Politics of Anticipation: Possibilities and Impossibilities of Reforming Alevis’ Status in Turkey

By Nazli Ozkan
Submitted to Session P4766 (Precarious Visibility as a Mode of Governance: The Case of Alevis in Turkey, 2017 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Started as a series of meetings held with major Alevi organizations, “Alevi Opening” has been on Turkey’s agenda on and off since 2007. Overall agenda of the reform attempt was to address the major problems of Alevis such as unofficial status of cemevis (Alevi places of worship) or obligatory Religious and Morals courses that only teach Sunni-Islam. This paper focuses on one of the latest episodes of this reform process in December 2014, which was initiated by then prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu with the hopes of earning Alevi votes in the upcoming 2015 general elections. This time, the discussions centered around the status of cemevis and several pro-state columnists pointed out that the government would take steps to legalize the construction of more Alevi places of worship. Despite extended state media coverage of the reform package that strengthened the impression that the legal change was on the way, the process ended with a symbolic change instead: The entry to the shrine and the museum of one of the most prominent 13th century Alevi saints, Haci Bektas Veli, was made free of charge. I ethnographically examine how major Alevi television networks covered this 2014 reform process from its inception to its end. Based on participant observation conducted in the newsrooms of these networks, I reveal that through the ongoing media discussions about the “Alevi Opening” the government produces a “politics of anticipation,” which works to postpone addressing Alevis’ demands to an indefinite future while also circulating the impression that these demands will be addressed one day if not in the present context. I propose “politics of anticipation” as a useful framework to examine reformist projects targeting minorities across the Middle East. My ethnographic study reveals that such anticipatory frameworks work in two levels: First, it is through such frameworks of expectation that the governments justify themselves as legitimate actors working for the improvement of minorities’ marginalized positions while also disguising their major roles as perpetuators of such marginalization. Second, such anticipatory politics limits the impact of collective politics organized by minority activists by making it harder for these activists to hold the state responsible for the marginalization of their community.