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Cablegate: Turkey: Alevis Celebrate Culture, Call For

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DE RUEHAK #2174/01 2340836
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 220836Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY ANKARA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3513
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RHMFIUU/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE
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RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC//J-3/J-5//
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RUEUITH/ODC ANKARA TU//TCH//
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RUEUITH/TLO ANKARA TU
RUEHAK/TSR ANKARA TU
RUEHAK/USDAO ANKARA TU

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ANKARA 002174

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL OSCE TU
SUBJECT: TURKEY: ALEVIS CELEBRATE CULTURE, CALL FOR
POLITICAL RIGHTS DURING ANNUAL FESTIVAL

REF: A. ANKARA 747
B. ANKARA 1288

1.(SBU) Summary: Tens of thousands of Alevis from across
Turkey and the Balkans descended on the central Anatolian
town of Haci Bektas on August 16 to take part in the largest
annual celebration of their culture. Celebrants came from
afar to see the mausoleum of Haci Bektas Veli, a 13th century
mystic who taught peace and tolerance, and whom followers
believe descended from the Caliph Ali. Participants reveled
in a carnival-like atmosphere of music, dancing, prayer, and
eating. The festival also served as a platform for Alevis to
espouse their political agenda, which calls for the GOT to
recognize Alevis' right to worship in "cem" houses, permit
them to opt out of mandatory (Sunni) religious education
classes in primary and secondary school, and end the GOT
practice of excluding Alevis from Sunni-dominated government
institutions such as the Directorate of Religious Affairs
(Diyanet). End summary.

-------------------------------------------
Alevi Masses Convene For Annual Celebration
-------------------------------------------

2.(U) On August 15 and 16, bus-loads of Alevis descended on
the quiet Anatolian town of Haci Bektas from far and wide:
Turkish provinces of Isparta, Tokat, Tunceli, Mersin,
Antalya, and Erzincan, as well as from Germany, Bulgaria,
Albania, and other European and Balkan countries. Featuring
prominently in the crowd were scores of Roma, who converted
to Alevism nearly a century ago, coming from Istanbul and
eastern and southern Anatolia. Most visitors make the
pilgrimage each year to the tomb of 13th century mystic Haci
Bektas Veli, a revered teacher of peace and tolerance who
Alevis believe to be descended from the Caliph Ali.

3.(U) Turkish National Police (TNP) monitored the event by
helicopter and on foot, but the festival lacked the necessary
planning and infrastructure to accommodate the massive crowd.
The town of Haci Bektas has only one hotel five kilometers
from the festival's location and only one public toilet is
available. Most of the participants either came by bus for
the day, or camped in and around the town. Many slept on the
streets. Dozens of municipal workers were no match for the
mountains of refuse. Shopkeepers blamed the insufficient
infrastructure on the mayor, a former military officer who
they described as lacking in management skills. They told us
that in prior years the municipality had set up tents for
shade and portable bathrooms.

4.(U) Poor conditions did not deter the celebrants, who
transformed the sleepy town into a carnival-like setting.
Workers hung pictures of Haci Bektas in the public square,
shopkeepers set up stalls where they hawked an array of Haci
Bektas books and paraphernalia. Men in shorts (a rarity in
Turkey) and women danced together in the streets to
traditional and modern music. Volunteers handed out
"Cumhuriyet", a staunchly secularist and nationalist daily
newspaper. Activists hung political banners proclaiming
Alevis' right to celebrate their culture in "cem" houses, and
calling on the GOT to end mandatory Sunni religious courses
in school. Colorfully-clad dance troupes performed
ceremonial dances. Alevi "Dedes", or spiritual leaders,
performed the traditional prayer, called a "semah."

--------------------------------------------- -----
Celebrants and Speakers Call for Equality, Respect
--------------------------------------------- -----

5.(U) Alevis have long united in their belief in a secular
government and opposition to right-wing parties. Comments at
the festival showed Alevis' continuing skepticism of
right-of-center or conservative political parties, which they
view as antithetical to Ataturk's tenets. Numerous attendees
told us the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is
pursuing a not-so-secret agenda to Islamicize Turkey and end
Alevis' ability to practice their unique culture. Alevis do
not agree among themselves on one political agenda or support
one party. Many told us they had lost hope in the opposition
Republican People's Party (CHP), and several groups chanted

ANKARA 00002174 002 OF 002


slogans against CHP leader Deniz Baykal. An Alevi farmer
from Tunceli told us he voted for Democratic Left Party (DSP)
in the recent election because CHP had "abandoned its
socialist principles and turned into a close-minded and
racist party." Others said they still see CHP as the party
that provides the most support to Alevi causes.

6.(U) Haci Bektas Mayor Ali Riza Selmanpakoglu delivered a
passionate keynote speech to an audience that included the
governors from nearby Nevsehir and Kirsehir, DSP leader Zeki
Sezer, several current and former MPs, local military
commanders, and representatives from the Russian and Iranian
embassies. Selmanpakoglu called on the GOT to support the
same principles of "enlightenment and tolerance" espoused by
both Haci Bektas and Ataturk. He stressed the importance of
continuing Ataturk's principles of secularism, and warned
that "foreign powers and their accomplices" are creating
"artificial minorities." Mayor Selmanpakoglu called on the
GOT to:

-Make compulsory religious courses optional;
-Grant legal status to Alevi "cem" houses;
-Change GOT policy of building mosques in Alevi villages;
-Restructure the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet)
to include Alevi scholars; and
-Create a museum in place of the Sivas Madimak Hotel, where
in 1993 Islamic extremists killed 36 Alevis by setting fire
to the hotel.

7.(SBU) Comment: As in past years, the collaborative efforts
of Turkish police, GOT-appointed and local officials, and
volunteers made this year's Haci Bektas celebration a
smoothly run event. The festival was a rare opportunity to
witness the strength of Alevi culture in Turkey. Most
impressive was the camaraderie of the tens of thousands of
people from a wide array of socio-economic backgrounds, drawn
together by a like-minded belief that they are outsiders
treated unfairly by the GOT. Although Turkey's heterogeneous
Alevi community has not been able to form a cohesive
political bloc (reftels), the festival highlighted Alevis'
shared desire to be able to worship in their own way --
dancing and singing, men alongside women -- without
restrictions imposed by governments or other faiths. End
comment.

Visit Ankara's Classified Web Site at
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/eur/ankara/

MCELDOWNEY

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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