The Munzur Valley in Turkey
Alevi community fears the destruction of their environment and culture (Press Release)
Alevi associations in Turkey and Europe are currently protesting against "reconstruction measures" in the province of Dersim (Turkish: Tunceli), accusing President Erdogan and his Islamist AKP party of trying to destroy the Munzur Springs, which are sacred to Kurdish Alevis. According to its own statements, the Turkish government intends to build a large tourist complex there. "The local population was not involved in the planning. Apparently, the Islamist government of Turkey plans to further Islamize the ancient Alevi-Kurdish region of Dersim," stated Dr. Kamal Sido, Middle East Consultant of the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP). "The Alevi people had already become victims of genocide crimes in the 1930s. Now, it seems that the government in Ankara is planning to resettle Sunni Muslims to the region.
"From the viewpoint of the Alevi population, the plans are to be seen as another step toward the complete Islamization of Turkey – similar to the transformation of the Hagia Sophia into a mosque," Sido emphasized. The approximately 20 million Turkish, Kurdish, and Arabic Alevis in Turkey feel threatened by this aggressive Islamization policy. Although there are already more than 80,000 mosques in Turkey, new ones are being built every day – also in Alevi villages, mostly against the will of the local people.
In recent years, several dam projects have severely damaged the environment in parts of the Munzur Valley. "The new tourist buildings could change the face of the Munzur Springs forever. The natural beauty of the region will be damaged, as will the traditional places of worship of the Alevis," Sido criticized. These places of worship are among the holiest sites of the Alevite Kurds in Turkey and Syria.
The water of the Munzur River originates from about 40 springs. Alevi believers have been caring for them for centuries. According to their faith, the natural state of these springs must not be destroyed or changed. "They are places of prayer and meeting places for hundreds of thousands of Alevi pilgrims from all over the world. There, they pray and take part in their holy communion, which is known as 'Miyaz'," Sido explained. The springs are as important to the Alevi community as the pilgrimage site Fatima in Portugal is for Catholics.
In Turkey, Alevism is not recognized as an independent religion. Although many Alevis call themselves Muslims, they strictly reject the Islamic Sharia law – and many other Islamic rituals are of no significance to them either. They do not pray in mosques and don't go on pilgrimages to Mecca. Whereas women are generally subordinate to men in Islam, they are equal in Alevism. They pray together in Cem prayer houses.