Saturday, October 05, 2013

Promised legal reforms disappoint Turkey’s religious minorities

The Turkish government’s long-awaited “democratisation package” of reform laws announced this week has met with considerable disappointment among Turkey’s minority religious communities.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan revealed on Monday (September 30) a broad array of reform laws, drafted by his ruling Justice and Development Party for parliamentary debate and approval.

Although public focus remained on legal changes in the Kurdish resolution process, electoral reform and lifting the headscarf ban in public offices, there were some positive, if symbolic, steps affecting the nation’s non-Muslim communities.

But without question, the religious minorities were expecting more tangible changes to correct their status as second-class citizens: most prominently, the re-opening of the Orthodox Church’s Halki Seminary, along with recognition of the Alevis as a distinct faith community.

“There are positive aspects, but also there are important steps missing,” Laki Vingas told Today’s Zaman after Erdogan’s speech. A member of the Greek Orthodox community, Vingas represents non-Muslim foundations on the council of the Directorate General of Foundations under the prime minister’s office.

“The package in its entirety is positive, but there is nothing about Alevis,” Radikal columnist Yetvart Danziyan noted.

The Alevi community, estimated at 20 per cent of the Turkish population, is denied official recognition as a distinct faith community from the Sunni Muslim majority. As a result, Alevi cemevis (places of worship) are refused the state upkeep and tax exemptions granted to all Sunni mosques, Alevi dedes (religious leaders) are ineligible for the state salaries paid to Sunni imams, and basic Alevi beliefs are excluded from the required religion courses in all public schools.

Danziyan also observed, “The failure to open the [Halki] theological school has caused disappointment not only among the Greek community, but all minority groups.”

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