Dilsa Deniz, an anthropologist of the Alevi-Kurdish religion, was fired from her position as an assistant professor at Nişantaşı University in Istanbul after she signed the Academics for Peace petition issued in Turkey on January 10, 2016. More than 1,000 scholars signed the petition to protest the Turkish government’s disengagement from the peace process with the Kurdish opposition and the killing of civilians in several Kurdish towns. Jeannie Sowers, a political science professor at New Hampshire, spoke with Deniz in December 2016 about her activism, the situation of scholars in Turkey and the Turkish state’s renewed attacks on Kurdish culture, language and political participation.
Alevis are the second largest faith community in Turkey. As a religious collective incorporating aspects of Shi‘i Islam into their teachings, Alevis have faced systematic state exclusion since the 1923 establishment of the Turkish nation-state, which privileges Sunni Islam despite its avowed secularism. Although the community constitutes 15-20 percent of Turkey’s population, their places of worship, cemevis, have no legal status and do not enjoy the state economic support accorded to mosques. A glass ceiling blocks Alevis from obtaining high-ranking government jobs, and various other forms of daily discrimination push members of the community to hide their identity in public.