On Feb. 8, tens of thousands in İstanbul, Turkey, rallied and marched to demand a secular public education and denounce the reactionary, anti-secular policies of the ruling AKP government.
Led by the Federation of Alevi organizations and the United June Movement, participants included members of the Alevi community from all over Turkey, most of the left parties including the Communist Party, Turkey, unions and their members.
The United June Movement is inspired by the June uprising of 2013 and founded on the principles of equality, freedom, democracy, solidarity and socialism. The CP, Turkey is a founding organization of this movement, which aims to unify the struggle against reaction, fascism, imperialism, the pro-market policies of exploitation and its representative: the AKP regime.
Marching to the rally location led by the Federation of Alevi organizations and the United June Movement, thousands chanted, “We are rising up for secular education!” and “Thief and murderer AKP!”
Before the event on Feb. 8, the Communist Party, Turkey released a short statement calling the people to action, which partially read as follows: “Against the mandatory religious classes and the religionization of all aspects of our lives, against the attempts to shape politics and the social life by religious rules, we will be defending the bright future of science and civilization. We are rising up, not because we follow this or that religious sect, we are rising up as we see that the Sunni Islamic policies of AKP will bring nothing but darkness, the elimination of all our freedoms and the establishment of an oppressive dictatorship, even monarchy. We are rising up in defense of secular, scientific education and against mandatory religion classes.”
Speaking to thousands at the event, Baki Düzgün, deputy president of Alevi Bektasi Confederation, said: “Secular public education is a system that should guarantee the equal treatment of all citizens, irrespective of their religious beliefs or ethnic identity. … A secular public education is of course not sufficient on its own. The Turco-Islamic policies that have been in effect for years have been against the equal treatment of all citizens by the state. Our political history is full of massacres, unsolved murders and oppression by these ethnic, sectarian policies[…] Today, AKP’s policies of religionization continue to be instruments of injustice, persecution and tyranny.”
Düzgün ended his speech by saying:” We, the Alevis, demand an end to discrimination. We believe in the equality of all humanity, irrespective of their religion, skin-color and the language they speak. We demand equal citizenship for everyone in this country.”
Alevis in Turkey
Alevis in Turkey represent a distinct sect of Islam only practiced in Turkey and make up about 20 percent of the overall population. Alevis were subjected to persecution and discrimination for centuries at the hands of the Sunni rulers of Ottoman Empire.
The 12-year-long rule of the Justice and Development Party, AKP, which has been marked by aggressive Sunni-sectarian policies, has been aiming to destroy the secular nature of the Republic of Turkey through reactionary legislative changes in the constitution, judiciary and public education and a systematic ideological drive to push Sunni Islam in all aspects of social life.
The public education system has been one of the main targets of AKP in the attack against secularism. AKP has pushed for mandatory religion classes on Sunni Islam in primary education, while thousands of new religious vocational schools have been funded to replace the secular high schools for secondary education. There has been a marked revival in discrimination in the recent years against Alevis, who are militant supporters of secularism and perceived by the ruling AKP as a threat.
The event concluded with a call for a mass boycott of all classes in all public schools on Feb. 13 in defense of secular education.