Ongoing discrimination against Alevites in Turkish education

Istanbul – ‘Absolutely nothing’ is the answer from lawyer Kazim Genç to the question what the Turkish government has done to end discrimination against Alevis (a path within Islam) in the Turkish education system. Genç won a case in 2007 regarding the obligation to receive religious education at the European Court of Human Rights. The verdict: the Turkish state can’t force Alevi children to attend religious lessons in school. Genç: ‘A change in the constitution is needed, but nothing is being done. In the meantime I open new court cases. I win them, but it only helps a few people, not the whole group.’

An estimated 15 to 20 million Alevis live in Turkey, roughly one fifth of the population. Their children are obliged, like everybody else, to attend classes on ‘religious culture and ethics’. During those lessons they are educated in the Sunni ‘state Islam’. Turkey is officially a secular country where religion and state are separated, but the Directorate of Religious Affairs holds a firm grip on the religious life of Turks. The religion classes are not relevant for Alevis because they interpret the Koran differently and have a lot of their own rituals. But students who don’t attend the classes can forget about a diploma for primary or secondary school.

Lawyer Genç started a court case at the European Court in 2007 in the name of an Alevi father. The court ruled in his favour, but even though Turkey has to take the decision seriously and change the law, nothing has happened. Genç even states that Alevis are discriminated against more: ‘The Governing AKP party is a religious party and the religious teachers are getting stricter. Alevi children are being bullied in school, by fellow kids but also by teachers. They are often afraid to be open about their religious identity.’

The Turkish government has been talking with leaders from the Alevi community to solve the problems of the religious minority. This hasn’t led to concrete solutions. Genç doesn’t expect any progress, at least not before the general elections in the summer of 2011.

This short article was written for Wordt Vervolgd, monthly magazine of Amnesty International in the Netherlands. Due to a lack of space, publication has been postponed several times, so now I decided to publish it on my website.

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