The Alevis in the Turkish pre-election campaign

9 m.   |  2019-04-11

n the local self-governing elections of March 31 held in Turkey, the leading “Justice and Development” political party (JDP) was defeated in a number of large cities especially in Istanbul. This was to the opposition “Republican People’s Party” (CHP). Fears of the Ruling Party losing in major cities were already noticed during the pre-election campaign.

Violations of fundamental human rights and freedom recorded in Turkey in recent years, regression on democracy, restrictions on media and freedom of speech, as well as the economic decline have created additional difficulties for the leading political party in the pre-election period. The USA’s Department of State’s Human Rights annual report devotes a 63-page part to the assessments of the freedom of speech and media in Turkey including pre-election campaigns and other issues. The report stated that the Turkish Media is 90% controlled by the Government, which in its turn creates unequal conditions for the pre-election campaign.

The situation is not encouraging for other sectors either: the economy of Turkey has in last 10 years entered a technical recession (moderate slowdown or decline in economic growth) the reason of which is the drop in GDP lasting almost 2 quarters.

The International Press warned that the economic decline of 3 % could affect the plans of the Turkish President Erdogan, however, the ensuing serious political surprises were not predicted yet.

It was clearly noticed during the pre-election campaign, that the CHP used all its possible resources to attract the electorate, which also affected the propagandistic direction of influencing the position of national and religious minorities. It is not a coincidence that the representatives of the ruling party and President Erdogan carried the policy of multiculturalism and tolerance, through Kurdish and Armenian stories, through the good relations between Armenians and Alevis and through the stories on Kurdish and Turkish brotherhood with other examples at play during the pre election campaign.  

Few days ago, President Erdogan tweeted in Armenian by expressing his condolences over the death of Archbishop Mesrob Mutafyan, the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople. The ex-Prime Minister, former Chairman of the Mejlis Binali Yildirim talked about his warm relations with his Armenian neighbor.

Խոր վշտով տեղեկացայ Թուրքիոյ հայոց պատրիարք Յարգելի Մեսրոպ Մութաֆեանի մահը։ Այս կապակցութեամբ կը ցաւակցիմ իր ընտնիքին, հարազատներուն եւ մեր հայ քաղաքացիներուն։

The Alevi population of Turkey had their influence on this process. The Alevis are not a separate religious community and there is no concrete data about their numbers, as many Alevis hide their religious affiliation, widely using the “taqiya” [1] (takiye) Institute. However, according to some data their number exceeds over 1 million in Istanbul and Ankara.

The factor of the Alevi situation was expressed differently during the pre-election campaigns during different times: in 2014, Erdogan several times hinted the fact of CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu’s being an Alevi, stating that Kilicdarogli is afraid of talking about his Dersim origin.

Since the times of being the Mayor of Istanbul Erdogan viewed the Alevis as an element of Islam splitting, announcing that the only prayer place in Islam is the mosque and that the Alievi Cemevis [2] are not places of worship but cultural houses. Before the snap presidential and parliamentary elections of July 24, 2018, Erdogan announced, that he is ready to give the Alevi Cemevis a legal status, which was however observed as “empty words”.

The Alevis tend to participate in the internal policy through the officially recognized Alevis unions and political parties in Turkey. They have been convinced many times, that promises of other political parties never eventuate. The Alevi community is not mono-ethnic and consists of Turkish, Kurdish, Gaza and Armenian groups, which is well expressed in the electoral process. In recent years the Alevis, mostly support “Republican People’s Party” (CHP), Kurdish “People’s Democratic Party” (HDP) or the “Communist Party” of Turkey (TKP), although the Turkish Alevis are often affiliated to the AKP or the “Nationalist Movement” party (MHP). The data is not definite, as the Alevis have been subjected to persecution and pursuit by the nationalist “Grey Wolves” as well as during the Kemalists movements of (1937-1938) in Dersim, mostly an area inhabited by Alevis which they label as genocide, were organized.

During the pre-election period, the ruling party turned to the ethnic and religious population of Turkey. Erdogan announced, that the AKP is a political party for the Turks, Kurds, Laz, Circassians, Bosnians, Assyrians, Sunnis, Alevis and it is a party for each individual that never divides but “embraces all the colors of Turkey”. Binali Yildirim, mayoral candidate for Istanbul from the ruling AKP mentioned during his meeting with the Alevi-Bektashi unions of Turkey that his Binali name was given by his Alevi neighbor, that’s why there is the “Ali” [3] component in it.  

“I was born in a village, where the Alevis and Sunnis lived together. My name was given by our Alevi neighbor. There is an “Ali” component in my name”, mentioned B. Yildirim.

During the pre-election process, this announcement by Yildirim appeared in the center of social network users’ attention. The users verifying the name Binali Yildirim, made humorous publications advising him to ask for a vote from those of having the same letters of his name.

Observing the results of the Local Self-Government elections, it can be said, that the AKP concerns were spot on. The ruling political party didn’t reach the desired results in big cities as Ankara, Izmir, Adana and especially Istanbul and it yielded more votes from the Kemalist oppositional “Republican People’s Party.” This proves why the efforts to win the trust of minorities in Turkey was so important for the Ruling party.

Within the context of various internal and external challenges faced by the Turkish authorities, which also affected the ruling AKP rating, Erdogan and his supporters, in contrast to the campaigns of the ruling parties, were obliged to reconsider their previous convictions.

About Alevism in Turkey

A levism is a result of various religious and philosophical influences, the Alevis call themselves first of all as believers and not Muslims. They mention that Alevism is not a religion but a faith. The issue of Alevism is among one of the most politically important issues in Turkey and it is not accidental that since the Lausanne conference in 1923 the Turkish delegation recognized only the Armenians, Greeks and Jews as a religious minority. The Alevis think that the Alevism shouldn’t be viewed as a version of Islam, building of mosques should be abandoned, the imams should be recalled and at the same time demanding a legal status for cemevis.

The Alevis ritual dance in cemevi.

Discrimination against Alevis still continues and cases of red paint crosses have appeared on doors and walls of Alevi houses. This is a sign of an undesirable message to Alevis. It is noteworthy, that the Minister of Internal Affairs in Turkey announced, that the “signs on the doors were done by children”.

A mark on Alevis home in Malatya
The Alevis, however, insist, “these signs are not the first and the last ones, as these “children” are religious and spiteful, who act by a special order”.


  2. Türkiye resesyona girdi: Ekonomi 2018'de %2,6 büyüdü, 4. çeyrekte %3 daraldı
  3. International Religious Freedom Report 2006
  4. Erdoğan: Kılıçdaroğlu, sen Alevi olabilirsin…
  5. Erdoğan, bazı Alevileri fena kızdırdı
  6. Erdoğan 2013: Tek ibadethane camidir․ Erdoğan 2018: Cemevine statü gelecek
  7. Cemevlerine statü vaadine ‘boş laflara karnımız tok’ yanıtı
  8. Aleviler şimdiye kadar oylarını nasıl verdi? Alevilerin Türkiye Seçim Kronolojisi
  9. Cumhurbaşkanı Erdoğan: Mart 2019 seçimleri sıradan bir seçim değildir
  10. Binali Yıldırım: "Adımı, alevi komşumuz koydu"
  11. Alevi Bektaşi Federasyonunun Talepleri
  12. Malatya'da Alevilerin evleri kırmızı boyayla işaretlendi
  13. Şahin: Alevi evlerini çocuklar işaretlemiş
  14. PSAKD: İyi çoçuklar yine iş başında


[1] «Taqiya» is Arabic term, which is typical of Islam. It allows hiding religious affiliation in case of danger or persecution.

[2] Cemevi – is an Alevi place of worship, where religious rituals take place.

[3] The custom of choosing a child’s name among the Alevis is tradition borrowed from Islam.  Immediately after a child’s birth, Dede (spiritual teacher) whispers the selected name into the child’s ear for 3 times. Usually, they give children names of Shia Imams. Shahada is the only formula recognizing Muhammad as the only God’s prophet and is based on the belief of the “three”, which are Haq-Allah (Divinity), Muhammad (Prophecy) and Ali (Holiness). Thus God, the only one, is called as “Haq-Allah-Muhammad-Ali”.