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Cablegate: Turkish Alevis Hopeful Following Echr Decision On

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PP RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHIT #1088/01 3651358
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 311358Z DEC 07
FM AMCONSUL ISTANBUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7776
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ISTANBUL 001088

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/30/2017
TAGS: PHUM PGOV TU
SUBJECT: TURKISH ALEVIS HOPEFUL FOLLOWING ECHR DECISION ON
RELIGIOUS EDUCATION

REF: A. ISTANBUL 0015
B. ANKARA 3016

Classified By: Consul General Sharon A. Wiener for reasons 1.4 (b) and
(d)

1. (C) Summary. Some 15 million Turkish Alevis have reason
to be hopeful following an October 9 European Court of Human
Rights ruling and press reports that the government may soon
propose a plan to address their long-disputed grievances.
Prominent Alevi advocate Izettin Dogan recently told us that
the Court's decision in favor of an Alevi parent who argued
his child should be exempt from mandatory religious courses
was "very important." He expressed optimism that the
decision would soon lead to favorable results in two other
key Alevi cases currently before the Turkish Higher Court of
Appeals. How the government responds to the ruling may have
implications that go well beyond the Alevi community, testing
the boundaries of Turkish secularism by loosening the
government's control over religious education. End summary.

ECHR Decision
-------------

2. (SBU) The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on
October 9 that the Government of Turkey (GOT) had breached
the rights -- accorded by the European Convention on Human
Rights (the Convention), of which Turkey is a signatory -- of
Alevis Hasan Zengin and his daughter Eylem when it denied
Zengin's request to exempt his daughter from compulsory
religious courses, which many Alevis claim have a Sunni bias.
Specifically, Protocol No. 1 of the Convention (Article 2)
provides: "In the exercise of any functions which it assumes
in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall
respect the right of parents to ensure such education and
teaching in conformity with their own religious and
philosophical convictions." The Court awarded the Zengin's
3,726.80 Euro in court costs minus 850 Euro already granted
in legal aid and in addition -- somewhat ambiguously --
deemed it would be an "appropriate form of compensation" for
Turkey to bring its educational system and domestic
legislation into conformity with Article 2.

3. (SBU) The ECHR based its decision on three important
conclusions. First, it determined that Alevism is distinct
from the Sunni understanding of Islam and meets the
definition of "religious conviction," as required by Article
2. GOT officials have long argued that Alevis are Muslims
and thus not distinct from Sunnis in a manner that would
allow exemption from compulsory religious education courses
or eligibility for Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet)
funding that Sunnis receive to build mosques and pay imam
salaries. Secondly, the Court concluded that the compulsory
religious courses did not meet Article 2's criteria of
objectivity and pluralism. The Court noted that if the
courses did meet these criteria, there would be no need for
current procedures that allow Jews and Christians to be
exempt, pursuant to a 1990 Turkish Supreme Council for
Education decision. The Court observed that the current
exemption procedures seemed to conflict with the Turkish
Constitution, which ensures that "no one shall be
compelled...to reveal religious beliefs and convictions."
Finally, the Court determined that given the Sunni-oriented
curriculum of these courses, there was no appropriate
exemption procedure in place to ensure the religious freedom
rights of non-Sunni parents.

Possible Implications
---------------------

4. (C) Alevi Cem Foundation Chairman Izettin Dogan told us
that the ruling was "very important," though it was not yet
clear how the government would respond. The government could
attempt to argue it would be complying with the ECHR decision
simply by exempting Zengin's (now 17-year old) daughter from
having to attend religious courses, he said. He had heard
however, that the Education Ministry had already added 10
pages of instruction on Alevism in year 12 -- the final year
-- of the religious course curriculum. Though this would be
a positive step, it would not go far enough to meet Alevi
demands because the Alewite community had not been consulted
in developing course materials.

5. (C) Dogan was more optimistic about the ruling's effect
on two prominent Cem Foundation cases against the government
(ref A), including one against the Prime Ministry requesting
proportional government funding and one against the Ministry
of Education requesting Alevi principles be included in

ISTANBUL 00001088 002 OF 002


religious education. He hoped the decision would encourage
the Turkish courts to rule in the Foundation's favor, if for
nothing else, to avoid the risk of an appeal to the ECHR,
which Dogan expected would rule against the GOT. He noted a
decision in the case against the Prime Ministry is long
overdue according to court regulations and suspects the GOT
is trying to pressure the court to delay so the government
could argue the issue is being addressed in the new
constitution.

6. (C) Recent press reports have highlighted ruling Justice
and Development Party (AKP) plans to reach out to Alevis,
including an initiative proposed by AKP MP Reha Camuroglu,
himself an Alevi (ref B). Camuroglu's proposal includes,
among other goals, establishing a mechanism to build and
maintain government-funded cem evis (Alevi places of worship)
and reforming the religious course curriculum to include more
information on the Alevi faith. According to Dogan, Alevis
thus far remain skeptical of AKP overtures. He believed
AKP's inclusion of four Alevis (including Camuroglu) on its
party list for the July 22 parliamentary election was "only
for show." Though the Cem Foundation leader has always had
good personal relations with AKP leaders, he suspects they do
not want to give in to Alevi demands out of fear that Sunni
Turks would adopt the more tolerant Alewite interpretation of
Islam. Other skeptical Alevi representatives, especially
those who view Alevism as separate from Islam, have publicly
argued that the recent AKP proposals are intended to
"Sunnify" the diverse Alevi community.

7. (C) Comment. The ambiguity of the ECHR decision stating
it would be an "appropriate form of compensation" for Turkey
to align its education system with Article 2, seems to allow
the government some room to maneuver. Camuroglu's proposal
suggests the government has taken note and is trying to take
matters into its own hands before future potential Court
rulings limit its ability to do so.

8. (C) Comment continued. Truly complying with Article 2
would involve a solution that extends to Turks of all faiths:
one that uses the existing curriculum but grants exemption
rights to all who choose, without requiring proof of
allegiance to a non-Sunni faith; or one that significantly
modifies the religious course curriculum to remove any bias
to a single faith. Adopting the latter solution could impact
the government's control over religious education by
prompting some Sunnis, whose study of their faith in public
elementary and secondary schools would be diluted, to seek
alternative, private means of religious education. Those who
suspect the Islam-rooted AKP of having a "secret agenda" will
closely scrutinize any attempts to liberalize age and
participation regulations for existing, voluntary,
extra-curricular "Koran courses" now closely regulated by the
Diyanet. End comment.
WIENER

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