Thousands of Turkish Alevis demand greater freedom

Thousands of people from Turkey’s Alevi minority have gathered in the city of Istanbul to demand their rights and freedoms they say the government has denied them for years.

On Sunday, the crowd affiliated with the Federation of Alevi Foundations (AVF) gathered for the protest at Istanbul’s Kadıköy district and marched to the İskele Square.

The demonstrators said they had been deprived of certain rights, including the official recognition of cemevis, the Alevi houses of worship, by the state.

They also called for the elimination of compulsory religious classes that promote only one branch of Islam.

“During the past 12 years, the government’s ambition to shape society according to [the government’s] understanding and will has increased day by day. Turkey’s current education system explicitly ignores the differences in society. The whole system is formed according to Sunni beliefs, completely ignoring the Alevi faith,” said the president of the Alevi-Bektashi Federation (ABV), Fevzi Gümüş.

Among the participants were members of the Labor Party (EMEP), the Freedom and Solidarity Party (ÖDP), the Idea Clubs Federation (FKF), the Fuel Distribution and Storage Companies Association (AKADER), the Turkish Education Personnel Union (Türk Eğitim-Sen) and the People’s Houses (Halkevleri) Pir Sultan Abdal Association.

For years, Turkish Alevi leaders have accused the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of attempting to assimilate the minority.

Alevism, which is an offshoot of Shia Islam, is mostly practiced in south and southeastern Turkey. The country is home to some 11 million Alevis.