Cem ozdemir is the federal chairman of Bundnis 90/Die Grunen (Alliance 90/The Greens). And: author of the book for young people "Die Turkei" ("Turkey"), in which he guides us through the history of Turkey and paints a picture of a nation seeking its way between tradition and modernity. In this site he calls his own faith a private matter, speaks of a popular Islam in Turkey and pleads for freedom of faith.
this site: Because of your first name, one could think that you have something to do with the Allevite religion?
ozdemir: That's what most Allevites believe – but that's not the case. But the fact that they believe and think 'He must be one of us' has a lot to do with the fact that Turkish society is still very strongly marked by ethnic origin, religious affiliation, but also local identity. In the past it was the tribes. They still play a role today, in the background. In Turkey, there is one very important question: Where do you actually come from?? With this, the questioner wants to know: Do you happen to come from the same place, from the same religion as me?? Then we have a common ground, then something connects us under the umbrella of Turkey. This plays an incredibly important role in determining identity. As for the Allevites, you have to know that they have been terribly suppressed for centuries: as heretics, their faith was considered derogatory to Islam. In this respect, there is also a longing: There is one of us who possibly stands up for our rights. I am not one – but still stood up for the rights of the Allevites. I don't wear a headscarf, as you can see – but I stand up for the rights of headscarf wearers. I'm not a woman, by all accounts – but advocate for women's rights. I come from a Turkish, non-Turkish family – stand up for their rights. I am straight and happily married – and I stand up for the rights of Turkish and Kurdish lesbians and gays. This is something that is still unusual in Turkey. You actually always stand up for those whose origins you share. Why should you stand up for people who don't share your origin? This is perhaps the most important step of Turkish democracy to learn that. That you feel empathy, as it were, for others who are not like yourself. But that considered as the basis of their own democratic understanding.
this site: Islam is not always Islam.
ozdemir: That would be a truncated statement if one were to say: The Allevites are the liberals, and the others are the fundamentalists and conservatives and reactionaries. There is a terrible tradition within some Allevite families that come from a federal structure in the southeast: when the husband dies, the wife must marry the youngest brother so that she does not have to live widowed. This has nothing to do with Allevite traditions. It is a tradition that has survived there in a nomadic society. There are other Sunni families who are highly modern. Where the woman is very self-confident, her husband alsot, studies, etc. So: You can't always make things so easy for yourself. Turkey always worth a second look.
this site: And you yourself: Would you describe yourself as a secularized believer who is distant from Islam but still connected to it?
ozdemir: I consider it a private matter. I come from a family where the mother was religious in a certain way, but shaped her own form of religiosity, in that she just prayed, fasted during the month of fasting – but she doesn't wear a headscarf, she didn't make a pilgrimage to Mecca, she doesn't go to the mosque, neither does my father. So they have their individual form of Islam. This is actually relatively widespread in Turkey, this "popular Islam". That is, Islam, which has entered into a mixture with Anatolian traditions. And from this, something new and different has emerged. This is also a reason for the thesis why I believe that a fundamentalism actually has no carrier in society. Of course, there are terrible forms of fundamentalism in Turkey. But the majority of the population can do nothing with it.
this site: Other faiths do not have it easy in Turkey.
ozdemir: Not only Christians – all do not have unrestricted freedom of belief. Not even the Allevites. Basically, the Turkish state has to redefine secularism in the sense of an equivariance to all religions. There cannot be a first- or second-class religion. The Turkish Republic's attempt to create a unified nation was based on Turkishness on the one hand and Sunni Islam on the other hand. And now you realize: You can't use that in the 21st century. Organizing a modern society in the nineteenth century. And one can see from the discussions in Turkey – about the recognition of the Kurds, about the recognition of the Allevites, but also about the questions of how to deal with Christians and the dark stains of the past – that basically such a society can no longer be held together with prohibitions and taboos. In this respect, part of Turkey's democratization also includes a complete guarantee of all rights for all religious communities. This includes, of course, the right to maintain and build churches, repair and rebuild, and: If you take the right to proselytize here, you can't deny that to Christians.The book "Turkey – Politics, Religion, Culture" by Cem ozdemir is published by Beltz, has 256 pages and is available for 19.90 euros in the trade available.