The Alevis, a Turkish-based group long considered part of Islam though with heterodox leanings, are undergoing changes in their identity due to developments in Turkey and the diaspora, reports Martin Eichhorn in the August issue of Materialdienst der EZW. Germany plays a key role in that evolution. According to 2004 statistics, there are 410,000 Alevis in Germany (while they make up 20 percent of the Muslims in Turkey). The first Alevi associations in Germany had been founded in the 1970s, but they were close to Turkish political parties, and religious activities only played a minor role; quite often, Alevis in the diaspora continued to keep their Alevi identity hidden from the Sunni majority.
But the Alevi dimension came more and more to the foreground in the 1980s, as reflected in the growing use of “Alevi” in the names of local groups. In 1991, a national organization was launched, gathering 10 regional centers. Alevis in Germany also were influential in the founding of an Alevi Union of Europe in 2002. It represents a total of 170 groups and one million faithful. Since major religious bodies may have religious teaching arranged for them in German, the issue of offering separate Alevi religious teachings has become a major issue.
Religious teaching for Alevis has already been introduced in Berlin. Four other German Laender (federal States) have agreed to introduce teaching of the Alevi religion. This means that tens of thousands of Alevi children will receive their own religious teachings in the schools. Developments in the diaspora are bound to give further impetus to affirming an Alevi identity clearly separate from that of Sunni Islam within Turkey itself. The process of rapprochement between Turkey and the European Union, with associated requirements for membership, should also help Alevi claims for a separate identity to be accepted by the Turkish government.
(Materialdienst der EZW, Auguststrasse 80, 10117 Berlin, Germany;http://www.ezw-berlin.de) — By Jean-Francois Mayer