This debate was further heated when Aygün later said, “Alevism is a distinct religion and its act of worship is the ‘cem’ [ritual gathering and dancing of Alevis], and its place of worship is the cemevi,” which he later felt the need to correct, and said he was actually intending to protect the Religious Affairs Directorate.
Thanks to this opportunity, it became possible to assert that Alevism is not a religion separate from Islam and that cemevis are not places of worship that are alternative to mosques, but rather, excluding some marginal views, Alevism is an interpretation that must be perceived and assessed within the framework of Islam. Yet, in my opinion, the point we must actually focus on is treating this matter as a multi-faceted “confrontation.” Indeed, as politicians love to parrot, “we are brothers and sisters and we are one and have been together for 1,000 years,” but during this 1,000-year-old union, some ill-intentioned and “deep” political conspiracies have made us develop fears, worries and prejudices about each other. Therefore, we either don’t know each other or we have misconceptions about one another. In the first place, we should acknowledge this fact, and act with the responsibility of reacquainting ourselves and befriending one another again.
The necessity of questioning our differences
The sine qua non prerequisite for grounding a true, authentic and lasting union is to question the reason why we have to reacquaint ourselves and befriend each other, even though we have been “one and together for 1,000 years,” and develop a certain level of awareness. Questioning the differences, for example, is certainly needed in order to understand each other again, and this can lead to meaningful results to the extent that the questioning happens alongside an understanding of the reason for this need to question.
In our country, which is meaningful, precious and beautiful with its ethnic, religious and cultural diversity, the systemic imposition that seeks to homogenize society along the lines of a certain ideological conception has apparently led to results which are unfavorable to those seeking this imposition. As a matter of fact, such an imposition would have never resulted in an outcome favorable to them. Indeed, social phenomena that have historic roots and depth and are shaped in historical processes may be repressed or suppressed, but they cannot be destroyed or turned into “some other thing.” This is the fact that republican history and the Kemalist modernization project have already taught us, and with a heavy price.
Accordingly, we must cherish the fact that a true and authentic act of reacquainting ourselves and befriending each other is closely dependent on our attitudes concerning our differences. If everyone lives freely and enjoys their unique religious and cultural values in harmony in Turkey, our differences will no longer be perceived as “threats or dangers” and they won’t breed “polarization,” but rather, they will attain their true meanings as guarantees of our unity. Obviously, we must be realistic and realize that this entails a mental transformation that is not easy to achieve overnight.
I believe that the ongoing process is a unique “transition process.” And the most salient characteristic of this process is “confrontation.” Given a comparison of the developments of the last 10 years with the 1990s, even without bothering to go too far back into the past, I think it should be clear enough for everyone that nothing is the same and nor will it ever be the same again. Yet, should we use this process of change and transformation as a pretext for finding lasting solutions to our problems, or should we make a compromise with the pro-status quo state and governance mindset shaped by the thought process behind the official ideology in order to create a “new” status quo? It is clear the ruling party has chosen the second option. One of the recent indicators of this is that the Alevi initiative, which was launched by the ruling party in its second term in government, has been abandoned in its current term, which it likes to dub as its term of “mastery.”
This has burdened civil society with increased roles and responsibilities. In an environment in which it is now possible to discuss the Alevi issue openly, we cannot and should not say, “Hey, the initiative is over; let everyone continue to live with fears and prejudices.” If we can act with the responsibility and sensibility of trying to understand and befriend each other, and if we cherish this as the realm of a grand social peace, dialogue and compromise, no political polarization effort can use “us” to further its ulterior motives and no pro-status quo attitude can tell us that we are doomed to our problems.
But, to do this, we must use our right to “be ourselves.”
*Cafer Solgun is a researcher/author and the head of the Association of Confronting the Past and Researching Social Events (Yüzleşme Derneği).