Cablegate: Alevis Without a Party

DE RUEHIT #0456/01 3481302
P 141302Z DEC 09



E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A. 08 ANKARA 1599
B. 08 ANKARA 1696

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1. (SBU) Summary. The definition of Turkish Alevism varies
greatly, as do the cultural and political objectives of the
rainbow of Alevi organizations in the country. Three
significant Alevi organizations/federations share only two
demands: official GOT recognition of Alevi places of worship
("cem evler") and the abolition of compulsory religion
courses. The same organizations do not have a common
definition for their own religion, much less their political
perspectives. In light of the recent uptick in perceived
nationalistic statements by members of the traditional Alevi
fallback party - the Republican People's Party (CHP) - the
political community is closely watching how the 10 - 20
million Alevis choose to use their votes, if not with CHP.
The search is on for a suitable bride for the diverse Alevi
community's rather schizophrenic groom. End Summary.

2. (SBU) An estimated 10-20 million Alevis live in Turkey but
their definition of Alevism varies widely. Turkish Alevism is
commonly characterized by Turkish Sunni Muslims as a
heterodox Muslim faith, more closely aligned with Shiism than
Sunnism. However, some Alevi groups, namely those belonging
to the five associations of the umbrella Alevi Bektasi
Federation, consider Alevism to be a religion independent of
Islam. According to Federation Vice President Ali Kenanoglu,
Alevis do not consult just one book as a guide for life and
instead follow a general ideology outlined by Bektas Veli of
the 13th century. While the Koran is "holy" to Alevis, so are
many other texts and works, Kenanoglu noted. Conversely, two
other prominent Alevi groups, the Cem Foundation (Vakfi) and
Ehli-Beyt Foundation (Vakfi) -- distinct from one another and
not under the Bektasi Federation's umbrella -- consider
Alevism to be a third branch of Islam, separate from Sunnism
and Shiism. Of the three organizations, the Cem Foundation
and Alevi Bektasi Federation have relatively strong ties with
one another, neither has ties with the Ehli-Beyt Foundation.
Conversely, the Alevi Bektasi Federation considers the
Ehli-Beyt Foundation to be a "Shia establishment, which is in
bed with the AKP and receives support from Iran." No other
Alevi organizations with which poloffs have met had favorable
views of the Ehli-Beyt Foundation, and other than those
organizations under the umbrella of the Bektasi Federation,
few work together on mutual interests.

Reactions to the AKP

3. (U) At the Justice and Development Party (AKP)'s annual
winter meeting in Kizilcahamam, PM Erdogan voiced his support
for Turkey's Alevi community, perhaps as a reaction to a main
opposition party (CHP) deputy who made contentious comments
regarding a government attack on the Alevi/Kurdish city of
Dersim (now Tunceli) during a revolt in 1938. Erdogan also
stressed the importance of all ethnic groups in Turkey,
stating once again that the AKP is against religious, ethnic
and regional nationalism.

4. (SBU) In 2008, the AKP began a series of Alevi workshops
intended to provide a platform from which the GOT could
address the problems of the Alevi population. Viewing these
platforms as useless, all Alevi organizations except for the
Ehli-Beyt Foundation have chosen not to participate in the
bimonthly gatherings. Kenanoglu said that members of the
Alevi Bektasi Federation considered the workshops to be an
insult when so many other more substantial demands-such as
official recognition of Alevi places of worship ("cem evler")
and abolishing compulsory religious courses--are left
unaddressed. For this reason, he said, the Federation
organized a march in Istanbul on November 8th in which
300,000 Alevis and sympathetic "leftist Sunnis" participated.
According to Kenanoglu, members of the Alevi Bektasi
Federation would never vote for the AKP for fear that its
ultimate goal is the imposition of Sharia law. Alevis would
instead continue voting for CHP until a viable left of center
party appeared, he said. (Note: Alevis in general have
tended to vote for leftist parties since the 1960s, attracted
by secular policies that they believe would keep Sunni
Islamic values out of politics. End Note.)

5. (SBU) On November 6, President Gul visited the central
province of Tunceli, where he also attended a cem evi service
in an effort to reach out to Tunceli's largely Alevi Kurdish
population. Gul extended an invitation to the Cem
Foundation's Dogan, who told us he "didn't want to refuse."
While there, Dogan - whose mother's family settled in Tunceli

ISTANBUL 00000456 002.2 OF 002

"over 1000 years ago" - gave the opening lecture to the local
university about EU accession and Turkey with a sprinkling of
Alevi lore from the region.

6. (SBU) Ehli-Beyt's close relationship with AKP was apparent
with Altun's very public meeting with President Gul on
November 11th. Additionally, several leading members of the
Ehli-Beyt Foundation are AKP representatives on the Istanbul
municipal board. Altun contended he is the only Alevi leader
with whom the government will meet because he is the only
true representative of Turkish Alevis, having established the
first Alevi foundation in the 1960s. (Comment: Gul's
invitation to Dogan would appear to counter Altun's
assertion. End Comment.)

Dersim and the Cost to CHP

7. (U) Alevi members of the CHP have been defecting from the
party in increasing numbers following Deputy Chairman Onur
Oymen's comparison of the Dersim massacres of 1938 to the
struggle against the PKK. The defections have been most
striking in the province of Tunceli (previously known as
Dersim), where 300 CHP Members -- including the mayors of the
sub-provinces of Pulumur, Nazmiye, and Ovacik -- resigned as
part of a mass demonstration. Although Tunceli is Turkey's
least populous province, its population contains a relatively
high percentage of Alevis, Kurds and Armenians. It
traditionally bucks national trends, electing unusually high
numbers of independents and leftists to prominent offices.
Many newspapers, including Radikal, Zaman, and Taraf, are
speculating that CHP's unwillingness to disown Oymen's
statements will cost them Alevi votes in national elections
to be held no later than 2011.

Alternatives to CHP?

8. (SBU) Kenanoglu said that Alevis have no other option than
to stick with CHP, even after Oymen's fumble, because they
certainly would never vote for AKP. However, a late November
interview with the Federation's president in daily Milliyet
charted the potential of a new leftist party created by the
Federation and various labor unions as an alternative to the
CHP by January 2010. Cem Foundation's Dogan suggested that
the newly re-founded Demokrat Partisi (DP) would attract some
Alevis from CHP and may garner as much as 15 to 20 percent of
the popular vote in 2011. Altun, on the other hand, sees no
incompatibility with Alevism and the AKP and dismisses the
CHP as a party past its prime. None of the three Alevi groups
suggested Sisli Mayor Mustafa Sarigul's Turkish Change
Movement (TDH) as an alternative to the CHP. Kenanoglu
instead decried Sarigul's stance as "two-faced and
hypocritical." He contended that because Sarigul publicly
supports all religions in Sisli but has yet to appoint an
Alevi to his staff, Alevis in Sisli did not vote for him in
the last municipal elections.

9. (SBU) Comment: For now, the Alevis constitute a
secularist-oriented, liberal constituency that remains
disenchanted with Turkey's choice of political parties and
that may be up for grabs in the run-up to the next election.
By failing to unite under a single banner with a common
strategy, however, the disparate Alevi community appears
incapable of mustering significant political capital.
Indeed, because the Alevis are so disparate and
uncoordinated, Turkish political parties may continue to
judge that specific campaign promises and outreach to Alevis
beyond general lip service are not worth the risk of
alienating other, more coordinated constituencies in Turkey's
polarized political arena. End Comment.


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