Cablegate: Turkey: Akp Flirts with Alevi Initiative

DE RUEHAK #1993/01 3221556
P 171556Z NOV 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ANKARA 001993


E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/17/2018

B. ANKARA 0073

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

1. (C) Summary and comment: Alevi leaders greeted with
skepticism Turkish press accounts that the ruling Justice and
Development Party (AKP) plans to create an office within the
Ministry of Culture and Tourism to fund Alevi prayer houses
(cemevis) and broaden Alevi rights. They believe AKP is
courting the approximately 10-15 million traditionally
leftist Alevi voters but does not sincerely desire to meet
Alevis' long-standing demands, including official recognition
of cemevis and the right of individual students to opt out of
mandatory religious courses. AKP MP Reha Camuroglu, an
independent-minded Alevi who resigned from the role of PM
Erdogan's advisor on Alevis issues in June 2008 (ref A), told
us the press reports are premature; Erdogan is still
evaluating the political ramifications of a renewed Alevi
initiative. Camuroglu believes Erdogan must achieve concrete
progress on both the Alevi and Kurdish issues prior to March
2009 local elections, lest he face a defection of liberal AKP
MPs and a significantly dimished independent vote.
Considering the traditionally leftist Alevis' deep-rooted
suspicion of AKP, a genuine Alevi outreach effort by Erdogan
would be less an attempt to court Alevi voters than a bid to
shore up his democratic bona fides in light of recent
allegations that he has adopted a nationalistic, status-quo
stance. Although Alevi outreach would help AKP present
itself as a party still committed to the democratic reform
process, Erdogan is unlikely to pursue more than very modest
change prior to elections, for fear of alienating AKP's
conservative Sunni base. End summary and comment.

--------------------------------------------- -
Press Reports AKP Plans a New Alevi Initiative
--------------------------------------------- -

2. (U) Turkish press reported November 13-14 that AKP is
preparing to revive its dormant Alevi initiative by creating
a department with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism
responsible for Alevi issues. According to the reports,
State Minister for Religious Affairs Said Yazicioglu and AKP
MP Reha Camuroglu would oversee a program to allocate GOT
funds to the Ministry for use in building and maintaining
Alevi prayer houses (cemevis) and paying the salary of cemevi
staff. Assigning responsibility to the Culture Ministry
reportedly would allow the government to circumvent legal
provisions and judicial rulings that prohibit the Directorate
of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) from funding cemevis due to
their current status as illegal gathering places (tekkes) for
religious orders (tarikats). Camuroglu, an Alevi Erdogan
brought into the party before the July 2007 parliamentary
elections as part of his effort to broaden AKP's base,
resigned his position in June 2008 as Erdogan's special
advisor on Alevi issues over frustration at what he perceived
as lack of GOT support (ref B).

AKP Alevi MP Skeptical

3. (C) Camuroglu told us November 17 that the press reports
are premature. PM Erdogan had called him several days ago to
discuss the Alevi issue and had given "a yellow light" to
restarting reforms. Erdogan is considering all angles of the
issue, including how negatively the many "extreme Sunni" AKP
supporters would respond to an effort to solve the problems
of Alevis after having failed to fulfill the party's promise
to reverse the headscarf ban. Camuroglu said he is skeptical
following Yazicioglu's November 15 "classical center-right
status quo" comment to the press that it would be difficult
to grant Alevis new rights without also meeting the demands
of other non-Sunni groups.

4. (C) Camuroglu believes that nothing less than the future
of AKP hinges on how PM Erdogan approaches the Alevi issue.
He told us that following the Constitutional Court's ruling
to not close AKP, the GOT failed to meet its "obligation" to
re-commit to democratic reforms. Many liberal AKP MPs and
Turkish citizens had grown increasingly frustrated as Erdogan
shelved reform efforts in favor of a combative, nationalistic

ANKARA 00001993 002 OF 002

stance, epitomized by his recent "love it or leave it"
comment to Kurds in Diyarbakir. Erdogan can retain such
supporters only by achieving "concrete progress." On the
Alevi issue this means recognizing and funding cemevis. The
selection of Alevi candidates to run for AKP in local
elections would also be key, Camuroglu noted. If Erdogan
does not act on these issues prior to elections Camuroglu
said he will resign from the party. He believes Kurdish MP's
will similarly defect if Erdogan does not reverse his
status-quo stance toward the Kurdish issue, and that AKP will
lose independent, democratic-minded voters as well.

Alevi Groups Retain Suspicion of AKP

5. (C) Hussein Gazi Association President Ali Yildirim told
us the GOT's proposal was a thinly-veiled effort to attract
votes in March 2009 local elections. Yildirim believes
Erdogan wants to tap into Turkey's approximately 10-15
million Alevi voters, especially after he saw a recent Alevi
rally in Ankara, which attracted 100,000 people. The rally
showed the traditionally heterogeneous group is improving its
ability to organize. Yildirim said AKP had completely failed
to address any long-standing Alevis demands. The GOT had
refused to implement a European Court of Human Rights ruling
requiring Turkey to abolish or allow Alevis to opt out of the
mandatory religious education course in public schools, and
had balked at granting official recognition and allocating
resources for the construction and administration of cemevis.
The PM evidenced his "Sunni-centric" view when he declared
in June 2008 that cemevis were not religious temples and
therefore could not be granted state recognition.

6. (C) Alevi-Bektasi Federation Secretary General Kazim Genc
told us the GOT is approaching the Alevi issue in the same
"Sunni-centric" manner that doomed its January 2008 Alevi
Iftar to failure (ref B). The GOT had failed to contact any
of the 155 associations and 35 foundations under the
Federation's umbrella in developing the new Alevi initiative
described by the press. Genc said relying on Camuroglu
"destined the effort to failure" because "true Alevis believe
Camuroglu is an opportunist more interested in self-promotion
than improving the situation of Alevis." According to Genc,
Camuroglu had shown his hypocrisy by remaining an AKP MP
despite having resigned his position as Alevi advisor after
he had seen AKP's "real face." Genc noted that putting Alevi
issues under the Culture Ministry would subject Alevis to the
control of a Sunni institution that maintains a tremendously
distorted view of Alevism.

Academic Plans to Address Alevi Issues

7. (C) One of Turkey's foremost Alevi experts, Middle East
Technical University (METU) Professor Aykan Erdemir, told us
the GOT is unlikely to follow through on its new plan because
it remains a conservative party with no genuine interest in
improving the plight of Alevis. A sign of AKP's insincerity,
in Erdemir's view, is the continuing GOT effort to build new
mosques in poor Alevi villages where few to none practice
Islam, instead of consulting the community about its needs.
Erdemir said the infighting among AKP's three Alevi MP's
would also impede progress. Two of the three -- Hussein
Tugcu, an AKP founding member, and Ibrahim Yigit -- who are
known for converting Alevis to Sunnism or a more conservative
form of Alevism, vehemently resent Camuroglu's taking the
lead on Alevi issues. The acrimony had helped kill AKP's
first so-called Alevi initiative and would likely do so
again. Frustrated with Turkey's long-standing failure to
address Alevi issues, Erdemir is working with several
European scholars of Alevism to open an Alevi Studies
Institute in Ankara in early 2009. Erdemir told us the
institute will promote equality and work to debunk pervasive
myths about Alevis, such as the belief held even by many
well-educated Turks that Alevis engage in incest.

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