Today’s Zaman, 11.12.2012
The Parliament Speaker’s Office was responding to a query from the Ankara 6th Administrative Court when it issued the statement, which is currently hearing a lawsuit filed by Republican People’s Party (CHP) Tunceli deputy Hüseyin Aygün against the office. Earlier this year, Aygün demanded that a cemevi be opened in Parliament. Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek denied the request, saying in writing, “Alevism is not a separate religion but a development that originated in Islam and a cultural treasure that emerged during the course of Islamic history, and Islam’s places of worship are mosques.”
The speaker’s response led Aygün to file a lawsuit, arguing that the speaker’s refusal and his response went against the principles of secularism and equal citizenship. Parliament on Monday sent a statement to the Ankara 6th Administrative Court, demanding the dismissal of the case and echoing Çiçek’s argument.
“It is not possible to consider cemevis and other [such] premises as places of worship because Alevism, which is a sub-group of Islam, cannot have a place of worship other than mosques or masjids, which are common places of worship within Islam,” Parliament’s statement read.
The response has greatly angered the country’s Alevi community, as well as rights activists and others sensitive about issues of freedom. Selahattin Özel, head of the Alevi-Bektaşi Federation, commented: “For starters, Parliament cannot decide the criterion for worship in Islam. It is not something within its power; it is not within anyone’s power.” However, he said the bigger problem was that places of worship — currently mostly accommodating members of the Muslim Sunni faith — exist in public agency offices. “Because a masjid [prayer room] exists, Hüseyin Aygün did the right thing demanding a cemevi, asking for [the same freedom]. It is not right for Parliament to involve religion in politics. That is not right.” He said the existence of the Religious Affairs Directorate — which has said that Alevis should also pray in mosques, a point the Parliament Speaker’s Office note repeated in its response to the court — was the root of the problem. “The directorate might be well meaning. The problem is not about the circumstances, it is about the system.”
Kemal Bülbül, the chairman of the Pir Sultan Abdal Cultural Association, said neither Parliament nor the parliament speaker can decide whether a cemevi is a proper place of worship. “A religious community has the capacity to decide the right venue for worship based on its own creed. What the Parliament Speaker’s Office has done is only comment on the issue based on the approval of the Religious Affairs Directorate. Parliament is not under the jurisdiction of the directorate. It is an organization that should represent all religious and ethnic groups [in Turkey] and we see that it doesn’t have the capacity to do this. In my opinion, the insistence of the speaker has no other purpose than to create societal tension and offend Alevis.”
A written statement was released by Ali Kenanoğlu, head of the Hubyar Sultan Alevi Association. The statement was a response to the speaker’s point in its statement to the court that a mosque was present at the Hacı Bektaş Complex, which hosts thousands of Alevis to commemorate Hacı Bektaş-ı Veli, a beloved Alevi figure, annually. Kenanoğlu said: “We will never forget that that mosque [at Hacı Bektaş] and the others in Alevi villages were forcibly built to facilitate our assimilation. Tens of thousands participate in commemorating Hacı Bektaş, and you can see only three or five people in that mosque performing their regular prayers.”
Rights activists also say the response is unacceptable in terms of freedom of religion. Mine Yıldırım, a researcher on freedom of belief at the Finland-based Abo Akademi University and founder of the Freedom of Belief Initiative in Turkey, noted that under the terms of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), Parliament’s refusal to recognize the cemevi as a place of worship compromises the state’s duty to protect freedom of religious expression. She said there are numerous European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rulings that have said the state does not have the right to dictate whether a belief or a creed is legitimate. She also noted that the statement is a violation of the impartiality principle to which state agencies should adhere when performing their duties.
“Turkey’s practice of refusing to recognize cemevis as a place of worship is not sustainable in terms of duties of the state concerning the protection of human rights. It is not at all difficult to see that any application to the ECtHR on this issue will be successful,” she said.
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