ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
In this file photo, a group protests against the insults leveled at Alevis. AA photo
Alevi organizations are staging a sit-in on Saturday to draw attention to their 15-year struggle to democratize the Turkish education system regarding compulsory religion classes.
Five thousand people are expected to attend the protest held in Ankara, said Pir Sultan Abdal Cultural Institution’s Deputy Chairman Kemal Bülbül, adding that the oppositional parties have been informed of the sit in.
In a 2006 press release from the then-chairman of the Pir Sultan Abdal Cultural Institution outlined the Alevi community’s case.
Referring to the 24th clause in the 1982 Constitution that mandates a mandatory ‘religious culture and moral knowledge’ class for primary and secondary schools, ex-chairman Kazım Genç expressed the institution's view of this “assimilation process.”
“For 25 years, Alevi children have been subjects to an education outside of their own beliefs and they are being isolated from their own beliefs,” said Genç.
Pir Sultan and other Alevi organizations took the matter to the European Court of Human Rights in 2004.
The court ruled in 2007 that Alevi children being required to attend mandatory religion classes is against human rights.
The Turkish government responded by changing the textbooks for the compulsory religious class three years ago to include the Alevi sect.
More recently, the Religion Minister Faruk Çelik told the daily Habertürk that the Alevi community’s complaints have been taken into consideration, and that a new textbook will be in use by the 2011-2012 educational year.
The Alevi community, however, finds this insufficient due to several problems with the textbooks.
The first problem is that “such a rooted belief cannot be fit into a few paragraphs,” Bülbül told the Daily News. “The information is not all correct. The information is shaped with prejudice, because the process of writing the books is not democratic.”
He continued: “The problem is not changing the books. We want the religious class changed into an optional religious history class that encompasses all religions.
“And it’s not just the religion class,” he said. “The education curriculum, from math to history, needs to be democratized. There are books taught as ‘classics’ in schools that have open insults toward Alevis. Intellectuals, academics and journalists largely ignore the matter because they are not familiar with the society they live in. Democracy means knowing and respecting.”
A former chairman of Pir Sultan, and currently a lawyer on the organization’s case, Kazım Genç agreed. “Academics and writers are not bringing up the issue. They are ignoring the Alevi community, and I revolt against this.”
“We are not asking them to change the textbook. We are saying that this class does not belong in a modern country,” Genç told the Daily News.
Both Genç and Bülbül drew a comparison between the the headscarf issue and the mandatory religion classes case that have both been taken to European Court of Human Rights.
Wearing a headscarf in class was rejected by the court, but both the ruling and opposition parties are working to legalize it, said Bülbül.
“But our case, even though we won, is not being put into practice,” said Genç. “We have filed a complaint.”
“We are hoping that the sit-in will increase awareness of the issue,” said Bülbül. “If the Saturday protest is not enough, we might boycott religion class for one week.”