"Alevi or Sunnu?" - İSMAIL KILIÇARSLAN

"Alevi or Sunnu?"

In Turkey, there are some words and clauses pronounced in different and interesting ways, which have been subject to sit-coms, comedy movies or stand-ups. One of these phenomenon words is "Sunni", name of an Islamic sect that forms the majority of the Turkish society. The way it is pronounced by some central Anatolia circles is "Sunnu" rather than "Sunni", has become a matter of joke among our people. To get the idea of this article, I wanted to mention this information for the foreign readers, who are not very used to some local jokes.

There is a central Anatolian man character that my dear friend Eren Safi performs wonderfully in a sitcom. That character will start any conversation by talking about the weather forecasts. For example, when he says, "it has been raining really well for the last two days!" If you just nod your head to be positive, he strokes a question right away "where are ya from, my pal?" If you just reply to this question with the dialect of a man from Tokat, Çorum, Amasya, then his next-fixed question is: "Are you Alevi or Sunnu?"

He does not ask this question to judge you or take your side. It is just out of curiosity. I will get to that later on. Now, let me tell you something else.

I personally have never understood why this non-sense so-called modern state structure has to interfere with people"s religion. I do not feel obliged to acknowledge it, either. As far as I am concerned, the best thing this modern state can do is to destroy itself and if it is unable to do so, then at least it can simply avoid making statements about how people should live their religion or establish any organizations. It must not build mosques nor interfere with people"s lives with the questions as to what sermons must be given in which mosques.

However, this is not the story in Turkey. Mustafa Kemal himself established a "Directorate of Religious Affairs" and thus identified the official religion of the state as Islam and its official sect as "Hanafi". In other words, this institution was established in order to take the religious life of the people under control. Throughout history the political authorities who captured the state from within itself modified it.

For example, strange cases like "coup time sermons" had occurred.

Anyways, the topic of this article is Alevi opening.

With all due respect to everyone, if someone identifies him or herself as "Alevi" then his or her beliefs, prayer forms, or religious lifestyle does not bother me more than an intellectual curiosity. It"s all his business, his life. Therefore, I find it quite strange and odd when Turkish Sunnis speak from ex hedra regarding the world of the Alevi faith. I know what it means when I use the sentence "why does it concern me what an Alevi actually believes?"

The most fundamental medium in the modern state structure is that it does not interfere with anybody"s perception of religion and sect.

But I am more concerned about this following part: Our state that "assigns an exclusive budget to Sunni religious needs" must allocate a budget not only to Alevis but all faith and religious groups.

If the state builds a mosque, it must build a cemevi, a church or a synagogue. If the state pays imams salary, then it must pay salaries to dedes of Alevis, bishops and rabbis as well.

Let me continue from the issue of Alevis. Some people claim this "well, dede is a complicated institution in Alevism. Thus, it concludes that all dedes must be paid a salary." Excuse me, but this is beating around the bush because dedes don"t have to be paid for organizing cem liturgies. Similarly, the way that the Diyanet (the Directorate of Religious Affairs in Turkey) sets up "proficiency commissions" for recruiting imams, the state can allow Alevis to arrange their own commissions for recruiting their dedes. The state then can declare the number of dedes, the commission can elect the staff within itself, and the state can appoint dedes to the amount of cemevis.

Of course, I don"t find it correct to meet only the needs of Sunnis from taxes collected from 75 million people in Turkey. Moreover, I feel embarrassed because of that.

Let me repeat it. The best is simply to abolish Diyanet. However, such radical demand of mine comes off too "romantic", I know. Thus, the most plausible and acceptable solution is either that Alevis and other faith groups in our country are incorporated into Diyanet or represented by other institutions to be established.

Another issue is the law that Mustafa Kemal established on the "closure of tekkes and zaviyas". This law can be easily abolished. Once it is done, many Alevi-Bektashi lodges (derghah) can be returned to their titleholders. I give this kind of an attempt a priority with the hope to avoid the use of tekkes and dergahs as restaurants or etc.

And no, I am not talking about building a fake tolerance to Alevis or other faith groups. I just want them to have the same rights as we have. I just want everybody to be able to ask each other just like how the central Anatolian naturally asks "Are you Alevi or Sunni?". That"s all.

Baudrillard said, "If we are going to live together, we need to learn to care about the rights of our neighbor."


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