The İstanbul Sultangazi Municipality has ordered the demolition of Pir Sultan Abdal Cemevi, a house of worship for Alevis, on the grounds that the building was unlicensed, the T24 news portal reported.
The ruling came only two days after a historic referendum on whether to switch Turkey’s system of governance to an executive presidency amid reports of alleged voter fraud across the country.
Cemevis are currently not recognized as official places of worship by the Turkish state. In April 2016, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled in favor of Turkish Alevi community leaders and members in a case brought for the official recognition of cemevis and the employment of Alevi faith leaders.
Even though then-Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said several times in 2015 that cemevis would be granted legal status by the Turkish government, and work on a program for financial aid to cemevis and Alevi faith leaders, or dedes, is under way, no concrete step has ever been taken to that end.
Although exact figures do not exist, Aleviisim’s approximately 20 million adherents constitute the second-largest religious community in Turkey, after Sunni Muslims.
Tensions between the Alevi and Sunni communities in Turkey date back to Ottoman times. In 1511, the Ottoman army brutally suppressed a revolt by the Kızılbaş Turkmens of the Alevi faith on Anatolian soil, and as many as 40,000 were killed.
The Battle of Çaldıran, fought between the Ottoman Empire under Yavuz Sultan Selim and Safavid Shah Ismail in 1514, resulted in the sultan issuing an edict to kill all the Kızılbaş in the region.
During the Turkish republican era, hundreds of Alevis were killed in pogroms, which many now believe were masterminded by groups inside the state, in the cities of Çorum, Yozgat and Kahramanmaraş in the 1970s. Thirty-four Alevi intellectuals were burned to death in 1992 inside the Madımak Hotel in Sivas. In other incidents, such as in İstanbul’s predominantly Alevi Gazi neighborhood in 1995, Alevis were targeted by individuals armed with machine guns.