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08ANKARA1103 2008-06-16 07:28:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Ankara
Cable title:  

TURKEY: PRIME MINISTER'S ALEVI ADVISOR RESIGNS

Tags:   OSCE PGOV PHUM PREL TU 
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1. (C) Summary and comment. Ruling Justice and Development
Party (AKP) MP Reha Camuroglu resigned June 11 from his
position as PM Erdogan's main advisor on Alevi affairs,
citing frustration with AKP's failure to improve conditions
for Turkey's Alevis, a heterogeneous group of approximately
10-15 million that traditionally support leftist parties. A
leading Alevi scholar believes Camuroglu was forced out by
AKP infighting. Alevi community leaders, many of whom view
Camuroglu as an opportunist and boycotted the PM-hosted iftar
for Alevis he organized in January, used Camuroglu's
resignation to reiterate warnings that AKP's Alevi outreach
is insincere. Camuroglu's departure likely marks the
shelving of AKP plans for Alevi outreach for some time.
Focused on holding AKP together in the face of the party's
possible closure, PM Erdogan is unlikely to risk alienating
AKP's conservative Sunni base by reaching out to the
predominately secular, leftist Alevis. End summary and
comment.



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AKP's Alevi Advisor Resigns


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2. (SBU) AKP MP Reha Camuroglu, an Alevi considered to be the
primary architect of AKP's Alevi policies, resigned June 11
from his post as PM Erdogan's advisor. Camuroglu remains an
MP and has said he is not leaving AKP. Erdogan brought
Camuroglu into the party before the July 2007 parliamentary
elections as part of his effort to broaden AKP's base and
give it a more centrist look. Turkish media report Camuroglu
told Erdogan AKP has not kept promises made to better the
situation of Turkey's Alevis following July elections. His
resignation letter reportedly stated, "We wanted the
discrimination against Alevis to end. Did it? How many
Alevis have high level positions in the bureaucracy or are
among the governors? Is there just one Alevi governor? Is
that enough? What about the police commissioners? And
during the AKP's six-year rule, how many Alevi investors have
won tenders? Maybe there are none."



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AKP's Failed Alevi Outreach Campaign


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3. (U) Turkey's estimated 10-15 million Alevis have several
long-standing disputes with the GOT, including assessments of
the community's size, which the GOT asserts is seven million.
Far from a cohesive group, Alevis hold diverse opinions
concerning religious identity. The government considers
Alevism to be a heterodox Muslim sect. Most Alevis, however,
view their faith as distinct from Sunni or Shia Islam. Their
most pressing demands are equal treatment in public school
religion courses and in the allocation of government
resources for the construction and administration of Alevi
gathering places (cem evi).

4. (SBU) Camuroglu had the lead in coordinating AKP's Alevi
outreach efforts. Last December, he described to us plans to
establish a new institution that would finance and oversee
construction of cem evis, payment of Dedes (Alevi religious
leaders) and construction of a Dede training school; reform
the high school curriculum on religious education to include
more accurate information on Alevi's' beliefs; and air TV and
radio programs showcasing Alevi culture (ref A). The PM
would launch the campaign at a January 11 iftar where he
would host 500 Alevis on the occasion of Muharrem, the Alevi
month of mourning, he said.

5. (SBU) The iftar rollout was a disaster. Turkey's main
Alevi organizations boycotted the event, which they saw as
"Sunni-centric" and aimed at assimilating Alevis into
mainstream Sunni society. They threatened to take the
extraordinary step of "ostracizing" from the community any
Alevi participants (ref B). Though 800 guests reportedly
attended, the majority were AKP deputies rather than Alevis.
Erdogan's promise "not to remain indifferent" to Alevis'
demands was undercut by his claim that he hadn't heard their
oft-repeated requests for more equitable treatment.
Camuroglu made no progress on the outreach campaign following

ANKARA 00001103 002 OF 002


the iftar.



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Possible Infighting Among AKP's Alevis


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6. (C) One of Turkey's foremost Alevi experts, METU Professor
Aykan Erdemir, told us he suspects two factors led to
Camuroglu's resignation: he felt pressure to resign after the
Alevi iftar "failed miserably", and he was caught up in an
internal power struggle among AKP's three Alevi MPs. Erdemir
explained that Husein Tugcu, an AKP founding member and an
Alevi known for converting many Alevis to Sunnism or a more
conservative form of Alevism, expected to be in charge of
Alevi issues and resented Camuroglu's stepping into the
limelight. Ibrahim Yigit, another Alevi AKP MP, also likely
resented Camuroglu's role, Erdemir said. Erdemir doubts
Tugcu or Yigit are willing to push the Alevi agenda.



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Alevi Leaders Question Camuroglu's Integrity


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7. (SBU) Alevi community leaders, who have repeatedly told us
they view Camuroglu as an "opportunist" more interested in
self-promotion than improving the situation of Alevis,
criticized Camuroglu for remaining in the AKP. Cem
Foundation President Izzettin Dogan said, "He told the Alevi
community that the AKP had changed. Now after admitting it
did not, his decision to remain within the AKP ranks is a
contradiction of his statements." Alevi Bektasi Federation
President Ali Balkiz said Camuroglu had finally seen the
"real face" of AKP, a party that wants democracy for itself
only and uses freedom of religion to mask its true ambitions.
Pir Sultan Association President Fevzi Gumus said they
warned Camuroglu that AKP is not sincere in its claims of
tolerance.

8. (SBU) Alevi leaders insist AKP is pursuing an Islamic
agenda in an attempt to assimilate Alevis. Balkiz told the
press, "The AKP is an Islam-based party that has two
sensitive spots, Alevis and women." Balkiz said the PM had
ignored his organization's petition asking the government to
comply with a European Court of Human Rights decision and
change the content of compulsory religious courses in high
school, which teach a Sunni version of Islam. Gumus noted
that mosque construction in Alevi villages has resumed with
greater speed since AKP took power. Our Alevi contacts
insist the AKP government is wasting resources by building
mosques and sending imams to poor Alevi villages where no one
is interested in going to Sunni prayers. According to Gumus,
"It is clear that the AKP only cares about freedom of
religious beliefs when it concerns headscarf wearing."

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WILSON