Muharrem Ercan, a community "elder" of Turkey's historically persecuted Alevi minority and the head of the Karacaahmet Culture Association in Istanbul, held a press meeting on Monday in response to a statement delivered by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan over the weekend.
"[The Karacaahmet Cem House] was built as a 'freak' there. It still remains unlicensed... It sits there as a 'freak' standing next to the Karacaahmet Tomb," Prime Minister Erdoğan said on a live television interview on Sunday.
"Is there any way to construct licensed cem houses [since authorities] do not regard them as [official] houses of worship and do not include them in zoning plans as a result?" Ercan asked in response.
Nearly all of the 900 cem houses across Turkey cannot obtain a license due to this policy of discrimination, he added.
"The responsibility for cem houses' lack of license should be sought not among the Alevis but among those who govern the state," Ercan said.
An award-winning cem house
The Karacaahmet Sultan Tomb is among the Alevis' three holiest shrines, according to Ercan.
"This is not merely a cem house; it is also a convent. It was built in the time of Süleyman the Magnificent. In other words, it is not that the Alevis failed to find any other location in the whole of Istanbul and thus built a cem house in the midst of a cemetery," he said.
Ercan also noted that the Karacaahmet Cem House had won the "Best Project Award" in a contest organized by the Chamber of Architects in 1994, the same year the project had been completed.
Prime Minister Erdoğan then tried to halt the execution of the project during his tenure as the mayor of Istanbul, however, he added.
"Erdoğan had ordered the demolition squads off to the cem house [after] he said he would not allow the construction of a cem house inside a cemetery. There are three mosques inside the Karacaahmet Cemetery, however. But of course, since the state counts mosques as [proper] houses of worship, they are all zoned and licensed," he said.
Ercan further warned that the Alevis have been consciously provoked for some time to make them pour onto the streets in protest, particularly since the Supreme Court of Appeals ruled against the recognition of Alevi cem houses as proper houses of worship based on the views of the Directorate of Religious Affairs.
"The Alevis who have acted prudently throughout history possess the power and strength to frustrate these efforts and avoid falling for such agitation," Ercan said. (SA/AS)