Remote and poor, Tunceli has all the ingredients of a typical, conservative eastern Turkish town. Except that Tunceli is anything but typical. The women do not wear headscarves. The central mosque lies empty, even on Fridays. Dominated by a medley of Marxists, communists and socialists - political groups marginal elsewhere in Turkey - local politics has a cold war feel about it. The key to Tunceli's oddness lies in the identity of its people. Like about 20 per cent of Turks, they are not Sunni Muslims but Alevi, members of a sect distantly related to Shi'ism. Not that their place of worship on the town's outskirts in any way resembles the mosques of neighbouring Shi'ite Iran. Men, women and children attend the Thursday meeting at the cemevi together. There is music and stylised circular dancing. The ceremony ends with the religious leader, in tears, describing the Imam Hussein's death at the hands of the Sunni Caliph. Onlookers sob, and a woman hands out handkerchiefs. Persecuted under the Ottoman Empire, most Alevis remain loyal to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's secularist revolution of the 1920s. But they have long had doubts about the nature of Turkish secularism, and those doubts are beginning to be converted into action. Tunceli journalist Haydar Toprakci put the new Alevi activism down to the 2002 election victory of a conservative religious party. 'Every one of the AKP's 360-odd MPs is a Sunni,' he said. 'It's the Alevis, not the Kurds, who are Turkey's true second-class citizens.' The same attitude spurred Izzetin Dogan, head of Turkey's most influential Alevi group, to take the Education Ministry to court in December over obligatory school religious classes he says teach only Sunni Islam. 'We had no choice,' he said. 'At least we could talk to previous governments. With the present government, all contact has been lost.' Individual Alevis have taken their complaints further. Any day now, the European Court of Human Rights is due to rule on a landmark case brought by parents demanding that their children be excused from religious education. In an apparent effort to stave off further legal cases, Education Minister Huseyin Celik last week announced the curriculum had been changed to include a discussion of Alevi beliefs. But the Alevis' real gripe lies with the powerful state foundation of religious affairs, or Diyanet, which argues that Alevis are actually Sunni. 'It's not that we are opposed to cemevis,' said Diyanet head Ali Bardakoglu, 'but they are not an alternative to mosques. Alevis can have their semah [ritual dances], but they should fast, too.'