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Cablegate: Turkey: Alevis Protest Got's Policy On Religious Education

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RUEHAK/USDAO ANKARA TU

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ANKARA 001599

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/05/2018
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL OSCE TU
SUBJECT: TURKEY: ALEVIS PROTEST GOT'S POLICY ON RELIGIOUS EDUCATION

REF: A. 07 ISTANBUL 1088
B. ANKARA 1103

Classified By: POL Counselor Daniel O'Grady, reasons 1.4 (b,d)

1. (U) This is a joint Embassy Ankara and Consulate General
Istanbul cable.

2. (C) Summary and comment: Several Alevi groups organized
an August 24 rally in Istanbul's Taksim square to protest the
GOT's policy of requiring primary and secondary public school
students to take a religious education course. The groups
claim the GOT is ignoring an October 9, 2007 European Court
of Human Right's (ECHR) decision in favor of an Alevi parent
who argued his child should be exempt from the courses, and
are appealing to the Council of Europe's Committee of
Ministers. Alevi protests, though unlikely to convince the
GOT to abolish required religious education courses, may
pressure PM Erdogan to make a meaningful overture to Alevis
in the lead up to March 2009 local elections. After so much
talk but little action, Turkey's highly skeptical Alevi
population (approximately 15 million) will not be easily
convinced until it sees tangible results. End summary and
comment.

-----------------------------
Alevis Stage Istanbul Protest
-----------------------------
3. (SBU) With the start of the 2008 school year, Alevi groups
have raised their voices to protest the government's
continuation of mandatory religious education courses in
public schools. An estimated 150 Alevis held a sit-in
protest in Istanbul's Taksim Square August 24, demanding
abolishment of the compulsory high school religion course and
compliance with the ECHR's October 2007 decision. The four
participating Alevi organizations -- Alevi-Bektasi
Federation, Pir Sultan Abdul Cultural Association, Kocgir
Cultural Association, and the Free Democratic Alevi Union --
announced that protests would continue every Sunday for six
weeks. Alevi Bektasi Federation President Ali Balkiz told us
the groups would continue the protests indefinitely and
possibly expand them to other cities.

-----------------------------------------
Alevis Contend GOT Ignoring ECHR Decision
-----------------------------------------
4. (U) The ECHR's October 9 ruling held that the GOT had
breached the rights -- accorded by the European Convention on
Human Rights, of which Turkey is a signatory -- of Alevis
Hasan Zengin and his daughter Eylem by denying Zengin's
request to exempt his daughter from compulsory religious
courses, which many Alevis claim have a Sunni bias. The
court determined that given the Sunni-oriented curriculum of
the courses, there was no appropriate exemption procedure in
place to ensure the religious freedom rights of non-Sunni
parents (ref A).

5. (SBU) Contacts in the Ministry of Education's office of
religious education told us the ECHR decision is moot because
while the case was proceeding the Ministry of Education
revised the content course textbooks to include information
about non-Sunni religions. Balkiz criticized the GOT's
position, explaining that the 10-page addition to 100-page
textbooks does not alleviate the overwhelming Sunni bias.
The new text includes only a few references to well-known and
respected Alevis but makes no attempt to explain Alevi
history, rituals, or beliefs. Many Alevis follow the
teachings of Haci Bektas, a Persian Sufi mystic and humanist;
the revised textbooks overlook his importance to Alevism and
refer to Haci Bektas simply as a Muslim scholar, according to
Balkiz.

6. (SBU) Balkiz said the Federation on August 13 appealed to
the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers the GOT's
alleged failure to implement the ECHR ruling. He expects the
Committee to issue a decision by December. Balkiz believes
sustained pressure from EU and COE officials will help
persuade the GOT to implement the decision. He noted that
following a similar dispute, religious education classes in
Greece were reclassified as elective courses, putting them in

ANKARA 00001599 002 OF 002


compliance with Council of Europe guidelines.

-----------------------
Small Steps of Progress
-----------------------
7. (U) Responding to a key Alevi demand, on September 3 the
Kusadasi Municipal Council, south of Izmir, officially
recognized an Alevi worship place (cem house) as a temple.
AKP mayor Fuat Akdogan and senior Alevi leader Husnu Kirnali
explained to the press the distinction would allow the cem
house to receive municipal water free of charge, as is the
case with mosques. The unanimous decision taken by council
members from AKP, opposition Republican People's Party (CHP)
and opposition National Action Party (MHP), would also serve
as an example of tolerance for other municipalities to
follow, according to the mayor.

8. (C) AKP MP Reha Camuroglu, an Alevi who resigned June 11
as PM Erdogan's main advisor on Alevi affairs (ref B), told
us he welcomed the decision but believes it will not lead to
significant change in the near term. He believes the GOT
will be reluctant to tackle controversial issues related to
Alevis in the lead up to March 2009 local elections.
Frustrated by what he perceives as AKP's lack of support for
his efforts to address Alevi issues, Camuroglu said he may
leave AKP if PM Erdogan does not signal a willingness to
address important Alevi and other human rights issues.
Naming more moderate ministers in a cabinet reshuffle would
be one such signal, according to Camaroglu. Another would be
to implement the Kusadasi municipality's example on a wider
scale. Ali Kahraman, leader of the Alevi Ege neighborhood
near Ankara, told us he views the Kusadasi development as
blatant vote-buying.


Visit Ankara's Classified Web Site at
http://www.intelink.sgov.gov/wiki/Portal:Turk ey

WILSON

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