the Turkish military, under the leadership of Nurettin Pasha started a campaign against the Kocgiri uprising, and before the end of the same year, hundreds of the Kurdish tribe of Alevi, both the freedom fighters and civilians were killed by the Turkish military, and the remaining ones were forced to flee into the mountains where they lived in poverty. After several years without any remarkable event of Alevi extermination, the government of Turkey under President Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the forefather of Today’s Turkey carried out an annihilation on the people Dersim which lasted almost a year, from 1937 to 1938. Based on a press release by the European Federation of Dersim Association, the annihilation was planned by the council of government ministers of Turkey in the early 1937, and the extermination of the Dersim community done in 1938. The government of Turkey bombed the zone of Dersim in one day, and killed men, women, and children, and the elderly people as well. The Dersim people who survived eventually ended up scattered to different far towns, villages, and provinces across Turkey.
The key leaders of the Dersim people who were captured were executed by hanging without any legal trial in court. Another persecution and massacre of the Alevi in Turkey occurred in 1938 in the city of Erzincan. Based on relevant reports, about one hundred Alevi men and boys were captured, tortured, and then killed on the August 1938, after which their bodies were left in the open, and their families isolated to other areas in the Western sides of Turkey. However, years later, specifically in 2011, the family members of the victims to this massacre went to court to seek for the right to be granted to them to have the dead bodies of their relatives and family members, but the court’s prosecutor stated that the massacre was never a genocide but an order from the public and government.
In April 1978, another massacre of the Alevis of Turkey occurred in Malatya. Based on the witnesses’ records, the nationalists in Turkey used the killing of the mayor a pretext to aggravate the Muslim residents in Malatya against the Alevis. About eight Alevis were killed in the morning of April, 1978, and over one hundred of them injured while their houses and businesses destroyed. The massacre incident was executed by the Sunni Muslims, but initiated by the Turkish nationalists. In the same year, another Massacre was done against the Alevis in the province of Sivas, but under the same government lead by president Ecevit. On September 3rd 1978, a crowd of Turkish nationalists and Sunni Muslims attacked an Alevi populated area around Alibaba region, and twelve Alevis were murdered on that day while over 200 wounded and their homes damaged and destroyed as well.
A keen examination of the historical relationship between the Turkish State, and the Alevis of Turkey is that the Turkish State have consistently formed policies that works against the Alevis while regularly exterminate them, and the same time overlooks the massacres and persecutions being done to the Alevis by the Sunni Muslims and the Turkish nationalists. In December of 1978, over 100 Alevis were massacred in the city of Maras, also known as the Kahramanmaras by the Turkish nationalists, popularly known as the Grey Wolves. In addition to the killings, official data shows that over two hundred Alevi owned houses were destroyed by fire, and their offices damaged. During these atrocities, the government of Turkey was led by the Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit who was also the leader of the ruling party, CHP.
Two years later after the Maras’s massacre, the Corum massacre occurred, and this time round, while 57 Alevis were murdered, many of the Alevi children and women had their body parts mutilated. At that particular time, the ruling party was the Justice Party lead by Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel who later became Turkey’s ninth president. In July 1993, another atrocity against the Alevis in Turkey occurred in Sivas again. A group of Sunni Muslims set fire to a hotel which was occupied by the Alevi officials and intellects. About 33 Alevis officials along with two hotel officials lost their lives in that incident. Two years later, which was in 1995, Alevis were once again attacked and murdered in Istanbul Turkey, around the Gazi quarters. The attack was done by a group of armed men on 12th March 1995, on several cafe where the Alevis dueled. After the incident, many of the Alevis residing in the Gaza area protested on the streets about the attack and murder of their own people. However, the protest was disrupted by gunmen and snipers, and several other Alevis were injured while others killed on the protest. The Alevi victims of these attacks took the matter to the European Court of Human Rights, and Turkey was exposed to have violated the international laws to human right, particularly the right to live(article 2), and the right to be an effective remedy (article 13) of the European Concord on Human Rights. While these are the major massacre incidences against Alevis of Turkey, there are other several massacre incidents against Alevis which occurred across Turkey but were undocumented.
Throughout the 20th century, the Alevis of Turkey lived to survive the hostile environment despites the existence of governments who could have intervened and stop the persecution and atrocities against them. While other religious minority groups such as the Greek Orthodox, and Armenian Orthodox Christians enjoy protection and religious freedom offered to them by the Turkish government, the Alevis, being a legally not recognized minority group, have not been offered any protection or given the freedom of religious expression by the Turkish government since 1923, when Turkey was founded, but instead, the successive government regimes have turned a blind eye, and refused to listen to their appeals and cry while they are massacred, discriminated, and persecuted just because they follow the Shiite branch of Islam. Today, the population of Alevis in Turkey is estimated to be over ten million, but this is only an approximate since the Alevis are none existing according to the Turkish government, and therefore no census have been done to count how many Alevis are there in Tukey. Nevertheless, their population seems to be growing, but the Turkish government have still negated and failed to recognize them legally as a religious minority group, and offer them protection as well.
Being unrecognized religious minority group in Turkey’s legal continuum, the Alevis of Turkey have suffered numerous atrocities under the umbrella of human rights violation by the subsequent Turkish government regimes as well as the Turkish society (which is largely dominated by Sunni Muslims) since the nation of Turkey was founded in 1923. Based on article 90 of the Turkish 1982 constitution, human rights in Turkey are safeguarded by the intercontinental law treaties which are superior to the local laws associated with human rights. An instance of the international law treaties which protects human rights, and have been subscribed to by Turkey is the International Covenant on Civil, and Political Rights (ICCPR). Subscription to such international law treaties is inevitably important to Turkey particularly in negotiations with the EU.
Although there are numerous human rights problems facing the Alevis of Turkey, the key human rights issues that have adversely affected the Alevis of Turkey until today include arbitrary arrests with no legal bases, discrimination, persecution, and oppression at both at the governmental and societal level, Massacres which have led to deaths, and displacement of millions of Alevi, being deprived of places of worship as well as the rights to institute places of worship, being deprived of the right to fair trial, and many other unfair treatments by the government as well as the Turkish societies which are undocumented.  This chapter aims at exploring the human rights concerns of Alevi at a comprehensive level, and with regards to the legal frameworks of the international law treaties that Turkey signed up or pledged to. Some of the key aspects of human rights violation against the Alevis of Turkey that are explored in this chapter include religious information on an identity card, worship places of the of the Alevi community in Turkey, mandatory religious education, and judgements of the EU court on cases of Turkey’s human rights violation against the Alevi community.
Up until April 2006, inclusion of religious information on identity cards in Turkey used to be a compulsory practice mandated by the Turkish law. However, today, the present law in Turkey mandates that a person’s religious information right after birth is included in the country’s official registry of population only if the person provides the information in the given registry form especially if the person feels that he is not affiliated with the religions stated in the form, he or she can check-in the blank option which is mostly used by Atheists. According to article 7 and 35 of the Law 5490 of the present Turkish constitution, it is essential to include religious information of a Turkish citizen as part of the description of their identification. On the other hand, article 24 of the 1982 Turkish constitution which describes the freedom of religion mandate states that no person or individual shall be compelled to participate in any religious ceremony or worship, or be culpable or accused because of his or her religious affiliations and beliefs.  These mandates of the Turkish constitutions are differing since in one hand, it advocates for freedom of religion while in the other hand, it makes it compulsory for Turkish citizens to include the religious information of the religion that each of them are affiliated with in the population registry, and on their ID cards which fundamentally is a form of violation towards the right to freedom of religion and belief.
Basically, what this practice has always pertained since the Ottoman regime is that when parents went to register their new born children, they were required by the law to declare the child’s religion. They were inclined to only choose on what was available in the registry form, not even were they allowed to say that they lacked religion or had no association with any religion. In the registry form were only limited option of religion, and only one religion was to be chosen by parent. Among the limited choices of religion that parents were subjected to choose from included Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Zoroastrianism. All of the none-Muslim minority religious groups such as Jehovah’s witnesses were inclined to choose Christianity as their affiliated religion while the Baha’i as Islam. Orthodox Christians would choose Christianity as their religion of affiliation while Atheists or those who had no affiliations with any religion would leave all the spaces blank. Since under the Treaty of Lausanne, Alevism is legally unrecognized as a religious minority group in Turkey, they were inclined to choose Islam as their religion of affiliation considering that Sunni Islam viewed Alevism as a cultural aspect of Islam, and not a religion and therefore the Alevis were required to register as Islam. Moreover, failing to choose a religion by leaving the spaces blank would imply Atheism, but the Alevis have a religion that they belief in. In April 2006, minority religious groups such as Baha’i were exempted by the public registry to leave the religious affiliation space blank when filling the registry form, and this was done as part of the process of coordination of the nation’s religious laws with the EU’s standards.
Since Alevism is legally unrecognized as a minority group despite the fact that the Alevis are the highly populated minority religious group in Turkey, the religion information in the identity cards of the Alevi people is that of the Sunni Islam which majority of the Turkish citizens have in their ID cards. While this information is in the identification cards of the Alevi people of Turkey, they are not followers of the Sunni Islam since they have their own religion of Alevism. Changing this information of ‘Islam’ in their identity card to ‘Alevism’ has been a constant struggle for the Alevi people since the Ottoman regime, but came to the public limelight in 2010. Although this has not been documented officially, but various individuals from the Alevis community have moved to both the local, and international courts especially the ECHR seeking to have the religious information in their identity cards changed from ‘Islam’ to ‘Alevism’ but none of them have succeeded in their endeavors on this path. This might be difficult for the Turkish courts to uphold since Alevism in Turkey is not legally considered as a religion, but more of a cultural and ceremonial activity. While majority of the Turkish people who are followers of the Sunni Islam view Alevism as cultural and ceremonial activity, the Alevis view Alevism as a religion of the same level as Sunni Islam, and practice it in ways different from that of the Sunni Islam. The Diyanet, Turkish supreme body of religious affairs consider Alevism as a denomination under Islam, but not as a religion on its own.
In 2010, the Alevis almost came close to attaining their long struggle towards the removal of the religious space or box on the identity card, as well as changing the religious information in the registry of public population and IDs from Islam to Alevism. The court’s verdict on the 2nd of February 2010 of a case filed by an individual from the Alevi community against the government of Turkey at the European Court of Human Right (ECHR) sparked a national debate within Turkey. The case concerned an Alevi man who protested that he could not register his religious affiliations as well as that of his children in the way that he wished. In the case (Sinan Isik verses Turkey of Application No. 21921/05), the applicant who was a man from the Alevi religious group proclaimed that his right to freedom of religion and belief was violated by the government of Turkey since he was prohibited by the Turkish law to have his religious association registered as Alevi in the national population registry as well as in his identity card, and was obliged to register it as Islam while that was not the religion he was affiliated with. The ECtHR ruled in favor of the Turkish government by stating that the breach in question had cropped up not from the denial to indicate the applicant’s faith or religion on his identity card but from the fact that his identity card contained an indication or religion irrespective of whether it was optional or mandatory. The court further pointed out that, “Deletion of the religion box on the Identity Cards could be an appropriate form of reparation to put an end to the breach in question.”  The applicant referred the ECHR decision as a silent revolution with hope that the court’s ruling would yield positive results as far as the freedom of religion and belief in Turkey is concerned. Nevertheless, several years have gone by since this verdict was made by the ECtHR but there has been no significant step that has been made by the government of Turkey towards implementation of the ECtHR’s ruling and suggestion especially concerning the deletion of the religious box in the identity cards.
About one year after the judgement, a council of the European Committee of Ministers which is an EU body that superintend the implementation of judgements of the ECtHR considered the applicant’s case and explored the mandates given by the Turkish authority. However, until today, it still appears that the government of Turkey have no action plan to execute the removal of religious association in the national registry as well as the removal of the religious box in the national identity cards of the Turkish citizens. Incongruously, the judgement and the suggestion by the ECtHR on this case was well received in Turkey by the ministry of foreign affairs. In fact, the then prime minister, Mr. Erdogan who is the current president of Turkey made a public announcement that it would be probable to implement the required changes pointed out by the ECtHR, and that the Turkish Constitutional court had already issued advisory thoughts and ideas in the same line as the ECtHR’s suggestions and verdict. Moreover, the Diyanet also criticized the inclusion of religious information on identity cards by explaining that the information on identity card was not essential, and did not have any religious meaning to them. Correspondingly, the general debate in the media regarding this verdict was universal, and it was generally felt that the result of the case spotlighted significant expectation from the Turkish secular government, and also the states had no significant benefit or need to have the religious affiliations of its citizens in the public registry of population as well as on their identity cards. With an intense expectation from the government in the public space for new identity cards with no religion box in them, a pilot study was initiated by the government of Turkey for new Identity Cards with no religious space in them, but until today, no progress have been made since the pilot study was initiated over seven years ago.
While a significant portion of the Turkish citizens seemed to have supported the removal of religious affiliations from the registry of population as well as from the identity cards, another significant portion of the Turkish people were deeply concerned with the removal of such identification since they felt that the move to remove religious identification from the public registry of population as well as from the identity card could potentially weakens the overall Turkish-Muslim identity. The practice of identification of an individual’s religious affiliation in the public registry which is maintained and managed by the General Directorate of population and citizenship affairs, and on the identity cards of all citizens is an activity that was inherited from the Ottoman Empire, and was welcomed by the first government of Turkey since it was founded in 1923.
A similar case was filed by an individual from another legally unrecognized religious group at the Turkish Supreme Court of administration .The applicant was from Jehovah’s Witness religion, and was seeking to have the religious information on his identity card changed from the Islamic writing to a writing that could be universally understood such as English. However, his application was unsuccessful as the supreme court of administration declined when the court’s respondents necessitated an expert opinion from the Directorate of Religious affairs as well as from the faculty of theology at the university of Ankara concerning whether Jehovah’s witness was a distinct religious group from Christianity, but the experts opinion stated that it was not possible to distinct or isolate Jehovah’s witness as a separate religion from Christianity. In its reasoning behind the declination of the applicant’s request, the court cited that it was not possible to accept Jehovah’s witnesses as a discrete religion in Turkey, and the space in the identification card written with Islamic writings were in line with the demands of the law.
Seemingly, persons who are 18 years and above have always had the chance to alter their registered religious affiliations in the registry which was chosen for them by their parents when they were born. The Turkish government still forces people to declare their religious associations or lack of it in the registry of population as well as in the national identity cards. Whereas some individuals who are 18 years of age and above have bravely changed their religious affiliations in the registry as well as in their identity cards, most of them have been hesitant or afraid to take that path because of the possible consequences that they belief they might suffer for taking that path both from the society and family. Moreover, the registry does not easily alter one’s old faith, and replace it with a new one or just leave the space blank, it is a tedious process that an individual must undergo to have that done for them. As highlighted earlier, choosing to leave the religious information space blank primarily means that one does not embrace Islam especially before the public as well as the registry officials who largely are the Sunni Muslims. Nevertheless, the public registry officials do not refuse to make such changes, but if one changes his or her religious affiliation from Islam to another faith or decide to leave the religious information space blank, he is obligated by the officials to pronounce their new religious affiliation publicly since if he fails to do so, some of his family members and the officials can learn about it, and this can led him into trouble. In Turkey, it is the families that organizes the public registry, and in some circumstances such as in job applications situations, a job applicant might be required to submit a family population document from the public registry. This document is predominated with information concerning the religious affiliation of the applicant as well as the applicant’s family members such as parents, sisters, brothers, and other distant family members including whether they have changed from one religion to another or requested to have the religious information space blank.
One question that have lingered in the minds of different researchers and authors on this subject over the years is what could be the main importance of including religious information in the identity cards and public registry of Turkey. This has sparked a debate on this subject among different authors. While the explanations from some researchers and authors tends to rely on the adoption of the practice from the Ottoman regime, others’ explanations tends to arise from the aspect of measures against the security problems in the modern world especially terrorism. During the regime of Ottoman Empire, registration of religious affiliations of an individual was a requirement by law in order to learn and determine an individual’s law that the individual was subjected to, and since the practice of these laws revolved around the religious affiliation of the individual, information concerning the religious information of the individual was used to determine these laws. Nevertheless, in the modern day Turkey, religious information in the public registry and on Identity cards is inessentially used since it has no particular key importance as it was during the Ottoman Empire’s regime. It is only in the public registry and ID cards where the information is registered, other official and important documents such as driver’s license and passports have no religious information on them.
Generally, the use of religious information in the ID cards in the modern day Turkey is described by numerous authors as insignificant and negligibly contributes towards security measures of Turkey. Some of the activities in which provision of such information is considered essential include dealing with the police, entry into specific buildings, enrolling in schools and universities, voting during elections, in applying for a mobile phone line, in getting married, and in withdrawal of money directly from a bank through a teller’s counter. While these are some of major areas where inclusion of religious information on identity cards are deemed important, minority religious groups such as the Alevis consider their right to freedom of religion violated by the state. The main plea of the Alevis is not to terminate the inclusion of religious information in the identity cards, but to have their religion and belief also considered as one of the religions in the registry form such as Islam, and others so that they can have their own religion which is Alevism as the religious information in the registry of population, and on their identity cards. The 2010 ECtHR ruling and demand for the government of Turkey to end inclusion of religion of affiliation space in the registry and ID cards have never been implemented by the government, and not even a significant step has been taken towards implementation of the demands. It seems that that struggle of the Alevis towards this path will still exist since the apparent government is unwilling to respond to the pleas of the Alevi people including not considering them as a minority religious group.
Worship places for the Alevi community is known as Cemevi, a term describing assembly houses considered as a place of worship and other social activities by the Alevi community. With regards to religious practices, the Alevis have significant differences from the Sunni Muslims. While the other type of Muslims in Turkey pray or worship in mosques, the Alevis conducts such activities in Cemevi. Essentially, Cemevi are not just considered as a house or a place of worship, but a ceremony that is officiated by men regarded as holy men called dede who belong to a priestly class. During the Cemevi ceremony, religious poems known as nefes are sung while men and women perform ritual dances known as semah. With respect to faith, the Alevis worship, and follows the teachings of Hazret Ali and Safavid Shah Ismail, and regards them as prodigious. Unlike the Sunni Muslims who submits to and follows the Islamic Shariah law, the Alevi Muslims adhere their submissions to, and follows a convention of moral norms, and claim to live according to the inner connotations of religion instead of the external meaning of it. The religious holy books that are studied by the Alevi includes the books of Moses, Abraham, David, Jesus, and Muhammad which is quite different from the content of the Quran predominantly studied by the Sunni Muslims across the world, and contain more than four dissimilar books. While the Alevis study these books as part of their religious teachings and learnings, they do not extremely depend on them in strengthening their faith in their religion. Learning these books does involves a totally different approach from that of learning the Quran.
Alevis use a sort of a traditional way of learning whereby teaching of these books pertain oral transition of the knowledge from an elderly person to a younger person such as father to son or from one believer to another as well as from one father to another. This is totally different from the approach of learning the Quran as practiced by the Sunni Muslims especially in terms of the knowledge delivery system. For instance, while the Alevi ways of studying religious books is informal, the Sunni Muslims ways of learning the Quran is formal and modern like as it involves attendance of class, and actual teaching. Muslims are known all over the world to fast and make sacrifices for a period of thirty days every year, popularly known as the month of Ramadan, however, the Alevi religion does not involve fasting, and they only make sacrifices once in their life time which involves slaughtering of one animal, and this is presided by the dedes. While polygamy is allowed in the mainstream Islam, the Alevi religion does not allow nor support polygamy. The Alevis custom demands that a person should have only one wife, and consider marrying a second wife only in special and critical cases such as when his first wife has become unreasonable or incapable of undertaking their domestic duties. Additionally, Alevism consider a man and a woman as equal pointing out a reason that there is no distinction between a man and woman in spirit and love.
One of the major human rights violations against the Alevis in Turkey is being deprived of the right to establish and develop places of worship. Despite being a legally unrecognized religious minority group in Turkey, the Alevis population in Turkey has been observed to grow significantly. Nevertheless, they are still faced with various forms of discrimination both from different entities of government as well as the Muslims society in Turkey. In addition to the various atrocities that the Alevi have suffered over the past many years, they have also suffered the pain of being deprived the right to not only establish and develop places of worship, but the Cemevi being unrecognized legally as places of worship.
One of the key issues that have been vividly pointed out by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) among the major human rights violations against the Alevis in Turkey is being deprived of the right to freedom of religion. State recognition of the Alevis’ faith is a foremost religious discrimination issue for the Alevis in Turkey. There are different aspects of religious discrimination against the Alevis, and among these aspects is the deprivation of the right to establish worship places. Since the establishment of Turkey as a nation in 1923, the worship places for the Alevis, Cemevi, have had no legal eminence as a places of worship in Turkey. There are numerous instances whereby these places of worship have been denied certifications by the Turkish government on the grounds that such places are not legally considered as places of worship within the Turkish jurisdiction. Based on a 2015 report by the United States department of States on International Religious freedom, the Turkish states controls and manage religious matters through a Diyanet, a top religious body in Turkey with members appointed and authorized by the Prime minister’s office to promote practices, belief, and moral values of the Sunni Islam as well as administer places of worship. The Diyanet is made up of five departments which include religious affairs, education, publication, public relations, and services department.
The Diyanet oversee registration of religious group even though it is not mandatory for any religious group to register with the government. However, it is illegal for unregistered religious group to make requests from the government such as legal recognition of their places of worship or to be legally recognized by the government. Carrying out religious activities at places not considered by the law as places of worship is illegal and punishable by fines or termination of the venue. It is significant to point out that legal recognition of a religious group pertains registration of the religious group, and since Alevis are not legally recognized as a religious minority group, they are also not registered as a religious group in Turkey. Legal recognition of the Cemevis as places of worship has been a top request, and demand by the Alevi to different Turkish government regimes. However, this request and demand have never been granted to the Alevis by the Turkish government. As a result, the Alevis have suffered various instances of discrimination with regards to their places of worship. Based on a slightly recent news article, the Alevis community in the District of Sultanbeyli, Istanbul requested for electricity connection services from a local electricity company to have one of their newly built Cemevi connected to electricity, but the electricity company declined the request demanding a prove qualifying Cemevi is a place of worship. In Osmancik, Turkey close to the shrine to a feudal Islamic mystic, there is a building that have been used by the local Alevis for years as a place of worship, however, in the early 2015, Turkish government officials changed it to become a mosque for the local Sunni Muslims without giving any notification to the leaders of the local Alevis while already there was a mosque a few yards away which had existed almost the same number of years as the taken Alevis place of worship.
According to a court ruling by the Turkish court of appeal in the late 2018, Alevis places of worship (Cemevis) were granted legal recognition as places of worship, and the State was demanded by the court to cover certain expenses for Cemevis as they do for the mosques as well as other minority religious groups, such as electricity bills. Turkish law requires that the electricity bill for all the mosques or places of worship by the Muslims population be paid from the budget allotted to the Diyanet. However, the Diyanet have not been paying the electricity bill for Cemevis houses despite the fact that the Alevis are also Muslims, and make up over 10 percent of the total population of Turkey with a reason that Cemevis are not legally recognized as places of worship. Although in significant instances, Turkish courts have ruled in favor of the Alevis as far as their places of worship is concerned, but the government department particularly the Diyanet which is the top religious body in Turkey, have never obeyed, and implemented the demands of the court ruling citing that Cemevis are not places of worship, but a place of social, ritual, and spiritual activities.
Apparently, the Turkish government largely consider Alevism as a heterodox Muslim-group, but still does not recognize nor support the establishment of Alevis places of worship (Cemevis). Although this has been among the top and long struggle that the Alevis in Turkey have undergone, legal recognition of the Cemevis as places of worship still seems to be a much further journey that the Alevis of Turkey will have to take in order to overcome this challenge. This is because a significant segment of the larger problem of legal unrecognition of the Cemevis as places of worship is the increasing modernization of Turkey as some remote regions become modernized, the surviving Alevis places of worship in the rural areas become exposed to the Turkish legal framework as well as to the Diyanet control which possibly leads to their closure as Cemevis or turned to mosques. Although the demand for Cemevis to be legally recognized as places of worship has been a long struggle for the Alevis in Turkey, it has been a silent struggle until recently when it was drawn to public attention particularly when Gulen movement in collaboration with the Cemevi Foundations started building and constructions of mosques alongside Cemevis. In the early 2011, the prior government regime of Turkey which was the AKP government found itself in a public dilemma for the implementation of this strategy initiated by the Gulen movement in collaboration with Cem Foundation. This is because for many years, the AKP officials had publicly discriminated, massacred, and affronted the Alevis, and with the initiation of this Cemevi-Mosque initiative, the government found itself in a tough position whereby it had only two options which included isolating itself indistinctly from the project, or support, and implement the project as a state-approved project. The Gulen movement and Cemevi Foundation collaboration brought some sort of feud and confusion in the AKP government, and this was evident by some government officials supporting the initiative publicly while others denounced the project as a state-approved project. For instance, Frank Celik, the then government minister attended launching and initiation ceremony of the project, while Bekir Bozga who was also a government minister by then, publicly stressed that the government played no part in that project.
Although the project of Gulen movement in collaboration with the Cemevi Foundation on building Cemevis side by side with mosques sound promising for the Alevis since it would have led to establishment of Cemevis, and eliminated or minimized the levels of discrimination towards them, but some Alevis unwelcomed the project due to the pain of the past atrocities against the Alevi since the Ottoman empire. As a result, this cultured a serious disagreement among the Alevi officials whereby some endorsed the project while others disallowed the project. Presently, the discussions in the Turkish mainstream media objectively focuses on minimizing the Alevis issues to the recognition of Cemevis as official places of worship as mosques. However, the discussions in the media lightly consider recognition of Cemevis as places of worship as recognition of a building to be a place of worship while in reality, it entails aspects that goes beyond that. Recognition of Cemevis as places of worship is broader and goes beyond just recognition of a building as place of worship. What it widely implies is urbanization, Cemevis are actually products of urbanization as it represents the Alevis in the urban spectrum. In the rural areas, Cemevi ceremonies are conventionally carried out in one of the houses within a village or a neighborhood. Nevertheless, the 1925 law prohibits Cemevis as worship places or centers but considers them as cultural centers where even the non-Alevis can attend the Cem ceremonies. While a large percentage of the Turkish public considers Cemevis as a cultural centers, Cemevis remains places of worship for the Alevis. The fundamental significance of legal recognition of Cemevis as places of worship for the Alevis is that it will govern the continuity of the Alevis faith and religion as well as provides a conducive environment to planning for the future developments. Apparently, building and establishment of Cemevis are funded by different non-governmental organizations and foundations for the Alevis in Turkey. Cemevis are not entitled to the government incentives that are provided to the mosques by the Diyanet such as electricity bill, training of the clergy, and payment of stipends to priestly level personnel in the mosques. This is because Cemevis are not legally recognized as places of worship, and cannot register as a place of worship but as a cultural center since they are viewed as cultural centers.
The Religious Affairs Department of Turkey is a body that is mandated by the Law particular Law Number 633 of the 1965 constitution to operate affairs associated with the Islamic religion, belief, faith, and its moral values. Part of its mandate is to enlighten the public about religious issues as well as administer places of worship which is mainly the mosques. Since Turkey is dominated by followers of Islamic religion, the Religious Affairs Department position itself as a public provider of Islamic religion services. According to article 136 of the constitution, the Religious Affairs Department is a section of the general administration, and hence it is bestowed with public authorities irrespective of not having an eminence of a public law body. Based on a recently published statistical report by the Religious Affairs Department, the government assigns over 100,000 civil servants to the Religious Affairs Department. Primarily, the department serves the public but only on Islamic religious matters. Some of the Islamic religion entities in Turkey that are managed by the Religious Affairs Department include the mosques which are Muslims’ places of worship, the Koranic Schools (Koran Kursu), and Islamic Religious Colleges. The Religious Affairs Department is controlled and headed by a huge organization called the Diyanet which is considered as the Turkish top religious body. With five departments which include the higher committee for religious affairs, an advisory council, religious services, Social and Cultural services, Publication and public relations, the Diyanet operates under the Prime Minister’s office, and it is headed by a president that is appointed by the Prime Minister. The public responsibilities of the Religious Affairs Department are managed by the Diyanet. The number of civil servants being assigned to the Diyanet have increased significantly over the past two decades, and its operations have expanded beyond just Turkey but to other countries in order to serve the Turkish citizens living abroad. All the Diyanet’s activities are funded by the government, and the annual budget allocated to it every year is more than the budget allocation for various ministries. Based on a 2011 report, the Diyanet was allocated a budget of 1,626,694,770 US Dollars which doubles the budget for some ministries in Turkey. What the Diyanet does with this huge amount of money include construction of mosques, paying of salaries to the civil servants working in the Religious Affair Department and some of these civil servants are Imams and Sheiks, fund the running of religious schools such as the Koranic schools, fund the running of mosques including paying the salaries of its staff members, and many other activities that concerns the promotion of Sunni branch of Islam.
Although the Diyanet undertake all these duties of providing religious services to the public, and position itself as the Turkish top religious body, but it has no legal entity status in accordance to the Turkish law. In fact, there is no religious body in Turkey that has a direct legal entity status provided in the law, and this is where the Turkish secularism comes in whereby there is a close supervision of religious activities and less independence of religious communities. As such, the Diyanet cannot own any mosques or religious entity in Turkey in spite of the fact that they operate them. Based on the information on the website of Religious Affairs Department, the Diyanet position itself, and upholds that it takes the religious mandates and traditions of the all Turkish citizens into account in provision of true and authentic religious knowledge, training, and education in sound religious knowledge to all the religious groups in Turkey on an equal footing. While this sounds as an agreeable theory, other religious groups in Turkey especially the minority religious group such as the Alevis does not agree with these sentiments by the Diyanet. Through legal channels, the Alevis have raised an alarm to the government of Turkey that the Diyanet practice impartiality and lack neutrality in its service provisions as it only promote the theological doctrines of the Sunni branch of Islam in terms of education, training, and funding of religious activities. The struggle of the Alevi people to have their religion receive the same services on an equal basis from the government through the Diyanet just as the Sunni branch of Islam came into the public spectrum when a case was filed by an Alevi individual called Izzetin Dogan along with others against Turkey on breach of various constitutional mandates of the government which concerns service provision to the religious groups in Turkey. Generally, the case filed against the Turkish government was mainly on the aspect of neutrality and impartiality of the Religious Affairs Department in providing services only to one faith which is the Sunni branch of Islam, and refusing as well as ignoring other faith particularly the Alevi faith.
Although the case was filed in the year 2010, but the genesis of the journey towards filing of this case against the Turkey’s government by Izzetin and others began in June 2005 with a request made by Izzetin to the Prime Minister’s office via a letter pointing out the inequality exercised by the Religious Affairs Department in delivery of religious services to the public. In the letter, Izzetin mentions that the freedom of religion and conscience is provided by various articles in the constitution of Turkey which include articles 24, 17, 12, 10, 5, and 2 of the Turkish constitution and article 9 and 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights which states that the State is mandated to take essential measures that ensures the actual exercise of the right to freedom of conscience and religion is guaranteed to the public. The applicant further mentions that under article 136 of the constitution, the Religious Affairs Department is mandated to carry out duties assigned to it under superior law which governs it, being that it is part of the general administration, and should promote the principles of secularism while distancing itself from any kind of political ideas or opinions, and also culture an objective of facilitating and promoting the national cohesion and union. Additionally, the applicant further clarified in the letter that under the creation and functions act of section 1 of the Religious Affairs Department Act, the Religious Affairs Department (Diyanet) operates under the prime minister’s office, and it is responsible for dealing with matters of Islamic faith, worship, beliefs, and principle morals as well administration of places of worship. While these are the mandates of Religious Affairs Department provided by the law, the department have limited itself to situations concerning only one doctrinal school of thought involving Islam, and have overlooked all other faiths including the Alevi faith, and while this is the ongoing reality, the state has an obligation under the mandates of the constitution to ensure that the freedom of religion and conscience is freely exercised. The Alevis’ rights are violated, and their places of worship are not recognized. Izzetin’s letter to the Prime Minister’s office on the June of 2005 requested for four key problems that the Alevi faced particularly with regards to their faith, to be addressed by the Prime Minsters’ office. These issues included Alevis places of worship or Cemevis to be granted legal recognition and status as places of worship, services associated with the practice of Alevi faith to be constituted as public service, Alevis religious leaders to be employed as public or civil servants, and special establishment to be created in the budget for practice of Alevi faith. None of these issues have ever been granted to the Alevis until today.
In response to Izzetin’s letter in August 2005, the Prime Minister’s office claimed that the services provided by the Religious Affairs Department were in accordance to the law, and are available to every Turkish citizen irrespective of their religious affiliations. In the response, the Prime Minister’s office declared that based on the provisions of the constitution, Cemevis could not be granted a legal status as places of worship. On the issue of employing Alevis religious leaders as civil servants, the Prime Minister’s office gave a response that every Turkish citizen have the right to be employed as a civil servant, and no group of people can be given the privilege to be employed as civil servants because of their religious belief or faith. This particular response by the Prime Ministers’ office have been critiqued in various studies as a misunderstanding to the request made by the Alevis since the nature of the response treated Alevis request as a demand, but the request was far from being a demand, but based on the actual reality and observation on actual undertakings by the Religious Affairs Department. With regards to Alevis request to have a special provision be made in the budget for the practice of Alevi faith, the Prime Minister’s office responded that it is not possible to make provisions in the budget for services that the law does not provide for. Subsequent to the responses by the Prime Minister’s office, about 1919 people joined Izzetin on this case to pursue the next alternative where their requests could be reviewed based on the responses provided by the Prime Minister’s office, and therefore they lodged an application with the Ankara Administrative Court, and requested for jurisdictional review of the choice by the Prime Minister’s office to not grant the Alevis their requests. In their application for the review, the applicants also pointed out that it was not up to the Religious Affairs Department to decide whether Cemevis are religious ceremony or not since in the response to the Izzetin’s request, the Prime Minister’s office emphasized that Cemevis cannot be granted a legal status as places of worship since Cems are considered as considered as religious ceremony by followers of the Sunni branch of Islam including officials working at the Religious Affairs Department. On the 4th of July 2007, the Ankara’s administrative court dismissed the earlier objections by the Prime Minister’s office, and proceeded to reexamine the application based on merits and legal provisions. Below is an excerpt from the Ankara’s administrative court judgment reading:
“… It is clear from the examination of the file that the Administrative Court is being asked in the present case to set aside the Prime Minister’s refusal of the request made in a petition of 22 June 2005 to have religious services provided to Alevi citizens in the form of a public service; to have the Cemevis, where Alevi citizens practice their faith, granted the status of places of worship; to have a sufficient number of competent individuals, recognized as such by Alevis, recruited as civil servants for the purpose of the religious rites required by the Alevi faith; to have funds set aside in the general budget to pay for the services required in that regard; to have provision made in the Finance Act for the funds concerned, while taking the necessary action to that end; and to take all the necessary measures in order to grant the requests set out in the above-mentioned petition. Assessing the case in the light of the relevant provisions of domestic law, it can be seen that part of the general budget is allocated to the Religious Affairs Department created under Law no. 633; that the Department does not establish, but rather administers, the mosques … recognized as ‘places of worship’; that the staff assigned to manage them are religious leaders who are recruited and paid as civil servants to administer religious services in connection with the beliefs, worship and moral tenets of the Muslim religion; and that application of the prohibitions introduced by Law no. 677 is guaranteed by the Constitution. Hence, it is clear from the interpretation of the provisions of Law no. 633 and Article 128 of the Constitution that it is not possible to recognize a place other than a mosque as a ‘place of worship’ …, to recruit civil servants for the purpose of the religious rites required by the Alevi faith, or even to make provision in the Finance Act for the funding of the services to be provided in that regard. This would be contrary to the statutory provisions governing the civil service and it is therefore not possible, in accordance with the only statutory provisions of domestic law in force, to grant the requests made in that connection without amending the legislation. Nevertheless, under the terms of Article 90 of the Constitution, the issue must also be examined from a legal standpoint in the light of the provisions of the international conventions to which the Republic of Turkey is a Party … [Reference is made to Article 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights]. In principle, freedom of religion and belief – which may be defined as adherence to a religion or belief (internally) and the observance, in the place of the individual’s choosing (externally), of the precepts of that religion or belief, alone or in community with others, in so far as this does not disturb public order – is governed by the abovementioned Articles 10, 14 and 24 of the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey …, which must be interpreted in a manner consistent with the provisions of the international treaties. Thus, it must be assessed to what extent Laws nos. 633 and 677 which are in force in Turkey, and existing practices as regards freedom of religion and belief, which are at issue in this case, can be said to be consistent with the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights concerning Article 9 in similar cases….”
Overly, the administrative court ruled in favor of the Prime Minister’s office refusal to grant the applicants their requests on the basis that the first respondents refusal to grant the applicant’s request was in conformity with the law in place. The applicants appealed this ruling of the court at the Supreme Administrative Court in Turkey. In their appeal, they objected any suggestions that were bidding the State to offer them some special privileges stressing that the basis of their requests was the principle of equality. However, in February 2010, the Supreme Administrative Court dismissed the applicant’s appeal, and upheld the judgment by the Ankara’s administrative court. Since this verdict was made by the Supreme Administrative Court, none of the requests presented to Prime Minister’s office by Izzetin and others has ever been relooked at. Cemevis are still regarded by the Diyanet as places for ceremonial activities and not worship places, the Alevis religious leaders have never been recruited as civil servants, and there is no special provision that has been made in the budget for practice of Alevi religion.
In Turkey, it is mandatory, and a requirement by the law for the students in high school as well as colleges to take religious courses and subjects. The curriculum of the mandatory courses have been designed in such a way that it largely covers the understanding the teaching of the Sunni Islam. However, a negligible section of the curriculum particularly placed at the end of the curriculum covers Alevism and its faith. For years, the Alevis have demanded that the religious subjects and courses be made elective instead of being compulsory to enable the their children in secondary school as well as tertiary levels of education choose other elective courses in place of the compulsory religious courses. In 2007, a parent from Alevi community filed a case against Turkey on the issue of obligatory religious courses in secondary school, at the European Court of Human Rights to have his daughter exempted from taking the compulsory religious courses. The ECHR ruled against the then government of Turkey, and demanded that the daughter to the case filer be exempted from taking the compulsory religious courses. This ruling by the ECHR created an optimistic atmosphere among not just the Alevi people but also a large percentage of the Turkish people for the abolishment of the mandatory religious subjects in secondary school. Nevertheless, in the fiscal year of 2012-2013, the government did the opposite to the expectations of the Turkish people by introducing three more mandatory religious courses in secondary schools. These courses include The Life of Prophet Muhammad, Fundamentals of religion, and The Koran. While some of these courses have universal titles, their teachings and understanding s are based on the Sunni Islam doctrines and believes, and only a small section make references to Alevism and its faith.
Although teaching and learning of the mandatory religious subjects in secondary schools is a requirement by the Turkish law, but there are some local courts within Turkey that have exempted Alevi children from taking these courses. The move by such courts have attained some milestones towards the exemption of the Alevi children from taking the mandatory religious subjects, but at the same time affect the exempted students mentally and psychologically as they have to wait in school corridor while the religious classes are ongoing. The feeling of loneliness and exclusion that they face is somewhat a form of discrimination towards them, and this affects them psychologically as well as mentally. The demand by the Alevi people from the Turkish government with regards to compulsory education primarily wants the mandatory religious subjects abolished, and making them elective or optional courses such that students can either choose to do them or opt to other elective subjects or courses. Interestingly, there are elective courses available in schools and colleges which can be matched with the mandatory religious courses so that students can have a broad continuum of subjects to choose from, but the elective courses are not in many schools due to shortages of professional teachers to teach such courses. Some of these elective courses include philosophy, literature composition, human rights, and fundamental terminology. Additionally, the Alevis are also much concerned with the content of the mandatory religious courses that are taught in schools, especially being that they are in a society where a large percentage of the people intensely prejudices against them.
The above discussion portrays the apparent situation for the Alevi in Turkey with regards to mandatory religious courses in schools. However, in the past, government regimes especially the AKP government tried to offer different solutions approach to this issue. The AKP government proposed two ways of promoting and including religious teachings of the Alevis in secondary schools as well as colleges. One of these proposals by the AKP government included establishment of Alevi institutions where the dedes would be trained while at the same time receive a monthly salary from the government’s budget. This proposal was rejected by a large percentage of the Alevi people as it was seen to interfere with the aspects of the Alevis faith and religion. The Alevi religion and belief is systemized such that it is transmitted from one generation to the next by word of mouth or orally, and this is done either by the dedes or by anyone who has knowledge about the faith to those have less or no knowledge about their religion, and therefore introduction of a formal way of teaching and learning Alevism was considered as a negative influence to their generational beliefs and faith.
Additionally, the Alevis consider their faith to exhibit some sort of diversity especially being that it is transmitted by word of mouth from one generation to another, and hence establishing a formal Alevi institute was seen by many of the Alevis to be a significant detrimental factor to the preservation of the diversity to their religion. Moreover, several other factors raised significant question especially on how the proposed strategy would be implemented. For instance, if the dedes were to be trained in the event that the institute was establish, who was to develop the curriculum, and how will the curium be developed and taught? This was an important question to the Alevis since the dedes are priestly class people in the Alevi society who are considered to be well versed with their religion, and training them formally was viewed as an infringing factor to the ways of the Alevi religion. Paying the dedes a monthly salary out of the government budget was also seen as a ways of the Diyanet which is the top religious body in Turkey that mainly attends to the Sunni Muslims. The Alevis top religious leaders also felt that the dedes give serve the talips freely of charge, and only takes what they have been given by the talips out of their own will and voluntarily, a gift called hakkullar. In fact real dedes are not concerned whether they receive hakkullar or not from the talips. While this proposal by the AKP government was rejected by a significant population of the Alevi people, the AKP government suspended it for future implementation. Generally, with regards to compulsory education, the Alevis have struggled within the legal parameters to have the government of Turkey transform the mandatory religious education to being elective so that students can opt to the subjects of their own choice. While being exempted from taking these courses by some of the local courts does help Alevi children from taking the compulsory religious courses, but it still adversely affects them mentally, and psychologically as they have to wait for long hours alone while the other students attend the compulsory religious subject classes.
Most of the cases concerning human rights violations against the Alevis in Turkey have been filed at the European Court of Human Rights by individuals from the Alevi community. The high records of human rights violation by the Turkey’s government especially on the minority groups have attracted external scrutiny especially in the European Court of Human Rights. Between 1990 and 2006, and since Turkey permitted individual application of cases to the ECHR, over 500 different cases were filed against the Turkey’s government, and from the judgments on these cases, the government of Turkey was fined over 30 million Euros within that particular period of time. In 2011 alone, the ECtHR issued over 120 judgements against the government of Turkey concerning violation of human rights while in 2007, out of the 2800 cases lodged against Turkey by different individuals, over 2000 judgements were made against Turkey concerning human rights violations. Most of the applicants of these cases are individuals from the minority groups in Turkey, and a large percentage of them have been individuals from the Alevi community. This section examines the judgements by the European Court of Human Rights on cases filed against the Turkey’s government by individuals from the Alevi community on human rights breach against them.
On the 16th of September 2014, the European Court of Human Rights made a judgement on a case (application no.21163/11) lodged by Mansur and others vs Turkey concerning reformation of religious education in schools to guarantee respect for parents’ beliefs. Factually, the applicants were made up of a team of 14 individuals including Mansur Yalcin, and these individuals were parents of secondary school children at that particular period of time. One of the applicants stated by the time case was instituted domestically before it reached the ECtHR, his son had already completed the first cycle of secondary school, and was in the higher tier of high school, and other two applicants also stated that while in high school, several years back, they attended the compulsory religion and ethics classes, and their young children would also attend the same classes when they joined school. The pursuance of this matter in court began on 22nd June 2005 when the applicants, through a letter, requested the Ministry of Education to start a discussion process with the top leadership and members of the Alevi community on an opinion to renovate the curriculum of ethics and religion classes to encompass Alevi teachings, culture, and philosophies. However, their request at the Ministry of Education was rejected via a letter from the Directorate of Religious Education in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, and as a result of this rejection, 1905 people joined the case, and together with the 14 applicants, they proceeded to challenge this decision by the Ministry of Education via the Directorate of Religious Education at the Ankara Administrative Court. Inside the case file was a proficient report by an Islamic studies professor, and a lecturer in education as well as sociology in religion. Some of the textbooks used in learning ethics and religion classes were authored by the professor. The report stated that the curriculum or the content of the text book used in learning religion and ethics classes did not give preference or primacy to any specific faith, and mainly implemented a supra-denominational attitude. However, an additional observation was filed against this report by the applicants. Specifically, the applicants argue in their additional observation that the textbook was biased to the Alevi faith as it treated it as a cultural or traditional concept, but not a belief system. On the 1st of October 2009, the Ankara’s Administrative Court ruled against the applicant’s request, and the ruling mainly relied on the professor’s report. The applicants proceeded to seek the highest administrative court in Turkey (Supreme Administrative Court) by appealing subsequently the verdict of Ankara’s Administrative Court. However, on the 2nd August of 2010, the Supreme Administrative Court upheld the verdict of the first instance or the Ankara’s Administrative Court stating that the first stance verdict was based on the legal procedures and laws.
In their arguments, the applicants’ complain relied on article 2, Protocol No. 1 which describe the right to education. More precisely, the applicants complained that content of the materials used in teaching the mandatory religious and ethics classes was entirely based on the understanding of the Sunni branch of Islam. A section of the applicants relied on article 9 of the constitution which mandates the right to freedom of religion, conscience, and thought, and in conjunction with article 14 which mandates prohibition of discrimination against any individual or group of individual based 0on their religion, color, or any other aspects of their individual lives. With these arguments, the application was lodge at the European Court of Human Rights on the 2nd of February 2011. The ECtHR examined the case in the line of the curriculum and content of the compulsory religious and ethics subjects taught in schools in that relevant time. However, the court also payed attention to the significant changes that had been made in the curriculum of these subjects especially with regards to the judgement by the same court on Hassan and Eylem Zengin verses Turkey’s case which is also examined in this section. In that regard, the court made an observation that the changes that had been made in the curriculum mainly pertained insertion of various other beliefs present in Turkey including the Alevi faith, but at the same time, it was keen to notice that the key aspect of the curriculum had not actually been relooked at since the curriculum still focused mainly on the knowledge of Sunni branch of Islam which is practiced by majority of the Turkish population. As such the court stressed much on the State’s duty to ensure and promote neutrality and impartiality in regulation of matters concerning religion since it had no powers or mandate to take a position on matters associated with Islamic religion.
Although it is fact that the curriculum of ethics and religion courses taught in schools gave eminence to Islam as practiced by majority of the Turkish citizens, the interpretation of Islam by the other minority groups could not be considered by the court as a refrain from the standard of pluralism which would possibly lead to proselytization. With an understanding of Alevi faith in comparison to the Islam as understood by the majority of the Turkish population, the applicants could justifiably consider that the compulsory learning approach adopted in secondary schools could possible amount to children being faced with a psychological or mental conflict of commitment between their own faith and what they learn in school from the compulsory religious and ethics classes. With this regard, the court was unsuccessful in determining how such conflict could be avoided in the absenteeism of an exemption method. Nevertheless the court noted that the system of education provided only Christians and Jews students the possibility of being exempted from the mandatory religious and ethics classes. In fact, each and every state in Turkey was noted to have at least one exemption mechanism when it comes to these compulsory subjects. But even so, teaching of these classes would highly have an impact on the child particularly with regards to the conflicts between practicing their own faith or parent’s philosophical convictions and following the religious instructions taught in school. With these observations and remarks, the ECtHR concluded that the education system of Turley was still inefficiently prepared to guarantee respect for the parents’ convictions, and that the government of Turkey had breached article 2 of protocol No. 1 with respect to Mansur Yalcin and others’ case. However, the court pointed out that having made its findings based on Article 2 of Protocol No. 1, there was no need to examine the complains of the applicants on Article 9 and 14. Based on its judgement, the court demanded that Turkey was to implement suitable measures to address the situation at the earliest time possible by particularly introducing mechanism or systems that would enable students be exempted from taking the ethics and religious classes in devoid of their parents disclosing their own philosophical convictions or religious associations.
The judgement of the case between Mansur and others verses Turkey by the ECtHR was largely reflected on an almost similar case by Hasan and Eylem Zengin verses Turkey case which was filed almost a decade before the case filed by Mansur and others but its verdict was read in 2006 by the ECtHR. Just like the case filed by Mansur and others, the case (Application No. 1448/04) filed by Hassan and Eylem Zengin agonist Turkey concerned breaching of the right to education by the Turkish government. An overview about the background of the case (Application No. 1448/04), Hassan Zengin and Eylem Zengin who is a daughter to Hassan were Turkish citizens who were born in 1960, and 1988 respectively, and were living in Istanbul Turkey. Mr. Hassan and his family were followers of the Alevi faith, and his daughter Eylem Zengin was in her seventh grade in State school situated in Turkey. While attending school, Eylem was inclined to attend ethics and religious culture classes as requirement by the law. With concerns to Article 24 of Turkey’s constitution particularly under section 12 of the fundamental Law No. 1739 on nation’s education system, it is mandatory for every pupil and student in primary and secondary school to take ethics and religious culture subjects. In 2001, Mr. Zengin made a request via a letter to the Directorate of National Education as well as before the administrative courts available in the land relevant in that period of time for his daughter, Eylem Zengin, to be exempted from taking religious culture and ethics lessons pointing out that his family were followers of the Alevi faith. He further highlighted in his request that with respect to the international treaties particularly the universal declaration of human rights, parents had the right to choose the kind of education that they wanted for their children to have.
Additionally, he also proclaimed that the act of making religious and ethics subjects compulsory for primary and secondary school children was not conforming to the principles of secularism, and was far from neutrality as the subject was predominantly based on the teachings of the Sunni branch of Islam. Nevertheless, all the requests by Mr. Zengin were turned down by both the administrative courts including the Supreme Administrative Court, and the Directorate of National Education on the basis that the subjects in question which were the religious culture and ethics were in agreement with the Turkish laws, and constitution. On 2nd January 2004, the case of Hassan and Eylem Zengin verses Turkey was lodged at the European Court of Human Rights, and on 6th June 2006, the case was acknowledged by the ECtHR as permissible, and the hearing of the case took place on 3rd October 2006. A chamber of seven judges of different nationalities made the judgement on the court proceedings. In their argument, the applicant preserved that the manner in which the religious culture and ethics subjects were taught in schools breached the right of Miss Zengin as far as freedom of religion and belief is concerned. Moreover, the applicants also argued that the way the religious culture and ethics courses were taught in Turkish schools also violated the Miss Zengin’s parent’s right to ensure that their child received the type of education that conformed to their religious convictions as provided under in Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 which describes the right to education, and Article 9 which dictates the freedom of thought, religion and conscience. Also, the applicants proclaimed that the content and curriculum of the subjects were deficient of objectivity and focus as they made an observation that there was no information concerning other religions in the curriculum of these subjects, but only the teachings of the Sunni branch of Islam. The applicants also made an observation that the manner in which the actual teaching of these subjects were carried out in classrooms gave much praise to the Sunni branch of Islam as it acclaimed the understandings of the Sunni Islamic faith, and its traditional aspects. One of the things the court examined in investigating the breach on Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 was whether the content of the religious culture and ethics subjects were taught in a manner that it focused in promoting pluralism. As such, the court examined the guidelines of these subjects provided by the Ministry of Education as well as the school textbooks used in teaching these courses submitted by the applicants.
The outcome of the court’s examination was that the primary schools and secondary school syllabus used in teaching these subjects, and text books as well gave a more significant priority to the understanding of Islamic faith that is practiced by majority of the Turkish citizens. More precisely, the court found that the syllabus of these courses mainly centered on the study of Prophet Mohamed, and the Koran and pupils as well as students had to learn several verses (suras) from the Koran wholeheartedly and by studying while practicing the daily devotions as required by the Islamic religion. The court also noted that the textbooks used in teaching these subjects did not just give an overview of religions but provided explicit instructions of the major standards of the Islamic faith that is practiced by the majority of the Turkish citizens. Some of these principle instructions that predominated the curriculum of the compulsory subjects included Pilgrimage, Ramadan, five times daily prayers, the concept of angles, and the belief of the existence of other worlds. These are deep concepts of the Islamic religion. While the mandatory religious and ethics subjects were dominated by these teachings, there was no place in the curriculum where the inner teachings of the Alevi faith such as ritual or confessional performance were made available in the syllabus despite the fact that Alevism was the largest minority group in Turkey. Nevertheless, the court noted that information about the Alevis were taught at the later chapters of the 9th grade syllabus, but just like the applicants, the court saw that this had no impact on the inadequacies in the teaching of these subjects in secondary and primary school. Based on these observations, the court made a decision that the teaching of compulsory religious culture and ethics subjects in Turkish primary and secondary schools did not meet the principles of pluralism and objectivity essential for education in a society that consider itself a democratic society, and for the pupils to establish perilous minds towards religion. The court saw that the syllabus covered in the lessons of these classes did not have any respect for the philosophical and religious convictions of Hassan Zengin as parent to Eylem Zengin. As such, the court explored any appropriate means in the Educational System of Turkey that could guarantee the parents’ religious and philosophical conviction are met by the system.
Conferring to a verdict by the Turkish Supreme Council of Education in July 1990 whereby it was made possible for primary and secondary school children who are Christians and Jews to be exempted from taking the compulsory religious and ethics classes, the court considered the Alevis situation with the Turkey educational system was open to scrutiny since if the compulsory subjects and courses in primary and secondary schools were precisely meant for religious culture and ethics, then there was no possible significant reason why it should have been made distinctively compulsory for the Muslim children. The practice of parents being forced to provide their religious and philosophical convictions to school authorities was unfortunate means of guaranteeing the veneration to freedom of conviction especially to parents. Furthermore, the school authorities always had the alternative of refusing the requests made by parents to have their children exempted from taking the compulsory religious and ethics classes especially in the absence of any clear text. Accordingly, the court deliberated that the methodology for exemption failed to use suitable procedures without sufficient protection provisions to the parents who could legally consider the religious culture and ethics subjects taught in primary and secondary school could have a high possibility of raising the conflict of religious values in their children. With these observations, the court unanimously concluded that there was a breach to Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 by the Turkish Education System and overly by the government of Turkey.
Mansur and others verses Turkey, and Hassan and Eylem Zengin verses Turkey are cases that are similar in almost every aspect despite the fact that the first one was lodged almost a decade later after the latter was lodged at the European Court of Human Rights. Ever since the ECtHR issued its judgement on the breach of Article 2 of Protocol Non. 1 of the constitution, there is no significant step that have been taken by the Turkey’s government towards implementation of the ECtHR’s demands. Until today, it is still mandatory and a requirement by the law for pupils and students in primary and secondary schools are still obliged to take the compulsory religious and ethics classes. In fact, the number of compulsory religious and ethics subject have been increased by three.
Although it is the States duty to ensure that its citizens are educated and the alignment of the State’s education can be secular, but the State, having the will on the syllabus, should conform to the principles of human rights by upholding pluralism and desisting from indoctrination of the minority groups into the dominant Sunni branch of Islam. The Alevis being the largest minority religious group in Turkey, have had the longest struggle within the legal boundaries to attain the respect for their freedom of religion as well as the parents’ convictions. However despite taking the specific matters of breach to their right to freedom of religion to the relevant international legal avenues particularly the ECtHR, and winning the cases that they lodged concerning, the State have failed to implement measures that guarantee their right to freedom of religion and parents’ conviction. Instead, the State still introduces new measures which makes it more difficult for the Alevis to have their right to freedom of religion and parents’ conviction. The ECtHR through its relevant body should explore a follow up on the judgement they issued concerning the above discussed cases on the breach of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 of the Turkish constitution to ensure that the Turkish State introduces new measures that guarantees freedom of religion and parents’ conviction to all the religious minority groups in Turkey.
3.4. The changes in state-run schools: Expansion of Imam Hatip Schools: Indoctrination of Sunni Islam Orthodoxy
Turkey’s State-run schools are experiencing a paradigm shift in different aspects especially in the spectrum of religion. It would be an anticipation from the public especially Turkish citizens who are followers of Alevi faith that based on the judgements of human rights violation cases at the ECtHR particularly the cases that concerned violation of the freedom of religion and thought, the government of Turkey would reform the education sector to match the suggestions by the ECtHR and promote pluralism as well as ensure that parents’ convictions are met. However, the apparent reformation in the State-run schools is far from this expectation and it is observed that the situation is even getting unbearable since secularism which has been practiced in Turkey for many years is dwindling rapidly. This is because the neutrality measures which have existed for years in schools are indirectly being scrapped and more priorities is given to developments associated with Islam. The minority religious groups are lightly considered in the plans of these developments. One major observation that has been made concerning State-run schools is the decline in their number. The number of state-run schools are declining at an alarming rate but the government lightly cares about that, however, the number of Islamic religious schools run by the government are noticeably increasing across the country. Yilanci, a State-run school teacher who has taught in a state-school based in Istanbul for over ten years when interviewed pointed out that the first thing that he has noticed changing in State-run schools is the alarming decline in the population of State-run schools which have been literally influenced by the religion in school system. Apart from the declining of public schools run by the State, the influence of religious foundations particularly Islamic foundations on State-run schools have also augmented over the years. The influence of these foundations have mainly been on the curriculum of religious subjects which a significant number are mandatorily taken by all students in primary and secondary schools irrespective of their individual belief and faith.
A notable example of these foundations is the Ensar Foundation which have been given the full authority to audit and set the school curriculum for hundreds of religious classes. It is important to note that these foundations are Islamic foundations and over 95 Per_cent of their activities pertains promotion and facilitation of the understanding as well as teaching of the Sunni branch of Islam, and they have zero interest on other minority religious groups such as the Alevis, and therefore when given the mandate to audit and control the syllabus of the religious education, the likelihood of being neutral in terms of inclusion key information and understanding of other religions such as Alevism is low. Moreover, giving mandates to these Islamic foundation is detrimental to promotion of pluralism and at the same time, negatively impacts secularism in Turkey by infringing the freedom of religion, thought, and conscience through promotion of only one religion which is the dominantly followed by the majority of the Turkish citizens. Another alarming influence of these foundations on the State-run schools is the model of teaching religious subjects. Initially, before these foundations were given the mandate to regulate the religious curriculum of Turkey, teachers employed by the States and stationed at the State run-schools used to teach religious classes in their respective schools, however, this is not the case presently as the teachers from these foundations given the mandate to regulate religious curriculum come to the State-run schools and teach the religious classes by themselves. Since these teachers are followers of the Sunni branch of Islam, and they teach religious classes attended by pupils whose significant portion are not followers of the Islamic faith, parents have lately raised concerns of this new model of teaching religious classes whereby instead of teachers employed by the State teaching religious classes, teachers from Islamic foundations are the ones teaching these classes. Another notable changes in the State-run schools is the scrapping of some scientific subjects to create room, and center a large percentage of the available resources on religious education.
One of the recently scrapped scientific courses in secondary school is the theory of evolution which is a prominent topic in biology. This was done deliberately at the beginning of the year 2017 to create more time and save resources for religious based classes. Moreover, the number of weekly hours subjected to teaching certain scientific courses have been reduced significantly in State-run schools to create more time for religious classes. With these significant changes in State-run schools are welcomed by the conservatives, secularist are hostile to these changes as they feel that implementing the changes impact the ways of secularism as established by the country’s founding fathers. As a result, there has been a public divide regarding these changes whereby the conservatives support the changes while secularist are against these changes. What these changes means for the Alevi community is that their quest towards religious freedom especially with regards to the abolishment of the concept of mandatory religious and ethics classes is far from being attained even through the local and international legal channels. With the takeover of religious classes and syllabus by Islamic foundations whose interests are mainly centered on the promotion, teaching, and understanding of the Sunni branch of Islam, the chances of increasing circumstance of parents’ convictions as well as breach of the Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 is high especially the freedom of religion and belief. Furthermore, the Alevis children stands a high chance of being indoctrinated into a faith that their parents does not follow. Based on a very recent article on why Turkey’s State-run schools are abolishing the teaching of evolution in their scientific curriculum, introduction of the concept of Jihad in the religious teachings is one area that is planned to replace the teachings of evolution even though the top officials in the ministry of education have denied that publicly. Moreover, the weekly teaching hours of secularism particular the founder of secularist Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk has been reduced to create more time for the study of the concept of Jihadism. According to the sentiments by the opposition leader who is a secularist, the current president of Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling AK party are generally making Turkey to be more conservatively Islamic and drawing it away from Secularism values established by the country’s forefathers.
Apart from the declining number of State-run schools, and alteration of the models used in teaching religious classes as well as the dropping of some scientific topics and inclusion of Jihadism in the religious subjects, another striking change that have been noticed happening in the Turkish education system is the augmenting number of Islamic institutions called the Imam Hatip schools. Before detailing the expansion of Imam Hatip schools across Turkey, it is significant to briefly overview what these schools concerns in different aspects. Imam Hatip Schools are secondary level education institutions that were first established as vocational schools used to train civil servants Imams once Madrasas were abolished in Turkey as a result of the amalgamation of education act. Historically, the actual beginning of the concept of Imams Hatip schools is traced back to the Ottoman regime. Throughout the Ottoman Empire epoch, the fundamental goal of education was to raise good Muslims in the sense that they followed the Islamic doctrine to the latter without any flaws. As such, there were Islamic priests which were trained and maintained by Islamic theological schools called the Madrasa. However, in 1913, about a decade to the founding of Turkey as a nation, the Islamic schools of ministers were combined with the Islamic school of preachers to form what is termed today as the Imam Hatip schools, back then they were called Iman Hatip High School.
A year after the establishment of Turkey as nation in 1923, the law of unification of education instruction was enacted, and this replaced the then sectarian educational system to become secular based education system. The contribution of this law was that it brought all the educational institutions to be regulated and controlled under one body called the Ministry of National Education. The new body, the Ministry of National Education opened up new schools for training Imams and Hatip, and these schools were also known as the Imam Hatip schools. However, in 1933, these schools were closed, and the faculty of divinity under which these special schools were operated was abolished. In 1951 when the Democratic Party was in power, the Imam Hatips schools were revived again, and for a start, the government established seven special Imam Hatips schools, and eight years later opened up Islamic institutes where the graduates from Imam Hatip secondary schools could further their studies at a tertiary level of education. The population of Imam Hatip schools grew gradually over the years after its revitalization, and by 1970, there were about 300 Imam Hatip schools across the country. The name Imam Hatip High school was first used in the Ottoman Empire’s regime, and after the abolishment of these schools in 1930, the only time that the schools were renamed once again from Imam Hatip Schools to Imam Hatip High Schools was in 1971 when Junior Imam Hatip Schools were abolished. During the regime of the coalition government in 1974, about 230 Imam Hatip schools were opened within a period of four years and moreover, the number of students attending these schools grew significantly by over 40,000 than any other year prior to that period of time. In 1981, there were over 200,000 students attending Imam Hatip High school, and among these students were female students who gained the access to these schools in 1976 under the coalition government. The detrimental turning point for the Imam Hatip schools in Turkey began in the early 1982 and this was largely impacted by the coup that occurred on September 1980. During the military takeover of the government for a significant period of time, no new Imam Hatip High School was opened up despite the increased number of students that joined these institutions. In 1985, only two Imam Hatip schools were opened up in the entire Turkey as a country. Additionally, due to the criticism from the secularist conservatives, establishment of more Imam Hatips schools became difficult to the successive governments since 1980s.
Different research conducted on the education system in Turkey in the early 1980s onwards point out that from the year 1990 to the year 2000, students mainly enrolled in Imam Hatip schools mainly to gain religious tutoring combined with a general education, and this was distinctively based on the decision made by the student. In other words, if a student did not want to join an Imam Hatip School, he will not have received any pressure from the parent to do so since that was their own decision to make. What strikingly hindered the development of more Imam Hatip Schools in the late 1990s, and the 2000s was the introduction of an eight year mandatory education which was commissioned in 1997. Since then, the decline of the number of Imam Hatip schools started suddenly as some of them were being closed down. However, to curb this phenomena, the government altered the name of the Imam Hatip schools from being Imam Hatip to Vocation Schools. What this meant however was that attending Imam Hatip schools did not guarantee the attendee a direct entry into the universities since one of the key requirements to join a university was attending the eight year mandatory education plus middle high school level education. This was unlike in the past when attending Imam Hatip School would guarantee an individual a direct entry to a university. As such, children could join the vocational school, but instead attended the compulsory eight year education, but attended the vocational schools once they made it to 9th grade education level. By early 2000s particularly in the year 2000 through to year 2001, only 11 percent of the pupils in the eight year mandatory level of education in the entire country were attending the vocational schools or Imam Hatip Schools.
The incoming of the Justice and Development government in the year 2002 further impacted the Imam Hatip schools more negatively by extending the compulsory education from eight years to twelve years (the 4.4.4 education system) where by a child was required to attend the primary level of education in four years, middle school in four years, and high school in four years. This made it difficult for majority of the pupils and students in Turkey to join vocational or Imam Hatip schools. Generally, from the 1980s until 2010, Imam Hatip schools experienced tough times in Turkey mostly influenced by the introduction of new education systems, and criticism from the secularism conservatives. However, in 2011, when a new government came in under president Erdogan, Imam Hatip schools experienced a positive change in direction especially in terms of increasing number of enrollments and reopening of some of the closed Imam Hatip Schools.
In 2002, the total number of students that attended Imam Hatip schools in the entire nation of Turkey were only 60000, however, by 2017, the number had rose to 1.1 million attendees in the entire country. Apparently, the government of Turkey is allocating more money towards the development of Imam Hatip Schools across Turkey. Being an Alumni of Imam Hatip Schools, president Erdogan have facilitated and promoted the development of more Imam Hatip schools across Turkey. While more Imam Hatip schools are being built, the number of enrollments in these schools are also augmenting steadily. Based on a very recent report provided in the mainstream, president Erdogan have stressed that one of his goal before his term elapses is to forge a pious generation in the Muslim dominated Turkey that will work towards the construction of new civilization, and one way that he tends to achieve this goal is through the Imam Hatip schools. After decades of secular dominance in Turkey, President Erdogan is focused on changing the secularism theme in Turkey, and putting religion at the heart of the nation’s life by reviving the Imam Hatip schools. A review of the government’s budget for the 2018-2019 financial year reveals that the spending for Imam Hatip upper schools for boys and girls of ages between 14 and 18 years doubled to 1.68 billion US Dollars in 2018 which was equivalent to the almost a quarter of the budget allocated for the secular upper schools.
In 2018, there were approximately 645000 enrolled students in Imam Hatip upper schools and this was equivalent to about 11 percent of the total number of students in the State-run schools. Out of the total budget allocated to the education sector in Turkey, 23 percent is further allocated for the development and running of the Imam Hatip schools. Middle school level of Imam Hatip schools was introduced in 2012, a few years after president Erdogan came to power, and since then, the number of pupils in the middle schools Imam Hatip schools have augment five times to 1.3 million students by 2018 in over 4000 middle school Imam Hatip schools. In 2018 alone, the government had plans to construct 128 more Imam Hatip schools, and 50 more by 2019. Moreover, the government have increased religious education teaching at the regular State-run schools whereby some of the regular schools have been converted to Imam Hatip schools. While the developments of these schools are ongoing, there is a complete division among the Turkish citizens on the focus that the government is giving to the religious schools than the regular schools. Secularists feels that it is inappropriate for the government to take that path as it will eliminate the values of secularism established by the country’s forefathers. On the other hand, the conservatives feels that making Islamic religion as the key theme of the government is appropriate as it preserves the traditions values of the nation. What these developments means for the Alevis is the possibility of indoctrination into Islamic faith.
While there is a divide among the Turkish citizens concerning the reviving of Imam Hatip schools in Turkey as well as on changes that are being implemented on regular schools to favor religion education which predominantly is Islamic education, a section of the Turkish citizens who are the Alevis are concerned with the impact on these changes on their faith and belief. Although the government of Turkey is focused on implementing these changes, but this intensely interferes with the certain provisions of the law particularly concerning the freedom of religion and belief, as well as the right to parents’ conviction especially for the Alevi parents. Reducing hours for the regular classes for other subjects in favor of the religious classes which predominantly pertains the teaching of Islamic religion have no respect to the other religious beliefs such as Alevism. Based on various news articles, the current president of Turkey have emphasized on his long-term goal of pioneering a pious generation of nation whose entire values will be based on Islamic values, and with this motive, the government is distantly isolating itself from the values of secularism, and this is dangerous for the other religious minority groups in Turkey.
With secularism, the religious minority groups have a none-hostile environment to practice their faith except for the legally unrecognized religious minority groups such as the Alevis. Bringing in Islamic foundations to take over teaching religious classes in regular schools is a hostile strategy to the children in primary and middle schools who are not followers of Sunni branch of Islam. The conversion of regular schools to become Imam Hatip schools is also a threat to the Alevis lifestyle especially regarding their children.
The students from Alevi community who attend regular schools that are converted to become Imam Hatip are under constant danger of indoctrination to Islamic religion and lifestyle. This not only applies to the students from the Alevi community but also from other religious minority groups included the legally recognized minority religious group in Turkey such as the Orthodox Christians. Despite these issues being raised by the top religious leaders of the Alevi community as well as secularist conservatives, the government have insisted on implementing these plans and work towards attaining the president’s objective of establishing a pious generation of a nation that holds the values of Islam. A keen observation to the ongoing changes in the Turkeys education sector whereby regular schools are being converted to Imam Hatip schools which plays a significant role in making the country more Islamic, building of more Imam Hatip schools, creating more time for religious classes while omitting some scientific topics to replace with religious topics, and mandating Islamic education foundation to regulate and teach religious subjects and classes respectively, all these is a clear indication of proselytization of other minority religious group into Islamic orthodoxy including the Alevis.
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