Secularism and the Realitinship Betweeen Arab Alawites and the State

18 October 2016 Tuesday, 14:09
5-h-mertcan

The Report of Workshop  2  

 

Secularism and the Realitinship Betweeen Arab Alawites and the State

States are an outcome of communities with social classes. Different opinions and approaches are natural outcomes where different social classes exist. Of course, participants of this meeting belong to different social classes. This obviously affects the determination of problems and the solutions and proposals for these problems. However, despite our class differences, we have common values and hence can come together to find a collective way for our identity struggle.

In this workshop, the transition period from the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic was evaluated. We discussed some of the events that continued throughout the Empire and Republic eras regarding Alawites.

The Sunni Islamic tradition that has existed throughout the Ottoman period did not let other cultures and identities progress. We discussed how the Ottomans did not recognize Alawites, viewed them as a “perverted” community within Islam, how the Alawites had to retreat to the Latakia mountains after the Yavuz Massacre (9th Ottoman Emperor), their exposure to systemic Sunni Islamic assimilation (especially in the 19th century), and their suffering under political pressure. We also discussed how, despite the struggles and efforts of the Arab community during World War I and the Turkish National Struggle, Alawites are continuously subject to discrimination and are viewed as “traitors”. It was pointed out that the idea of an independent-secular Turkish state, which is the successor to the Ottoman Empire, was viewed positively by the Arab Alawites. In addition, we agreed that despite what “official” history presents, the annexation period of Antakya was bloody.

Since the early periods of the Republic, Arab Alawites have been subject to Turkification politics and systematic assimilation through forced migrations, demographical transformation of the region’s composition, and constitutions like “hars committees” (state-initiated committees aimed to Turkify minority groups). Later on, steps were taken towards the distortion of Alawism through institutions such as the Ministry of Religious affairs and we entered a period of growing conservatism, in which the state tried to dictate its own version of Alawism.

Discussions-Approaches-Recommendations

We agreed that the annexation process of Hatay was a traumatic period for Arab Alawites and contrary to ‘official’ historical accounts, it was a bloody time period full of political pressures. It was noted that the council and ministers of the State of Hatay were nominated by Turkish government and did not represent the people of Hatay.  People who have witnessed this period have been suppressed to the extent that they are still traumatized and avoid talking today. We need to locate resources regarding the effects of this period on Arab Alawites in other languages, translate them, and incorporate leaders such as Zeki Arsuzi into our history.

We determined that during the single political party system and as part of the process of assimilation, the state forged a close relationship with the upper class, which quickened the assimilation process of the Arab Alawite community by drawing in the working class and artisans.

The Department of Religious Affairs was criticized and recommendations were made. It was noted that Department of Religious Affairs created distorted realities regarding Alawites and published information to defame them, still to this day. There was a mutual agreement that department should be abolished, while some gave recommendations for the rearrangement of the department. Whatever the consensus, we agreed that the current situation was unacceptable. Every religion should be able determine itself in a newly arranged department, which should be autonomous. We agreed that hateful and discriminatory publications should be banned as soon as possible.

We noted that Alawite workshops organized by the Turkish government try to create its own Alawism rather than finding solutions for the problems Alawites are facing. Therefore, we must organize on our own in order to determine our demands and find our own solutions. We highlighted the fact that there has been no initiave from the government in finding real solutions to our problems.

The ethnic Arab identity and religious Alawite identity has always been suppressed and seen as “minority”. We underlined the importance of the struggle in terms of both identity and belief. In addition, due to increased attacks against Alawite identity, we suggested that our Alawite identity needs to be more at the forefront.

We developed different approaches to express ourselves as Arab Alawites. We noted that we need stronger definitions to explain our cultural belonging. It was pointed that in addition to Sunnification, Shiification politics are also a threat that will prolong the process of assimilation. In terms of definitions, instead of polarizing approaches, we need approaches that bring people together.

We emphasized that Arab Alawites should join in a common struggle with other groups that are subject to discrimination and resist the dominant Sunni conservatism together.

It was noted that Kemalism, which has become a taboo subject among Arab Alawites, should be discussed openly.

It was recommended that traditional structures and rituals should be revised and rearranged according to present conditions.

Results

1- As Arab Alawites, we are in need of facing our own history, reject the fabricated narratives imposed upon us, and bring to surface our history, all within a framework outside the official historical accounts.

2- While acknowledging that the Arab Alawite society has a rooted history of organization and solidarity, we need to strengthen and also find strength in these structures, which are sadly facing disintegration due to assimilation. We have to develop our academies and organizations. Studies for bridging the generational gap caused by assimilation must be enhanced.

3- The most deep-seated solution against assimilation is creating a grassroots organization model. We must be able to institutionalize by creating the mechanisms needed to determine our own demands and solutions.

4- In order for Arab Alawites to stand on their own feet, we need to define an identity struggle OUTSIDE the “cultural-mosaic” approach and instead politicize our identity.

5- We have a critical approach towards the past and current secularism model. We emphasized that we do not want such an enunciation of laicism, but instead one in which the state takes an impartial position and where religion and state are two separate and independent institutions. State and religion need to disengage legally and institutionally. We need to transition to a system where the conventional understanding of the state is left behind and where all belief groups have a democratic platform.

6- In this country, the struggle for equal citizenship should be our primary goal. We need to demand the elimination of the current religion classes and the right to education in our native tongue.

7- Within this painful period, we need to increase NGOs and democratic organizations among Arab Alawites and find ways to make them appealing to the public. These organizations should refrain from discrimination, but recruit those who have common values. We also need to stand in solidarity with other Alevi societies and their institutions.

8- Our society is struggling to persevere and we need to organize and resist in order to stand on our own feet. Institutions that are working towards this goal should work together and create a common platform where all parts of our society can make their voices heard.

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