Reported by Sarah Glynn
Alevi representatives from across the European diaspora converged outside the European Parliament on Monday to highlight their campaign against the Islamisation of Turkey’s schools. Nine countries from the European Confederation of Alevi Associations were represented, and speakers read out statements in English, French, German, and Turkish protesting how Turkey was “establishing a religious sectarian hegemony in order to raise Islamist generations”.
The formative influence of childhood years has long been acknowledged. It is summed up in the famous words of Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits: “Give me a child till he is seven years old, and I will show you the man.” All schooling aims to mould young minds, and when schools are controlled by an authoritarian and sectarian government, children are inculcated with sectarian prejudices. Like the Jesuits, the Turkish government wants to use its schools to create a generation ruled by their own religious belief system. In Turkey’s case this is Sunni Islam, and the government is using its authoritarian powers to impose their religion on every child, whatever their family background or personal beliefs.
An important vehicle for doing this is the ÇEDES Project, which stands for “I am Sensitive to My Environment, I Protect My Values”- a name that says the opposite of what the project actually does. Among those leading the protests against ÇEDES are the Alevi communities of Turkey and the diaspora. The Alevis do not want to see their children saturated with Sunni Islam and turned against their traditional Alevi form of worship. They are arguing for Turkey to comply by its own laws and by the European Charter of Human Rights and to stop breaching rules on equality and on freedom of religion.
As the Alevi speakers put it, ÇEDES is bringing imams into schools under the guise of “values education”, and is transforming schools into mosques. Children’s social and moral education is effectively being handed over to the religious authorities, and to people who are not training as educators. Their influence extends into youth centres too. ÇEDES has been rolled out first in İzmir – presumably a deliberate challenge to the secular opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), which is dominant in the city – and will be spread across Turkey. At the start, in 2021, it was only for older children, but this year it was extended to primary children – to Loyala’s malleable early years.
After the statements had been read out, I spoke with Gülay Dalkiliç, General Secretary of the British Alevi Federation, who had come to Strasbourg with eight other members of the British group, and I asked her who the rules affected and what other groups were protesting. She explained that ÇEDES impacted all children at state-run schools and there is no scope to opt out. Some Christian and Jewish children attend their own faith-based schools, which is only allowed because in Turkey members of other religions are recognised as minorities with minority rights. However, Turkey refuses to recognise Aleviism as a religion. She told me that their demonstrations, that call to keep religion out of schools, also attract secularists and atheists from different backgrounds. Although the CHP has its own troubled relationship with Alevis, they are active in the demand for preserving secularism.
As the protesters made their statements, MEPs and their assistants were arriving for this week’s session of the European Parliament. It would be nice to be able to say that the ideas being discussed outside were brought into the Parliament building, but this sort of engagement is always difficult, and Monday was no exception. The EU Commission Report on Turkey, to be debated on Tuesday, does, however, state that the European Parliament “is concerned by the increasing weight of the Islamist agenda in law-making and in many spheres of public administration, including through an extension of the influence of the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) in the education system”.
This is a huge issue with implications well beyond the Alevi community. It concerns the future of Turkey.
The next move in the campaign is a rally in Izmir on Saturday.
(The groups in attendance outside the European Parliament came from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK.)