Turkey’s President Erdogan and the Alevi “species”

Can Erdogan’s recent derogatory use of the term “species” to denote the Alevi minority in Turkey be boiled down to his intense agitation at the likelihood of losing the election?

“Who asked you to say whether you are an Alevi or not? We respect the Alevis, just as we respect every species. What need was there for you to say this? You can live out your Alevism, but there is no need to tell everyone about it.”

Can Chairman of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and current President Erdogan’s derogatory use of the term “species,” typically used to refer to plants or animals, towards the Alevi minority, as well as his wish to render them invisible (based on his rhetoric of “So what if you’re an Alevi, just make yourself scarce”) be considered the result of the intense agitation he feels at the likelihood of losing his seat in this election?

To be able to answer this question, let us assess his statements over the years regarding a variety of identity groups, including the Kurds and Alevis.

06.12.1997, as part of the Siirt speech which was the cause of his brief imprisonment: “They tell me, ‘You are from Rize, you must be Laz.’ I say that I am not. I went up to my father and asked him. He asked his great grandfather, who was a mullah. The mullah said: ‘We are going to die tomorrow. Allah will ask, “Who was your Lord, who was your prophet, what is your religion?” He will not ask us who our tribe was. Just say, “Thank God, I am a Muslim,” when they ask you such a question.’”

11.08.2004, in Georgia: “I am Georgian. My family is a Georgian family that migrated from Batumi to Rize.”

12.04.2005, in Norway: “I am from Rize, my spouse is from Siirt. She is not a Turk, she is an Arab. See, we have already solved the conflicts. You look at Turkey, the Turks and the Kurds marry one another, the Azeris and the Georgians do too. They have become like meat and bone. We are like meat and bone.”

11.06.2011, prior to the 2011 elections on the NTV channel, expressing that many books have been written about him and then-President Abdullah Gul: “These books have said everything about us, from us being Jews, to Armenians, and forgive my language, Greek. Can you believe?”

05.08.2014, prior to the 2014 elections on NTV: “What haven’t they said about me. One came out, the same mentality, and said, ‘He is a Georgian.’ Another, forgive me, with much uglier things, said, ‘He is an Armenian.’ What I have learnt from my father and my grandfather and from everyone else is that I am a Turk.”

Particularly on the matter of the Alevis, Recep Tayyip Erdogan made many comments leading up to the 2011 elections in which the AKP took 49.8% of the votes and Erdogan was re-elected as Prime Minister for a third term.

29.04.2011, at the Board of the Industrialists and Businessmen’s Association: “As you all know, though Kilicdaroglu is a member of the Alevi culture, he apparently hasn’t understood or learnt Haci Bektas-i Veli’s teachings very well. As an Alevi, he must first really understand his teachings well.”

30.04.2011, at his Mus rally: “We know that Mr. Kilicdaroglu was raised in the Alevi culture, that he is an Alevi.” (This particular phrase was used at seven other rallies, with the people in the crowd jeering and booing loudly each time it was said.)

04.05.2011, at his Kastamonu rally: “You know how he comes from the Alevi culture, how he is supposedly an Alevi.”

05.05.2011, at his Amasya rally: “Seeing as he is from the Alevi culture, and is an Alevi…”

08.05.2011, at his Kahramanmaras rally: “Isn’t Kilicdaroglu one of the people who should know the Alevi culture well? He should, as he is an Alevi. Come to see, however…”

10.05.2011, at his Afyon Rally: “They say the gentleman supposedly knows the Alevi culture well; they say he is an Alevi.”

13.05.2011, at his Denizli rally: “I conveyed the advice of Haci Bektas-i Veli; you know, because [Kilicdaroglu] is from the Alevi culture. He was disturbed by that apparently.”

18.05.2011, at his Malatya rally: “Dear Mr. Kilicdaroglu, I thought you were Alevi? I thought that you came from the Alevi culture? I’m telling your from here, Kilicdaroglu, before everything, God is beyond time and space. Learn this well, and then speak. And make sure to use your manners.”

In the 2014 presidential election, when the path was paved for the president to be elected directly by popular vote for the first time, Erdogan won 51.79% of the votes and became the 12th president. Here are some of his comments leading up to that election.

03.08.2014, at his Izmir rally: “Kilicdaroglu, you may be an Alevi yourself. I respect that, and you should not hesitate or be afraid to say it. I am a Sunni, and I say it openly without hesitation. There is no need to be reluctant about this, so there is no need to deceive the people."

In the context of the current election in which Erdogan has titled Alevis as a “species,” he has said:

22.04.2023, during the Eid visit to Kahramanmaras, in response to Kilicdaroglu’s statement about being an Alevi: "They are bringing up ethnic and religious discussions out of nowhere as a cover for their dark deals. Nobody in this country asks anyone about their ethnic origins or religious sects. This politics of exploitation by those who do not know what a prayer mat or prayer is, who do not hear themselves speak, will not hold in our country. The politics of exploiting values in our country is a thing of the past. Now, some are trying to stir up and divide people over these issues, like all the other diseases of old Turkey."

24.04.2023, at his Manisa rally where he implied that Alevism does not constitute Islam: "We do not discriminate between God’s creations. We do not believe in Arab superiority over white, or white superiority over Arab. The only superiority is through closeness to God. You all do not know this, but we have faith in this. And we continue on our path in this way. Out came Mr. Kemal talking about Alevism. We do not have a problem regarding 'sectarian differences.' We do not have an Alevi religion or a Shia religion. We only have one religion, and that is Islam and being a Muslim. We do not have any other religion."

* Dates are recorded in the day – month – year format used in Turkey.

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