Erdoğan Temiz, a member of the Anatolian Cultural Foundation of Hacı Bektaş Veli’s Akbük Cemevi, an Alevi institution, in Turkey’s western city of Aydın talked to Pirha regarding the increasing number of Sunni mosques being constructed in Alevi villages.
Alevis, the largest religious minority in Turkey, perform their religious ceremonies, which are accompanied by a system of sacred circular movements (the ‘semah’) with music, not in mosques, but in their place of worship, cemevi (pronounced jemevi – house or place of gathering). Alevis have been calling for the cemevi to be officially recognised as a place of worship in Turkey for years.
Their spiritual leaders, both men (‘dede’) and women (‘ana’), are seen as descendants of the Prophet Mohammed, and are either Bektashi dignitaries elected by the community, or great figures of the Alevi cause.
Temiz is an Alevi dede who defends the religious freedom of Alevis against the assimilation policies targetting his post-genocide community. The Alevi community has been traumatised by a spate of massacres and genocide (tertele as the Alevis call it).
“We have our own opinions, our own faith, we are human too. Our hearts are broken in the face of the many injustices we are subjected to.”
In Temiz’s mind, the building of mosques in Alevi villages is a manifestation of attempts to assimilate the Alevis. He explains that nowadays mosques can be seen in many Alevi towns. “We see a mosque built in an Alevi village, and they send an imam too. It is such a waste of a mosque – and a shame for the imam as well. It is also great cruelty to the people who live there.”
“Just as we show respect to synagogues, to mosques, they should respect us too, and stop such practices. No matter how much force you put on me, you cannot take this love away from me, you cannot take this love of the Alevi faith, this love of people and the universe away from my heart.”
“What is faith?” he asks, and describes all faiths as “love”. “Faith is not tyranny, not oppression, not the forcible assimilation of others. You cannot change anything by force.”
Temiz believes that if a faith, a language disappears, a beauty fades away from the cultural heritage of humanity.
“Hundreds, thousands of faiths on earth can be compared to a field of wildflowers. When you cause one of those flowers to wither, you destroy one of the beauties. Just like this, Alevism is one of those faiths; why do you cause it to wither? Let it blossom among all the other beauties.”