Relatives mourn as coffins arrive at Gazi Cemevi in an Alevi district of Gazi
Istanbul - AFP
Turkey's Alevi community on Tuesday hailed a Supreme Court ruling on the funding of their prayer houses as a historic decision bringing Turkey's biggest minority faith more closely in line with other beliefs.
The decision followed a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) which said last year that Turkey's failure to exempt cemevis -- Alevi places of worship -- from paying their utility bills was discriminatory.
Following the ECHR decision, the Cem Foundation in Istanbul, a leading Alevi organisation, decided not to pay the bills in protest at the government's refusal to implement the ruling, prompting a lawsuit by Turkey's main power distribution company.
The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that the Turkish state should cover all the expenses of cemevis, as it does for mosques, churches and synagogues.
Alevis -- who make up around a quarter of Turkey's 76 million-strong population -- are a moderate Islamic sect related to Shia Islam, in a country where Sunni Islam is the dominant faith.
Alevis have been a loyal ally of Turkey's secular system, but the state has never recognised their faith, perpetuating discrimination.
Cemevis' expenses will now be covered by Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate and municipalities must allocate land for the construction of the prayer houses, the court ruled.
Erhan Arslaner, a lawyer representing the Cem Foundation, told AFP the decision was "the first and most clear recognition of cemevis as places of worship."
"It's a historic decision openly recognising cemevis as houses of worship for the first time, leaving no room for discussion," he said, adding that the decision was binding.
Sezgin Tanrikulu, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), also hailed the decision as "very favourable" but called it a "shame" that the government had prevented Alevis from enjoying such basic rights for such a long time.
"Similar discriminatory practices that prevent our Alevi citizens from exercising their religious rights should immediately be ended," he told reporters on Monday.
Alevis revere Imam Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed. Theirs is a Turkish version of Alawism, prominent in neighbouring Syria.
Unlike Sunnis, they do not fast during the holy month of Ramadan, alcohol is not forbidden and worshippers gather at cemevis instead of mosques.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan established a rare dialogue with the community, but Alevis have benefitted little from the government's drive and their principal demands, such the removal of compulsory religious courses at schools, remain unanswered.