The Alevi-Bektashi Cultural and Cemevi Directorate, established by the Turkish government in November 2022, has been strongly criticised by the Democratic Alevi Associations (DAD) as having been orchestrated as a “cultural genocide project”. The DAD’s statement, released on Monday, condemns the objectives of the directorate and warns against the implications of its continuing existence.
The DAD defines this directorate, established under the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism by presidential decree, as an attempt to arrange the appointment of government trustees to cemevis (Alevi houses of worship) and establish a state-controlled Alevi religious authority.
Alevis, comprising approximately 20 percent of Turkey’s population, constitute the largest religious minority in the country. Owing to the predominantly Sunni environment, many Alevis feel compelled to conceal this aspect of their identity. Discrimination against Alevis remains widespread, exacerbated by historical atrocities and ongoing marginalisation.
The DAD’s statement emphasises the persistence of the Turkish government’s assimilation policies, shedding light on the activities of the directorate. It calls upon the public to be vigilant and to resist this organisation, asserting, “We urge everyone to be sensitive to and stand against this directorate, which has been established with the intention of eradicating Alevism altogether.”
The DAD’s statement reveals that a systematic process of assimilation is underway, involving various tactics such as offering salaries to spiritual leaders known as Dedes, appointing them to existing cemevis, and exerting financial control over the cemevis to undermine Alevi traditions and place them under state authority.
Despite the ruling party’s declarations of ‘Alevi initiatives’ aimed at fostering understanding, the Alevi community remains sceptical, interpreting these efforts as strategies to assert control rather than honour equal rights.
The DAD’s demands include equal citizenship for Alevis, the restoration of their sacred sites, and a rejection of the government’s attempt to reinterpret Alevism within the framework of its own religious authority.
Recent discussions surrounding the directorate’s alteration of symbols in Alevi beliefs underscore these concerns. Celal Fırat, a Green Left Party MP, condemned the removal of significant symbols from depictions of the 13th century spiritual leader and saint, Hacı Bektaş Veli. Fırat further criticised the practices of the directorate as propagating hate speech.
The symbols in question are those of the lion and the antelope, which are closely associated with Hacı Bektaş Veli. It is said that he took the lion on one side and the antelope on the other as he sat, and they were at peace together. Alevis regard this as is an important depiction of the sublime nature of the saint, and believe that he was teaching that humankind too can live at peace despite all their differences.
The establishment of this directorate echoes a historical trend, exemplified by the visit by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to a cemevi last year, during which the lion and the antelope were removed from the image, sparking allegations of intimidation and further alienation of the Alevi community.