Alawi Problem of Turkey: Political Expression of Historical Reality: Commentator

Politics Materials 20 November 2008 18:01 (UTC +04:00)

Bahram Hasanov, commentator on Turkey of the Trend Middle East Desk

The alawis, who recently have made statements with some demands in Turkey, held the first demonstration with 50,000 people's participation ten days ago and attracted attention of media through this action. Their demands were connected to cultural rights, as it has been in the alawis' other protest actions for the last years. However, this demonstration was of political character. The alawis, who as always, put forward demands jointly with the left forces of the country, were in opposition to the right forces. It is not surprising that the held demonstration ten days ago turned into a protest action against the ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) of Turkey.

The fact that the alawis in Turkey are close with the left political forces and against the right forces, is closely connected to their historical past. The alawis, whose number reaches 20mln people due to their own data and 5mln people - to other sources, have own religious belief.

The alawis, who are mostly identified with Shiahs from Iraq, Iran and Azerbaijan, believe in many Islamic motives, whilst do not accept shariat. The alawis' belief, which is based on ancient Turkic-shaman faith, accepted some elements of Shiah sect of Islam under Shah Ismayil's pressure in the 16th century.

Unlike Shiah Muslims, the alawis pass their belief orally from generation to generation and do not possess any written religious source.

During the Ottoman empire, which officially accepted Sunni Islam belief, the alawis underwent prosecution for non-accepting of Shariat and for supporting the Safavids. At present, they criticize form of government, basing on Shariat rules. During the Ottoman empire Sunni's pressure made the alawis unify and become more resolute in their belief. In this regard, it was ironically seemed that Sunni culture played a decisive role in preservation of the alawis culture in the history.

The alawis' religious belief underwent serious changes during a period of the Turkish Republic, which replaced the Ottoman empire and is ruled on secular bases. One of major reasons of these changes was absence of the written religious source of the alawis. Another important reason was liquidation of Sunnis' pressure, which unified the alawis throughout the history. In this regard, it is no mere chance that majority of the alawis of Turkey has become to support the atheistic left forces since 1960-1970.

Another reason of the alawis support to the lefts, who are far from the Islamic value, was a desire to preserve their cultural essence in other standpoint. Earlier unifying because of Sunnis' pressure, the alawis chose the ruling political forces, which pay a special attention to Sunni Islam value, as their rival at this time. Actually, we can say that all alawis could unify around the left political forces, which regard the rights as their opponents. In this regard, the alawis problem in Turkey should be assessed as efforts of the alawis to express their historical essence in political view.

The Alawis chose the right political forces as their rival, because they permanently need in rival to preserve own essence. A main demand, which was put forward during the demonstration of the alawis, was liquidation of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, which is a religious centre of Sunnis in Turkey, as well as obligatory lessons on religion (Sunnism) and granting official temple status to assembly houses, which are traditional temples of the alawis. The alawis' use the gained political force to emphasize their historical and cultural values testifies that at present existing conflict between Sunnis and the alawis is manifested in other - political form.