THRACE: First Cem Evi opened for Greece's Alevis (PHOTOS)

Cem Evi Thrace Greece

The first Cem Evi for Greece's Alevi community in Thrace opened to much jubilation.

"A big thank you to Greece," said Pireli Moumin to Proto Thema.

He is director of the minority language school in Megalo Derio, general secretary of the Cultural Educational Association and singer of the first Cem Evi - a place of worship for the Alevis, which opened its doors in Thrace.

"We are a minority within a minority," said the Alevi teacher, who could not believe they had their own place of worship, saying "it was a crazy dream that no one could take seriously. And crazy dreams, however, can be realised by some brave and determined."

For a number of years there were no places of worship for the Alevis, who were forced to perform their rituals in their homes.

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The Alevis, unlike Muslims, light a candle in the Cem Evi, which means House of Ali.

They have the images of their own Saints and the 12 Imams, which they do not worship, but are shaped in the space and have commonalities with Muslims.

Alevis have translated the Qur'an to make it understandable and they believe in Muhammad, Ali, and the daughter of Muhammad, Fatima, as the principal of the minority school explains.

There is gender equality, says Mr. Moumin, the secretary of the Cultural Educational Association.

Women are dressed in traditional costumes only if they want, the teacher explains. They do not necessarily follow the rule of Muslims with the five prayers a day , there is tolerance towards other religions and the consumption of alcohol is allowed.

Cem Evi Thrace Greece

The celebration that took place with the people of Megalo Derios in the prefecture of Evros, the sounds from the saz, the sacred instrument of the Alevis, which accompanies their dance, dominated.

Cem Evi Thrace Greece

The songs that accompany the music are melodic lyrics from the Qu'ran. The religious service is held in a language that is a mixture of Persian and Turkish.

The Alevis or Bektashis in Thrace are about 3,500 individuals, mainly in the prefecture of Evros, according to Mr. Moumin.

He says that in Turkey they amount to about 25 million, settled mainly in Eastern Turkey. The community leader points out that the first countries to recognise places of worship for the Alevis were Germany and Austria.

Cem Evi Thrace Greece

Then came the inauguration of the first Cem Evi in Greece, which operates with an official license as a place of worship for the Alevi religious community.

"For many years we have been fighting to get the official license for a Cem Evi," said Moumin.

The Secretary General of Religions of the Ministry of Education, George Kalantzis, said in his speech that what unites us from different religions and from different countries. is a common future of prosperity and peace.

Cem Evi Thrace Greece

Historic day

"Historic" is how Kalantzis described the opening.

"Today we are all here, Muslims and Christians, from Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey. What has brought us here today? Our common love for God," stressed Kalantzis.

"And this is exactly something very important that has happened today here, on the edge of our country, in the village of yours, thanks to your work, in your own faith, your own efforts, your own love.

"So what brought us here, what unites us from different religions and from different countries is the answer to what the future might be.

"A future common to all of us, a future of prosperity, a future of peace, because all of us at the end of the day want our children to live better than we did .

"And what the Great Derio teaches us today, what we see here today, for the reason that we are here, is that this is the way."

Cem Evi Thrace Greece

Kalantzis stressed that: "The Greek state was, is and will continue to be a supporter."

"Because that is what our Constitution says. Our Constitution, in article 13, says that the Greek state has the duty to protect and guarantee the religious freedom of all.

"Today is a historic day not only for you here but for all of us and it became a reality thanks to your work and your will."

The event on Sunday was attended by, among others, the MP of Evros of New Democracy, Christos Dermentzopoulos, the MP of Evros of New Democracy, Stavros Keletsis and the MP of SYRIZA Natasa Gkara.

Cem Evi Thrace Greece

The Alevis are a religious tradition steeped in mysticism and place emphasis on the teachings of Ali, a cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, the founder of Islam.

The Alevis, who were endlessly persecuted by Ottoman authorities and even to this day by the Turkish Republic, make up as much as 33% of the Turkish population (Turks and Kurds), with smaller communities existing in Greece, Bulgaria and Iran.

A law enacted by the founding government of Turkey in 1925 banned Alevi Cemevi’s.

The law exists to do this day.

Effectively, since 1925, Alevism has not officially been recognised as a distinct faith by the Turkish government

Although Cemevi’s do exist in Turkey today, according to a parliamentary report in 2013, of the 82,693 mosques in the country, only 937 were Cemevi’s that were built with their own funds and with no government support.

As Turkey-born journalist Uzay Bulut highlighted, the Turkish state has conducted innumerable atrocities against Alevis.

These include the 1921 Kocgiri Massacre, the 1937-1938 Dersim (Tunceli) Massacre, the 1978 Malatya, Sivas and Maras Massacres, the 1980 Corum Massacre, the 1993 Sivas Massacre and 1995 Istanbul, Gazi Quarter Massacre.

The Turkish government not only discriminates against Alevis, but claims that Alevism “is a sect of Islam.”

It is a claim disputed by many Alevis, such as Mustafa Genç, a dede (faith leader), who has described the difference between Alevism and Sunni Islam.

“In Sunnism, they pray five times a day and fast for a month. These things do not exist in the Alevi faith. According to our faith, God is in the human and not in the sky,” he said.

“In the Alevi faith, women are sacred, and to divorce a woman is the most difficult thing. This is not the case in Sunnism. Sunni Muslims think a man can marry four women,” Genç added.

The author, Naki Bakır, also emphasised the difference between the two religions.

“The Alevi faith is different from Islam and some of its elements are contrary to Islam,” he said.

For example, according to the Alevi belief, each human will be born into this world several times in different bodies until he or she becomes perfect and when that process is completed, he or she will unite with God,” Bakır explained.

“This belief is contradictory to the Islamic belief in the ‘afterlife’ represented in the ‘award-punishment’ or ‘heaven-hell’ mechanisms,” he continued.

“The basic faith foundations and forms of worship of Alevism are at variance with Islam. It is impossible to find the Alevi beliefs and forms of worship in the Qu’ran or in the historical heritage of Islam,” Bakır said.

“The Alevi ritual is ‘cem’ — during this ritual, alcohol is drunk, women and men worship together and turn in circles, to the accompaniment of some musical instruments… These things do not exist in the Quran, hadith, or in the life of Prophet Mohammed,” he stressed.

“They are actually prohibited in Islam. And the Alevi belief in ‘hulul’ (that God is manifested in the human body) is idolatry, according to the Quran,” the author said.

According to the Alevi scholar, Mehmet Bayrak, one of the reasons that some Alevis say they are Muslim is their misconception of their own religion.

“Due to the centuries-long propaganda they have been exposed to, some of them think that they are true Muslims,” said Bayrak, adding that a more alarming reason for their denial is fear of persecution.

“As Alevis are still under political, social and cultural pressures [in Turkey], they are still scared of saying that Alevism is outside of Islam. It is impossible for them to express themselves freely,” he explained.

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