Alevis to say ‘no’ to Turkey presidential system says HDP lawmaker

HDP Izmir deputy Muslum Dogan speaks to the press at the Turkish parliament

Pro-minority rights Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Izmir deputy Muslum Dogan has said the Alevis of Turkey will vote against constitutional change and a presidential system in the upcoming referendum.

Speaking to Kurdish news agency Dihaber, the opposition party MP, who is an Alevi Kurd, emphasised that they were campaigning in unequal conditions in the run-up to the referendum because of the arrest and imprisonment of party members and deputies.

“As peoples intent on defending our freedoms we are going to unite and overcome the suppression. They [the government] cannot prevent us,” Muslim said, adding that the closure of media outlets and social media would not prevent them from relaying their message to the people.

“We will go from house to house and tell people that this oligarchic system they are proposing offers them nothing.”

AKP abusing religion for its own interests

The HDP lawmaker also accused the Turkish government of abusing Islam and using it to further its own interests. “We are face to face with a model of governance that is employing religion to consolidate its power. It is not allowing for the authenticity of religion to come through,” he said.

Alevis acting in unison

Dogan also asserted that the Alevi community in Turkey, which makes up roughly 17% of Turkey’s 78 million population, was more united than before and that this was a gain for the whole country.

“The joint struggle of the Kurdish and Alevi movements has seriously shaken the foundations of the status-quo and system in Turkey,” Dogan said, adding that Alevis were a serious force both socially and ideologically.

Alevis reject assimilation

The HDP deputy, who was elected to parliament from western city Izmir with majority Alevi votes, also claimed the belief group had been demanding a democratic republic at every opportunity. Dogan said Alevis were anxious about the assimilationist policies of the government but that they were ready to resist them and had formed their own institutions.

In the interview the lawmaker further criticised the government for the education system it has been implementing in Turkey for several years, which makes religious education compulsory. Dogan said the state’s own brand of Sunni Islam was being imposed on millions of Alevis, while the state refused to recognise the Alevi belief system.

We want a plural constitution

The HDP lawmaker ended the interview by saying they were the only force that could democratise the state and that this was why they were being suppressed.

“Without the HDP you cannot resolve the issues faced by Alevis, Kurds or workers. What we are saying is that the only way the republic can exist is if it democratises. Let’s form the conditions for a common existence together. Let’s draw up a popular social contract together. And let’s make sure that this constitution does not give sovereignty to one nation or class. No one can reject a plural constitution that represents all the colours of this country.”

Who are Alevis?

Alevis are an oft-persecuted group in Turkey. Numbering some 12 million, the community has had to practice its belief system in secret, with most Alevis abandoning religious practices for a more secular lifestyle. While some Alevis see Alevism as a branch of Islam close to Shi’ism, others say it is older belief system with roots in Zoroastrianism. Other Alevis claim the belief system is completely independent but has been shaped over the centuries by philosophies, cultures and religions in the region. There are Kurdish, Turkish and Arab Alevis living in Turkey.