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Title: Burdened Recognition Alevis within the politico-legal frameworks of Turkey, the United Kingdom and the European Court of Human Rights
Author: Çalışkan, Esin
ISNI:       0000 0004 9355 3535
Awarding Body: Queen Mary University of London
Current Institution: Queen Mary, University of London
Date of Award: 2020
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Alevis are considered to be the largest religious minority in Turkey. Although they originate from Turkey, many European countries including the United Kingdom accommodate organized Alevi communities. With the process of Turkey’s accession to the European Union, the last 20 years have witnessed the emergence of a transnational Alevi movement that advocates for the accommodation of Alevis in different politico-legal contexts, with each context producing different outcomes. This thesis problematizes the issue of Alevis’ recognition in three different politico-legal contexts, and questions the dominant identification of Alevism as a kind of religion for the purpose of recognition. It is in that light that the thesis addresses the question of how Turkey, the United Kingdom and the European Court of Human Rights accommodate Alevis’ difference, and what the implication of this accommodation is for Alevis and the Alevi culture? Secular law is considered as an antidote to religious conflict and as providing the means of extending recognition to unrecognised groups. Yet, a major problem appears to be the assumption of secular law that every culture has a religion and differences of religions are what have to be accommodated for harmonious coexistence. Opportunity structures offered by politico-legal systems face this problem as well. Different from this framework, this thesis is theoretically grounded in the findings of the research program led by S.N. Balagangadhara, one of which is that religion is not a culturally universal phenomenon.1 Supported by my ethnographic fieldwork with Alevis in London and Ankara, as well as a study of the existing literature and documentary evidence, this thesis argues that there is no religion in Alevi culture and the distinction between the religious and the secular is alien to Alevis. 1 S. N. Balagangadhara, ‘The Heathen in His Blindness’--: Asia, the West, and the Dynamic of Religion (Brill 1994). 4 The claim that religion is a cultural universal is embedded in the theology of Semitic religions, and is implicitly accepted in the dominant literature on Alevis. Its general acceptance points to the secularization of religion. As a consequence, embedded in this theology and its secularisation, political and legal systems which offer various opportunity structures for recognition, cause a kind of violence to people who may not have religion. The violence of ‘effacing the otherness of the other’ occurs through forcing a religion onto Alevis in order to recognise them as a community and culture within the state or a broader international law framework such as the European Convention on Human Rights. In this connection, the emergence of a transnational Alevi movement that strives to be an authority to speak for Alevis and their religion, Alevism, can be read as an outcome of the opportunity structures available in these contexts. It is a strategy of recognition that comes with costs and benefits for Alevis. The case studies reveal that even though these politico-legal contexts in Turkey, the UK, and before the ECtHR are ostensibly different and provide different promises to Alevis, they all view Alevis as a religious community. This thesis suggests that by adopting this view Alevis’ experience of their culture is transformed. The process of portraying their culture as a religion for the purpose of recognition in the secular state deepens this transformation. This argument is developed in the three politico-legal contexts, in each of which I demonstrate that even when some kind of recognition is granted, this recognition treats Alevis as (falling within) some kind of religion. The way that they are compelled to frame their arguments in politics, charity contexts, education and law testifies to the ‘conversion’ of Alevis into a religious community, as do the decisions that administrative, political and legal authorities make. Applying the conceptual framework around Balagangadhara’s theory of religion to the fieldwork, the legal and policy related documentary evidence, case law, and the existing literature on Alevis, this thesis makes a significant contribution to knowledge on cultural recognition in three political-legal contexts and to rethink the dominant models for understanding cultural differences.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available