Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ on Sunday said that a total of 329 cemevis have been established since the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to power on Nov. 3, 2002.
Bozdağ made the comments after a meeting in Ankara with Azerbaijani Education Minister Misir Merdanov, who was visiting the capital to discuss a protocol between the Turkish government and the Azerbaijani Ministry of Education.
The deputy prime minister stated that there were 106 cemevis before 1990 and that the number rose to 163 between 1990 and 2000. “Since that period we have seen a total of 329 cemevis established. This means the most cemevis were established during our party's term in government.”
Turkey's Alevi population uses houses of worship known as cemevis rather than mosques. While the government does not formally recognize cemevis as houses of worship, state leaders have given implicit recognition by visiting cemevis, including a visit by President Abdullah Gül to a cemevi in the predominately Alevi city of Tunceli in 2009.
Bozdağ further said the government had no objections to cemevis gaining legal status. However, the deputy prime minister emphasized a distinction between the Alevi houses of worship and mosques. “There are some circles that allege cemevis are houses of prayer like mosques, but we all know that in each religion there is only one house of prayer. In Islam we have mosques. Lodges, tombs and cemevis are not an alternative to mosques,” Bozdağ added.
The government has been trying to reconcile with the Alevi community, which has a long history of mistrust of the government.
Alevis practice a form of Islam that distinguishes their worship from that of the Sunni Muslim majority. While there are no official figures on Turkey's Alevi population, estimates vary from 6 million to 15 million out of a country of more than 70 million.