World Bulletin / News Desk
The Supreme Court of Appeals has overruled a lower court's dismissal of a case to shut down the Çankaya Cemevi Building Association, which was taken to court for refusing to take out a description referring to cemevis -- places of worship for the Alevi community -- as a house of worship.
Turkey and Turkey's Directorate of Religious Affairs doesn't recognize cemevis as legitimate places of worship. Directorate officials have said Alevis should attend mosques like other Muslims, saying cemevis can only be complimentary cultural centers. Alevis don't go to mosques and perform their rituals in cemevis -- a word that literally means “house of gathering” in Turkish.
Earlier this year, a lawsuit was launched against the Çankaya Cemevi Building Association by the Ankara Prosecutor's Office, following a complaint filed by the Anakra Governor's Office Provincial Directorate in charge of associations. The plaintiffs sought to shut down the association because its charter referred to cemevis as a place of worship, not legitimate under current Turkish legislation.
Judge Yaşar Eren of the Ankara 16th Court of First Instance rejected the file, basing his ruling on various precedents set by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and other legal documents pertaining to international agreements to which Turkey is a signatory. The case was referred to the 7th Legal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals in the appeals process, which ruled that no places other than mosques and masjids can be considered places of worship under Turkish legislation.
The chamber's judges, who voted unanimously against the lower court ruling, basing their decision on Article 1 of the Law on the Abolition of Religious Lodges, Shrines and Some Religious Titles, which states that only “mosques or masjids” approved by the Directorate of Religious Affairs can be classified as legitimate places of worship.
The charter of the Çankaya Cemevi Building Association defines the purpose of the association as “enabling the construction of cemevis, which are centers of belief and worship for Alevis.” Another sentence in the charter defining the association's objectives says, “Taking initiatives to construct cemevis on plots of land that are designated for building places of worship in zoning plans.”
The court case was launched when the association refused to take out these sentences from its charter, after a warning from the Associations Directorate.
The case will be sent to the lower court. If the court refuses to hear the case again, it will be sent to the Legal Council of the Supreme Court of Appeals, which will have the final say.
Deputy sues Parliament over cemevi
In a related development, Republican People's Party (CHP) Tunceli deputy Hüseyin Aygün filed a lawsuit against Parliament on Tuesday after his request for a cemevi in the parliamentary building was rejected.
Aygün stated in the petition he submitted to the Tunceli Court of First Instance that he had requested that space for a cemevi be provided inside the parliamentary building.
Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek's comments regarding the Alevi faith were also mentioned in the petition. “The Alevi faith is not a separate religion but a development that originated in Islam and a cultural treasure that emerged during the course of Islamic history, and Islam's places of worship are mosques,” Çiçek had said.
Aygün has requested the court annul the decision to reject the request for a cemevi inside the parliamentary building.