ISTANBUL — Mayor of Istanbul Ekrem İmamoğlu said yesterday during a visit to an Alevi house of worship, or cemevi, that the city plans to support the building of new cemevis in the next couple of years. Mayor İmamoğlu (CHP) said that he will try to remove obstacles and barriers for construction work as this is an important step to serve Istanbul’s Alevi citizens. This is the first time he has publicly announced such a project. “You know our party’s point of view with regards to beliefs,” said İmamoğlu. “We believe that it is our responsibility to ensure every form of belief can be practiced and confessed in its own house of worship.”
In Turkey, only officially recognized places of worship are entitled to government funding and support from the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet). The Directorate maintains oversight of religious affairs and administers officially recognized places of worship. In practice, this means that the state finances and builds, mostly, recognized Sunni Islamic houses of worship and directs religious education, teachings, and weekly sermons.
Turkey’s Alevis, who practice a Shia interpretation of Islam, are a sizable religious component but are not recognized as such by Diyanet. The official policy is that cemevis are community and cultural centers and not houses of worship. Over the last couple of years, however, there have been positive movement towards official recognition. The Aegean municipality of Izmir has granted official recognition for some cemevis as houses of worship and gave them subsequent public assistance. In Istanbul, Mayor İmamoğlu’s predecessors assigned construction lots for cemevis in recent years. These were, however, not given an official status.
The question remains whether Mayor İmamoğlu can convince Istanbul’s municipal council, dominated by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the ultra-nationalist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), to approve his plans.