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Cablegate: "Alevi Opening" Meets with Alevi Skepticism

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P 140516Z JAN 10
FM AMCONSUL ISTANBUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9435
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
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TAGS: OSCE PGOV PHUM PREL TU
SUBJECT: "ALEVI OPENING" MEETS WITH ALEVI SKEPTICISM

REF: 09 ISTANBUL 456

1. (SBU) Summary. The GOT announced plans to discuss at its
final Alevi workshop Alevi concerns related to the
recognition of their cem houses as places of worship, ending
compulsory religious instruction, and opening a special
institute to train Alevi clerics. The Alevi population does
not agree on how to define itself and is divided among many
organizations (reftel), but they are largely unified in their
skepticism of the GOT's sincerity toward Alevis in the AKP's
National Unity Project. According to a survey conducted by
Eurasian Public Research Center, only 11 percent of Alevis
believe that the GOT is sincere. They point to what they
perceive as the AKP's strong Sunni Islam bias as a negative
variable in the likelihood of cem houses being provided
official status by the GOT. Additionally, some Alevi
organizations - such as Pir Sultan Abdal - note that even if
cem evler were recognized, the Alevis would never vote for
the AKP given their suspicions of the AKP's religious
objectives. End Summary.

2. (SBU) Turkish secularist dailies including "Haberturk"
and "Cumhuriyet" reported recently on the GOT's plans to hold
its final Alevi workshop in which it will outline a roadmap
for an "Alevi opening," an aspect of the National Unity
Project first announced following the AKP's winter retreat in
Kizilcihamam in early December 2009. According to Haberturk,
the GOT will discuss with (largely non-Alevi) participants
four steps proposed for addressing the concerns of the
Alevis, including the following:

- Giving the status of places of worship to cem houses.
- Altering Article 24 of the Constitution to end
compulsory religious instruction in schools.
- Opening a special institute to train Alevi clerics.
- Extending financial support to cem houses and partially
covering their water and electricity expenses.

Although not clarified in news coverage, the official
designation as a place of worship automatically provides for
financial support from the Directorate of Religious Affairs
(Diyanet) in the form of subsidized utilities. Some Alevi
leaders, however, fear that with Diyanet support also comes
Diyanet control, and are worried about the Diyanet trying to
control the messages put forth in Alevi services. At this
time, only Sunni mosques and the places of worship of
officially-recognized minority community foundations receive
such subsidies (and controls).

3. (SBU) The GOT's ongoing quarterly Alevi workshops have
received much criticism from largely boycotting Alevi
organizations who consider them to be empty and gratuitous.
The leader of the Istanbul branch of Pir Sultan Abdal Alevi
association labeled them insulting. He and the association
board members noted that only one Alevi organization, Ehl-i
Beyt, participates in these workshops. They label Ehl-i Beyt
a "shia group in bed with the AKP." Izzetin Dogan, president
of the Cem Vakfi (foundation) representing a more moderate
and less leftist Alevi population, also said he considers the
workshops "a joke" and insincere. While most Alevi
organizations surveyed are encouraged by the idea of an
"Alevi opening," they remain skeptical of the GOT's sincerity
given what they perceive as the AKP's Sunni Islam religious
objectives and perspectives. Such perspectives, Dogan and
even Fermani Altun of the Ehl-i Beyt Foundation noted, make
it difficult for the AKP to reconcile their belief that
Alevism is a heterodox form of Islam with the possibility of
formally recognizing Alevi cem houses as places of worship.
According to previous discussions with representatives of the
Diyanet, the recognition of cem houses as places of worship
would be akin to the recognition of Alevism as a
non-heterodox form of Islam - something they would not
permit.

4. (SBU) "Cumhuriyet" also reported that Alevis are
suspicious about the GOT's proposed opening. The paper
reported on an undated survey conducted by Eurasian Public
Research Center which showed that 33.9 percent of Alevis said
they are the target of permanent discrimination. Another 36.4
percent said they sometimes face discrimination. Only 11
percent believe that the GOT is sincere toward Alevis in its
National Unity Project.

5. (SBU) Comment. While the AKP seems keen to reach out to
many different communities across the country (from Kurds to
Greek Orthodox to Alevis) during its National Unity Project,
GOT action on these issues has been insufficient to earn
support among Alevis. If the AKP wants to see any electoral
gains from its efforts, it will need to deliver, and soon, on
some of its promises. The AKP was pummeled with public
criticism for the rapid speed with which they advanced
discussions about the National Unity Project. The party
suggested that its current slower pace is in response to this
criticism, an attempt to allow for the "digestion" of the
proposed reforms.

6. (SBU) Comment Continued: Lack of engagement with Alevi
organizations outside of the Eyl-i Beyt, whom many see as in
bed with the AKP, will likely continue to prevent the "Alevi
Opening" from gaining traction. The AKP will have to work
very hard to prove its sincerity - possibly through action
rather than words - before other Alevi groups will consider
joining the workshops.
DAYTON

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