President Abdullah Gül, Labor Minister Faruk Çelik, Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin, Anatolian Alevi Federation President Cengiz Hortoğlu, Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, Selahattin Özgündüz, the leader of the Shiite community in Turkey, World Ehl-i Beyt Foundation President Fermani Altun, İstanbul Governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu, İstanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş, Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy Gürsel Tekin and Erdem Holding Chairman Zeynel Abidin Erdem were among the participants of the iftar.
Delivering a speech at the event, Gül said all Turkish citizens, irrespective of their beliefs and views, are an integral part of this country, adding that he is happy to see all of Turkey's colors in the same room.
“There are representatives of Turkey's non-Muslim population here. It is of utmost importance to be in solidarity with everyone and to know the realities of our country,” he said.
The president noted that painful incidents of the past will be forgotten one day and that the next generations will have a better future ahead of them.
The government has made clear strides in recognizing the rights of Alevis in recent years. State leaders have sought warmer relations with Alevi leaders and paid numerous visits to cemevis, including a landmark visit by President Gül to a cemevi in the predominately Alevi city of Tunceli in 2009. In 2011, the government took the bold step of formally apologizing for the 1937 Dersim massacre, an acknowledgement of the government's killing of thousands of Alevi tribesmen in the eastern province of Dersim (Tunceli).
“The truth comes out eventually, but only after going through pain. This iftar shows us that such a conscience and awareness have emerged. We see Turkey's diversity here. We stand behind our country. We see that we love each other. Everyone from every part of the country should try to come together. Certainly we have problems, but we have the strength to resolve these problems,” added Gül.
One of the major problems of the Alevi community in Turkey is the non-recognition of cemevis, Alevi places of worship, by the Turkish state as houses of worship.
“We had the self-confidence in the past to build a synagogue and mosque next to one another. We need to have the same self-confidence today. All of our forefathers were born in this country. This is our homeland. We need to respect each other to be able to live together by putting aside feelings of animosity,” Gül added.
Businessman Erdem also spoke at the event and supported Gül's messages of unity, saying Alevis and Sunnis are brothers and sisters.
“This world, this country belongs to all of us. Our history and homeland are the same. Our joys and sorrows are the same. There has never been any division between Alevis and Sunnis in our history. They even fought shoulder-to-shoulder in wars,” Erdem said.
Hortoğlu said Alevis also feel like an integral part of Turkey and voiced his community's demands for a new and democratic constitution.
“What we want from our state is the renewal of the social contract and a pro-freedom and democratic constitution,” he said.
There are strong expectations from the current Parliament to replace Turkey's current constitution, which was written in the aftermath of the 1980 military coup and criticized for including anti-democratic elements. Parliament is currently working on the new constitution.
Muharrem Ercan, who also attended the iftar, said the importance of the dinner is that it brings Alevis and Sunnis together.
“In such events, Alevis get to know Sunnis and Sunnis get to know Alevis. I wish such activities would take place all the time so that we can know each other better. Both Ramadan and Muharram [the first month of the Islamic calendar and deemed holy by Alevis] are ours,” he said.