Alevi and questions of identity, including violence and insider/outsider
by Tina Hamrin-Dahl
The Alevilik is the second largest religious movement in Turkey
after Sunni Islam, and Alevism is often regarded as part of Shi'a
Islam, since the Alevi worship 'Ali and the twelve Imams of his
family. 'Ali is more or less deified and therefore Alevis are considered
as being ghulat ("exaggerated", "extremist")
and heterodox. The elevated 'Ali personifies an aspiration to justice
and righteousness. He fought on the side of the weak and oppressed
against those with power in society. Theologically, 'Ali is assumed
to be blessed by the divine light and is therefore able to see into
the mysterious spirituality of Islam. Many Alevis today however
totally dissociate themselves from Shi'a Islam. Still, the degrading
label kızılbaş ("red-head") is associated with 'Ali and
thus is something alleged to be anti-Osman, since Isma'il fought
against the Osman Empire. The colour red represents the blood of
Mohammed: he was wounded in battle and 'Ali saw the prophet's blood
flowing. As 'Ali grew older, he wanted to remind people of Mohammed's
struggle and therefore started wearing red headgear. Red thus became
the colour of the Shi'as and over time a symbol of Shi'a martyrdom.
Later red also gained political significance for the Alevis.
The religious and the political are closely intertwined, but despite
this, the Left/Shi'a do not simply stand on one side and the Right/Sunni
on the other - there are no such simple dichotomies in reality.
As for martyrdom, blood has indeed flowed, and early attacks on
Alevis have great symbolic significance today. The massacre in Kahramanmaraş
which took place between the 22nd and 25th December in 1978, is
regarded as one of the worst bloodbaths to occur in Turkey in the
On Thursday 21st December, two teachers with leftist opinions, Hacı
Çolak and Mustafa Yüzbaşıoğlu, were shot on their way home from
Endüstri Meslek Lisesi, the vocational high school where they taught.
Their funeral was to be conducted the following day, the 22nd, but
armed encounters outside the mosque where the mourners were to pray
held up the ceremony. Three people were killed and many wounded.
The attackers demolished houses and gardens, offices and shops in
the town. Over the days that followed (Saturday, Sunday and Monday),
the violence escalated and more than one hundred people were killed,
whilst hundreds were wounded. Many women and children were murdered
in their homes; thousands managed to flee and sought shelter with
politicians of high station. Parts of the town of Kahramanmaraş
were plundered, burnt and left in ruins. Armed groups ignored the
curfew and cut off certain areas for civilians, but the police and
the army were also kept at bay. It has been asked why the armed
groups did not stop the mobsters rampaging with firearms, iron bars
and meat cleavers, but it seems to be the case that there was nobody
to organise the resistance and nobody made the decisions needed
to stop the massacre. The individual soldiers were confused since
they had not received orders to take any serious action, that is,
use their arms to forcefully stop the atrocities. Later, Prime Minister
Bülent Ecevit claimed that the army had in any case used the incident
to further its own programme, since the violence ceased only when
the Government made a decision to proclaim a state of emergency.
On 26 December, the situation in the town was more or less under
control, and the event was debated in the press. As has been said
above, the Government had decided to proclaim a state of emergency
for two months, starting immediately, in thirteen provinces, including
Istanbul and Ankara. This can be seen as the beginning of (or a
phase in) the process that ended with the military coup of 12 September
In the areas mainly inhabited by Sunni Muslims, the murder victims
were Alevis. Already on the 19th, a bomb had exploded, placed in
a cinema by ülkücü in order to cast suspicion on left-wing supporters,
that is, the Alevis. This was revealed in the questioning during
a trial. However, the press depicted the event in different ways,
depending on their political bias. Hürriyet and Tercüman did not
ascribe MHP or the right-wing extremists with any responsibility
for the massacre, neither did these newspapers write anything about
Sunni Muslims and religious motives; however, they did emphasize
that many conservatives had been wounded. Tercüman, for example,
accused militant communists of having provoked the incident. Social
liberal newspapers, Milliyet and Cumhuriyet, showed a much greater
interest in various motivations and models of explanation. These
papers tried to describe which groups led the offensive and which
The two teachers belonged to TÖB-DER (a left-wing organization for
teachers), and they were therefore seen as a threat. When the teachers
were to be buried, right-wing groups demonstrated and shouted: "Funeral
prayers for communists and Alevis are not to be conducted!"
About 10,000 people attacked the funeral procession close to the
Ulu mosque. In the ensuing commotion two right-wing extremists who
wanted to hinder the prayers were killed. The right-wing newspaper
Tercüman did not write anything in their reports about what the
demonstrators had shouted. Milliyet reported that other slogans
used outside the mosque were "Muslim Turkey!" and "Let
the army and the nation join hands!"
In the indictment drawn up during the military trial, any mention
of "Alevis" is omitted from the description of the events.
The proceedings reveal that the incident originally was not a clash
between two groups. According to all the witnesses who managed to
escape and seek shelter, their homes and possessions were attacked
and plundered and their houses set on fire. The Alevis were threatened
and many of the defenceless ones were murdered; most of those who
managed to escape saw neighbours being assaulted or killed. The
areas of the town that were attacked (Karamaraş, Yörükselim and
Yenimahalle) were inhabited by Alevis. Rumours circulated that Kurdish
Alevis in Kahramanmaraş were allied with lawless remnants of the
Sunni Muslims and Alevis are mutually dependent on each other. There
is an essential power balance in the figure that the groups form.
But since the Sunnis monopolise all the important posts in the small
towns of southern Anatolia, the power balance is very unequal. Factors
of group charisma and group disgrace are at work in a very obvious
way. A stigmatisation process dominates society and several Alevis
have tried/are trying to expressly take on the norms of the established
group, while others who have chosen to live as Alevis in their particular
way, quite unconsciously absorb the view that the established group
holds of them, so that the we-image is affected and occasionally
creates an attitude of resignation, despite resistance. Thus, the
tension between the groups is constantly being heightened. In circumstances
when the Alevis have been able to financially compete with the Sunnis,
the power balance has been less unequal; at these times, rebellions
have arisen, opposition has been clearly expressed and attempts
at emancipation have taken place. The historical chain of events
and the position of the Sunnis in the Osman Empire are essential;
their oppression of the Alevis has influenced and shaped this outsider
group. The way in which both groups have been dependent on each
other has made them strive towards certain goals and formulate claims
or demands on a certain lifestyle. Since the Sunnis have been in
the majority, the unequal power balance has resulted in a distorted
view of reality. The image of 'the Others' is twisted and imaginary;
and in the same way, the self-image is also warped. "[A]fter
an intervening period of heightened tension and conflict, the more
nearly equal is the balance of power, the more favourable are the
conditions for more realistic mutual perceptions and the more likely
a high degree of mutual identification". However, it is
the Alevis who have to crawl to the mosque; if they adopt the Five
Pillars of Islam, they are allowed to join the game - at least be
on show as tourist objects.
By illuminating collective fantasies that are expressed in rumour,
the theory of the established and the outsiders complements Elias'
theory on the civilisation process. Collective fantasy is a complex
phenomenon; power relations are characterised by collective praise
and slander, and these fantasies develop in a diachronic manner.
The issues observed and explained must be seen as parts of processes,
and therefore tradition plays an important role. The fact that differences
between the features of "old" and "new" are
still perceived as relevant for structural differences between groups
is largely due to the fact that the dominant notion of "social
structure" makes people see structures as "still pictures",
as "structures in a stable state", while the movement
of structures in time, in the form of development or other kinds
of social change, are treated as "historical", which in
the language of sociology often means that they are looked upon
as separate from the structure, and not as an inseparable part of
it  .
The massacre in the town of Maraş in 1978 was the culmination of
a long process. The abounding rumours had built up over a long period
of time, and the moral panic that broke out in December can partly
be interpreted by using Elias' theory of the established versus
The Sunni, and right-wing extremist, attack on the Alevis cannot
merely be explained by gossip, but rumour and outbreaks of violence
are nevertheless connected. Rumours often trigger riots; at least
they aggravate the situation and pave the way for violence in combination
with other factors. "Rumour crystallizes the perceptions that
members of each group have of the group towards which they feel
Rumours are concrete representations which are preserved by the
members of a group; gossip dramatizes imaginative perceptions and
gives them material substance. Gossip can be seen as real-life enactments
or embodiments of spiteful notions of other people. Rumours confirm
that prevailing ideas are "true" by seeming to demonstrate
that they are rooted in reality. Paranoid fantasies and infamous
stories play the main part in the rumours spread before, during
and after attacks manifesting group conflicts. When moral panic
breaks out, rumours are often an indicator of hostility. "In
short, rumours reflecting intergroup hostility provide morality
tales, each complete with a plot, characters, a message, and sometimes
even a call for action."
Seen from a political perspective, it is not the rootless and alienated
who participate in collective violence, but rather those individuals
who are most attached to important religious, social and cultural
institutions. Even if moral panic appears as something irrational,
collective violence can be rational and intentional, a means that
members of a certain group use to attain their goals. The attackers
usually have a perception of what they want when carrying out destructive
actions - such acts of violence are not unpredictable, emotional
and arbitrary assaults.
Elias has analysed genocide and group violence and notes that rational
motives are often the explanation behind these, but belief and religious
confession are more important than reason.
What, then, are the rumours that the massacre in Kahramanmaraş were
In addition to the Alevis', from a Sunni Muslim perspective, religious
deviance, as well as their leftist stamp, which irritates the conservative
Sunnis, their immorality is emphasized as being the greatest threat
against society. What does this immorality consists of? Simply of
the fact that men and women conduct religious worship together. "In
the setting of a moral system that puts great emphasis on the chastity
of women, the Alevi ritual could become an easy target for all kinds
of speculations: the main ritual, the ayin-i cem (ceremony of gathering),
was clandestinely held at night; men and women gathered in one
room, there was singing and 'dancing' (Alevis would qualify the
semah not as a dance, bound to worldly affairs, but as a form of
devout meditation) and drink of an often alcoholic nature were essential
elements of the ritual."
This is in stark contrast to the Sunni lifestyle, where men and
women are strictly separated in religious rituals. Şeriat has never
been as much of a threat in Turkey as it is today, and the Alevis
are among those who will suffer the most. "Şeriat will attack
the Alevis with more aggression even than they will the communists.
Their own history emphasises this as a sacred duty." (Şeriat
= the Sunni way, referring to those following the Sunni way, opposed
to Tarikat = the Alevi way)
According to David Shankland, an anthropological expert on Turkey,
who has conducted extensive fieldwork among Alevis, they are now
subject to attacks which are unlike any in history. Over many years
of hangings, massacres and threats of exile, the state has succeeded
in creating fear and passivity, but still it has not managed to
erase the Alevis. The rulers have now changed tactics and are trying
to win the Alevis over to their side, persuading them to become
Sunni, assimilating them and thus dispersing the members of the
group. The Alevis are repeatedly faced with questions like "Why
do you feel like an outsider?" and invitations such as "Do
not stand outside the country's umbrella, you are also children
of this state!", or made to hear declarations such as "Thanks
to God we are all Muslims - there is one Koran, one nation and one
flag!". Mosques have been built in all Alevi villages, the
children are forced to attend Sunni Muslim classes and learn the
correct way of praying in the mosque. The Turkish-Islamic synthesis
still functions as a kind of basic ideology on radio and TV stations,
which naturally influences the content of their broadcasts. The
Refah Party borrowed statements by Pir Sultan Abdal as slogans for
the party, while MHP took wise words by Hacı Bektaş Veli and arranged
them in a way unfavourable for the Alevis. For example, they quoted
the motto of the Sufi master: "Let us be united, let us be
strong, let us be active" and mocked this maxim by contrasting
it with the words of the old Dervish leader Ahmet Yesevi as he disciplined
his student Hacı Bektaş Veli by asking: "Why do you not follow
the words of the wise?"
The Islamisation of Turkish politics gives the Alevis only one alternative,
that of organising themselves into a more hard and fast group; and
this they can do by forming a deeper connection with the Bektaşi
There might not be a solution to the outsider problem in the eyes
of the Sunni Muslims, but when Alevis and Sunnis realise that they
strive for common democracy and human rights, perhaps the Alevi
connection with the Bektaşi is so solid and powerful that it no
longer exists far beyond the Sunni field, but as a part thereof.
The opinion of those hoping for co-operation is that Alevis and
Bektaşi members must strive together.
The debate in the Turkish Parliament has, to a certain extent, been
a reaction to the demands for collaboration between Alevis and Bektaşi
members, clearly presented in a publication called "Alevi problems
in our daily lives and suggested solutions to these problems",
written in 1994 by Ali Balkız (who writes in the Alevi paper Nefes).
But is democracy the solution to all problems?
Even if my point of departure is Elias's theory on insiders and
outsiders, and I accept a development where the antagonists move
closer to each other, so that a pluralist democracy is a fact (according
to the hopes among the Alevis today), I still have to admit that
the treatment of the Alevis points in another direction. Extra-institutional
groups, with connections to established political parties, but with
varying violent agendas, appear in unexpected ways in the "de-Kemalised"
Turkey. Extra-institutional violence has changed its nature. Theoretically,
a wider political development in the form of increased democracy,
where more people would have access to both resources and opportunities,
was seen as the solution to the problems of violence. However,
states with a relatively successful development generate marginalized
groups, when the state does not appear to present a possible solution
to violence, but to be a part of the problem itself. When groups
are singled out as marginal and left bleeding behind the fence,
the increasing violence is largely a function of the current social
process. Instead of wondering who deserves most sympathy, it
is important to consider how the conditions of violence create their
own discourse. Violence must not be seen as irrational, but as symptomatic
of something - a diagnostic phenomenon.
If violence is characterised as a performative language which functions
according to a strategy concerning order and disorder, it appears
that the general notion of the logical disjunction of violence,
that violence only represents disorder (when order and disorder
are juxtaposed as mutually excluding alternatives), does not hold
true on all levels, since violence can give rise to re-ordering
in some situations.
Violent actions are often a question of revival and planning; each
new attack or clash overlaps similar past episodes of violence and
reawakens a complex heritage. Those attacked create their own mythology
and martyrs, they turn to a wider circle and the chain of events
is transmitted in narratives that grab hold of us, that is, people
who are not directly concerned with the events. At the same
time, the revived heritage generates plans for future actions that
are thus based on the myths of the outsider group. In this way,
violence can develop a kind of symbolic capital, an independent
source of power to change the meaning of the discourse. However,
the practical ingredients of the symbolic capital must be close
at hand and recognisable. When ordinary phenomena and events are
suddenly loaded with a special meaning and depicted as an overall
pattern signifying something - a recovered "truth", a
particular representation, a narrative, a myth, a certain kind of
logic, special theories - a process that enriches the group has
been started. This is a question of substantiating and supporting
a distinctive character so that symbols, signs, markers and traces
can be mobilised to ascribe a mythically coloured logic (associated
with terror, riots and protests) with symbolic weight.
The dynamics of violence express a narrative of battle. The description
based on the innate ability of violence to trigger change can be
seen as a semiotic field defining morality, the symbolic effects
of which spread so that the re-experienced history and the planned
reactions that this gives rise to prompts demands for universal
acknowledgement. Thus a moral architecture is created which produces
engagement and spurs to action.
The experience of violence and harassment can be transformed into
symbolic capital. This happens through a shift of perspective that
allows those who have experienced violence not only to be seen as
victims, but also as potential actors in the context of the larger
struggle. Alevis in present-day Turkey can, partly with the support
from Alevis in the diaspora, create a powerful community. In the
summer of 1998, 18 Alevi organizations united in the publication
of a declaration: seven of these are based in Europe and eleven
in Turkey. The declaration signed by the organizations included
sixteen points that they regard as constituting the base for what "Alevism"
is. These points suggest what the essential characteristics of the
Alevi identity is. The Alevi organizations demand that Alevilik
is recognized as a confessional group striving to maintain its financial,
social, political, cultural and religious identity. Further, they
insist that Alevilik is no longer to be denied, that Alevi civil
servants may not be dismissed because of their allegiance, that
state employees are promoted following the same pattern as Sunni
Muslims, that violent attacks against Alevis must stop, that the
murderers in Maraş, Sivas, Çorum and Gazi are to be tried in court;
that DİB [Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığı] is abolished, that schools
and social institutions are built and founded instead of mosques
in Alevi villages, that libel and disparaging statements about Alevis
are erased from school books, that the press, the radio and TV stop
accepting material criticising the Alevis, that the reactionary
Islamisation of society is stopped, that Sunni Muslims and certain
ethnic groups tied to that belief are no longer to dominate Turkish
society and that modern, democractic civil rights are to be granted
all inhabitants of the country.
Since children in Turkish schools learn that Alevis are sinful,
carry out incest and group sex, totally lack morality, and so on,
Sunni Muslims are indoctrinated with this view from a very early
age. The majority view is that Alevis can be tolerated as long as
they keep away from the public sector, but they have no legal status
and do not officially exist. The Alevilik are denied legal recognition
either as a religion (din), or as a religious or confessional community
(mezhep) or order (tarikat). The state authorities are adamant and
do not want to concede to the Alevis. What is more, the Alevis are
not in agreement among themselves about which of the above categories
they want to belong to.
If the Alevis are recognized by the Turkish state, the relation
between state and religion is altered in the country. This could
be problematic, but school books can be revised and religious Alevi
material can easily be included in the subject of religion. The
Social Democrat Party could make an effort to gain Alevi votes and
implement the general political demand of the Alevis concerning
the education system. CHP re-emerged in 1992 and included the precarious
situation of the Alevis in its programme; they stated, for example,
that various religious beliefs should be allowed. Everything was,
however, expressed in an indirect way, and words like "Alevi"
or "mezhep" were not used. Neither did the Social Democrats
touch upon the question of whether Alevis should get state grants
for cultural activities, for example, if Alevi cultural organizations
should get funds from DİB or the State Cultural Department.
Alevis live both in big cities and central Anatolian villages, and
the Social Democrat Party has held a strong position in typically
Alevi areas. Unfortunately, these areas suffer from regional underdevelopment.
Instead of flirting with the new middle-class, the Social Democrat
Party should show that it understands that disadvantaged and neglected
social groups turn to the Social Democrats hoping that the party
will use its voice for them and against discrimination. The oppressed
Alevis need a party with distinct, credible ideas and principles
that can offer them a better future. The Social Democrats suffered
a disastrous setback in the elections on 18 April 1999. According
to analyses of the results this was caused by the Alevis having
lost their faith in the party.
What can the European Union offer the Alevis?
In June 2000, Karen Fogg, representing the EU Commission, organised
a meeting between EU civil servants and leaders of some Alevi organizations.
This meeting caused the Turkish Foreign Minister to scold Fogg and
rage with anger. Turkey chose to interpret the organised meeting
as interfering with internal issues and the EU Commission was blamed
for acting behind closed doors.
The Alevis hope that membership in the EU will grant one of Turkey's
largest minority groups human rights and the freedom to practice
their own religion. However, power is also an issue at stake here.
When the "binary configuration" of power, that is, the
legal model for the oppressors and the oppressed, is dismantled,
strategies for subverting hierarchies are enabled.
The liberated form of social intercourse between the sexes in the
Alevi community is culturally structured, imbued with dynamic power,
and therefore political problems similar to the problems created
by the oppressive culture arise implicitly. Liberation and public
acknowledgement could free them from these problems. There is an
ill-concealed legal model of power that assumes a binary opposition
between Sunni Muslims and Alevis. If such a binary opposition is
dismantled, the oppositional pairs change; not by one party being
brought to the fore, but because perspectives are multiplied in
such a way that binary oppositions eventually become meaningless
in a context teeming with all kinds of differences.
There are strategies available which pertain to changing the old
power game (consisting of oppressors and the oppressed). With the
aid of the EU, the Alevis do not only want to transcend power relations,
but also multiply various forms of power so that the oppressive
and regulating legal power model can no longer constitute sole supremacy.
When the oppressors are themselves oppressed and the oppressed develop
alternative forms of power, post-modern power relations are at hand.
This interplay leads to new and more complex power liaisons, and
the power in the binary opposition seems to disseminate through
the power present in the ambiguity.
In the actual constitution of the subject, the materialization power
operates - "in the principle which simultaneously forms and
regulates the 'subject' of subjectivation."
Power, rather than law, includes both the legal (prohibitive and
regulating) and the productive (creative by mistake) functions in
differential relations. Since power can be neither removed nor
denied, only replaced; perhaps the Alevis should focus on a subversive
and parodic replacement of power, instead of fantasizing about being
elevated to a completely normative status.
If the self cannot be seen as the subject in a life-story, "there
is no 'being' behind doing, effecting, becoming; 'the doer' is
merely a fiction added to the deed - the deed is everything."
But it is impossible to completely discard the subject and still
claim to be a fully responsible participant in the discursive community.
Various Alevi stereotypes are both generated and nurtured by conservative
Sunni ideology; furthermore, these stereotypes provide the rhetoric
apparatus with information that maintains the ideology in question.
Thus, the power in such discourses is not the old supreme political
power that is uniformly placed over a subordinate population. Power
is manifested in local "truths", descriptions and prohibitions.
Power appears in both impersonal structures and concrete violent
actions - it is tangible in the exclusive as well as in the inclusive.
History, the memory of violence and representation are,
in the case of the Alevis, parts of a process in which a group identity
is created through negations. This process actually ties the Alevis
to the majority Sunni culture, rather than separates them from it.
They need their enemy for their self-definition.
As always when identity is created through negation, the
Alevis produce a new domain when they incorporate the environment
enclosing and threatening the group. This is done by including influencing
factors as negative introjections. They thus integrate Sunni norms,
attitudes and values, but in an indirect way.
When looking at the Turkish state in a wider perspective, the attacks
against Alevis to a certain extent seem to be a question of stabilising
and strengthening the nation's ambivalent marginal regions.
When Sunnis attack Alevis, they assault the space of "the Other"
in order for identities to appear as clear-cut and to be able to
free more space for self-representation. The struggle about the
market in the cities is a source for new rhetoric fantasies. This
is largely a question of space; the Alevis take up space with their
cultural events. In Sivas, the outsider group was razed by fire.
"The memory of massacre creates history, identity and the focus for future
mobilisations. The political significance of massacres is that they
continue as a defining moment beyond the event and become part of
historical collective memory reference point in the past...The political
significance of a 'massacre' is, as a collective act, its ability
to define conflicts as communal, precluding other cross-cutting
There is a generating reciprocity between violence and representation
which is clearly discernible in symbolic acts carried out by various
ethnic or religious groups. Unfortunately, violence is the basic
linguistic form for social symbols.
Textual violence will exist as long as language creates differences
through violent acts. Texts do not pop up from a void, but appear
in a sometimes painful manner from a context that forms the struggle
for existence - they also replace other texts. Each text takes on
a position in relation to other texts and thus receives both its
significance and ethical strength. Those involved feel their presence
through the constantly dominating resistance.
Norbert Elias combines the actor and structure perspectives in his
concept of "figuration". This refers to a network of mutually
dependent people who are tied to each other in various ways and
on several levels. In these networks, gossip and rumour have great
power. Rumour keeps the oppressed in place, and the Turkish media
contributes to the stigmatisation of Alevis. On the other hand,
the media is also a channel for the Alevis to reach out and present
themselves. They can show that rumour and gossip convey a stereotypical
image of them with the object of making them powerless.
Rumour is the breeding ground for moral panic. "In most cases,
a deviant category or stereotype exists, but is latent and only
routinely activated. During the moral panic, the category is either
created or, more often, relocated, dusted off, and attacked with
renewed vigour. New charges may be made, old ones dredged up and
Moral panic reveals variations in condemnations and dissociations.
The Sunnis have stigmatised the Alevis in different ways during
various time periods, and apart from alleged religious deviance,
rumours of financial problems and political accusations, sexual
and moral issues also recur constantly in the gossip about the Alevis.
When those accused of deviance act according to the roles ascribed
to them, which existed already before moral panic broke out, they
might very well underline certain traits that the agitated mass
perceives as immoral or sinful. They might even make something up
further to emphasize the deviance of the other group. "The
part that individuals who are designated as deviants play in moral
panics is crucial - indeed, central - but their precise role is
creatively assigned, dynamically acted out, and to some degree reformulated
with each episode."
Hatred of the Alevis has existed since the 16th century, but the
reasons for which Sunni Muslims harass Alevis are constantly being
renovated as various stories are spread through rumours, and the
gossip is lethally sharp. Generally, intellectual Alevis claim that
Alevilik represents a modern way of living, compared with the Sunni
Muslim lifestyle. Often the view of women is brought up; Alevi women
are regarded as being treated much more equally than Sunni women.
Perhaps it is the position of women in the Alevi community which
is most disturbing and threatening in the eyes of the Sunni? During
the prayer rituals, tarikat, all look into each other's faces, women
as well as men. By praying face to face, the Alevis look into each
other's hearts and thus come closer to God. This collective form
of worship is called muhabbet, and the Alevis regard the Sunni Muslim
prayers in the mosque, where only men sit in rows without being
able to see each other, as a sign of falsehood.
So, the Alevis think of themselves as being closer to God than the
Sunnis can be. They are oppressed, but from the perspective of eternity,
the Alevis are superior, since those who stand closest to God win
the contest when all collapses.
Nevertheless, we must carefully scrutinize myths; we are constantly
dealing with stories of a reality that shifts according to the perspective
from which it is viewed. Exploitation of "history" and "tradition"
is something that the revived Alevism has in common with many ethnic
and nationalistic movements. This is largely a question of pointing
out "the Other" - the dichotomy of "us here"
and "them there" is an obvious motif in almost all texts
produced by Alevis during the 1990s.
In many writings their own group is glorified, for example: we belong
to Ehlibeyt', that is, the household of Mohammed, where Fatima,
'Ali, and their sons Hasan and Hüseyin are included. We are impeccable
since we descend from 'Ali; it is us against them, those Sunnis
who follow Yazid, the murderer of Hüseyin. Hüseyin's passion symbolises
the historical struggle between good and evil. The pathos and significance
associated with Hüseyin's martyrdom - with themes such as oppression,
tyranny, social justice and atonement - are revealed in liturgical
handbooks that recount the fatal struggle. This pertains to
Shi'ia Islam generally and the Alevis often refer to Hüseyin's martyrdom
in Kerbela in 680.
Binary oppositions exist everywhere in the descriptions of the history
of the Alevis. They envision their own history from Prophet Mohammed
to today's Turkish society - they remember it. The Sunnis are on
one side and the Alevis on the other; in the writing of history
persons who have contributed to the Alevi community are highlighted,
they are eminent persons who have formed their religion. Throughout
history Alevis and Sunnis are described in a stereotypical manner
as two morally different societies. Of course, it is understandable
that this dualism is important for those who wish to create a collective
sense of community, an Alevi identity. It is always easier to identify
with heroes and innocent victims than with abstract principles.
The powerful forces acting in Alevi history are mostly concrete
persons. Historical representation is a specific means of recounting
history; it is a process pertaining to group formation that provides
a historical basis for the reshaping which is constantly taking
place. History is presented as an endless repetition of a pattern
where the good, righteous and innocent are set against the evil,
irreverent and cruel. The Alevis are writing their history according
to a classic narrative form of historiography. The manicheistic
features in the Alevi religion emerge clearly, since the society
is divided into two categories of people: one side consists of humble
nomads, modest farmers, poor workers, weak and unprivileged who
are all innocent, just, good and prepared to suffer for their ideals.
They live in a democratic society based on equality, justice, freedom
and solidarity. The other side is represented by the Sunnis who
are thoroughly unjust. Such thinking got Elias to bring the concept
of charisma even closer to the theory on social behaviour, groups
and relations in order to eliminate all essentialist and normative
'Ali, Hüseyin and Haci Bektaş Veli are not only men of principle
who fought for the Alevi ideals, they also embody the moral norms
connected with the principles. Since the world has not changed for
the better, these men and today's Alevis are being discriminated
against, oppressed, exploited and murdered by their evil opponents.
In the Alevi historical stories the good who are oppressed are of
Central Asian origin while the oppressors are Arabs or decadent
Turks, such as the Osmans. Thus, there is an open ethnic or nationalistic
rhetoric in the contemporary Alevi discourse.
According to the Alevis, Sunni Muslim leaders make up rumours about
them: "These despots invented the slander of the character
of the Alevi religious service to break the solidarity of the common
people and to discipline them."
At the same time as the Alevis use the passion drama and Hüseyin's
martyrdom to enclose themselves in a cycle of eternal repetitions
(perhaps Nietzsche's "eternal return" is applicable here?),
they look forward and create a new identity through their modified
image of Alevism. Through an invented tradition, which is rather
a mirror image of the present historical enactments of tradition,
the Alevis express current circumstances. Karl Marx would probably
have said something about the traditions of dead generations weighing
on the minds of the living like a nightmare and I, from the
future, would have agreed.
In societies characterised by mythical thinking, the social structure
can be seen as a holy, timeless order which is justified by the
myths. They explain the great importance of the community and the
way in which it has been shaped. Furthermore, rituals are very important,
since they strengthen the solidarity between those who belong to
a certain group, and thus the solidarity of the society at large
is undermined. This gives rituals a clearly more important political
role than if rituals only existed to cement society. Since a ritual
can bring together various political groupings, rituals also hold
a key role in the political struggle between power-seeking factions
and sub-groups; rituals are also an important tool when a nation
is created and a useful instrument for chauvinists.
Cultural identity is never enough as the sole guide in life. We
all have multiple identities of many kinds, and even if we accept
one basic cultural identity, we might not totally adapt to it and
correspond to the image thereof. Theories of culture turn our attention
away from all that we have in common instead of encouraging us to
communicate across national, ethnic and religious borders, and take
the risk of going beyond these marked dividing lines.
When people create their history and carry out something unprecedented,
they feel insecure and therefore try to invoke representations that
ensure their context and reveal the connection to times past. When
the continuity is threatened they quickly invent a past that re-establishes
the calm: "And, just when they appear to be engaged in the
revolutionary transformation of themselves and their material surroundings,
in the creation of something which does not yet exist, precisely
in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they timidly conjure up
the spirits of the past to help them; they borrow their names, slogans
In this shuttle between the past and the present there is, nevertheless,
a kind of development taking place; it is not merely an endless,
limitless repetition of the same old pattern. The collective memory
of "Alevism" grants accesses to many updated versions
of the Alevi self. May the image of the oppressed Alevi be blurred
in the European Union!
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 Sinclair-Webb 2003: 222. "On 23 December, an imam (prayer
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words: 'My Muslim brothers, do not dread, just hit and destroy...Muslim
Turkey's, Kahramanmaras's, heroic children, take our revenge on
the communists!'" (Gürel 2004: 9).
 Dagdeviren 2005.
 "According to the trial indictment (Iddianame), on 22 December,
one of the leaders of the group that attacked the Namik Kemal district,
Mirza Dogan, exhorted those around him by shouting, 'Shoot the leftist!...That
night, about 300 ülkücüs held a demonstration, shouting slogans
such as 'Nationalist Turkey!', 'Damn the communists!' " (Gürel
 N.N. 2005; Dagdeviren 2005.
 Mennell 1992: 138.
 Elias and Scotson 1999: 11.
 Goode 1992: 130.
 Goode 1992: 130.
 Goode 1992: 128.
 Fletcher 1997: 163.
 Vorhoff 2003: 105.
14] Shankland 2003: 165.
 Şeriat is the Sunni way of life, but şeriat can also be Islamic
law (Shankland 2003: 239).
 Shankland 2003: 165. "According to the Vilayetname, Bektash
was a disciple (mürid) of Ahmet Yesevi...the first Turkish Sufi
and the first to establish a Turkish mystical tarikat. Since Yesevi
lived a century before Bektash, it is obvious that he was not an
actual disciple of Yesevi but, like Yesevi, a Sufi saint from Khurasan"
(Clarke 1999: 56).
 Apter 1987: 40.
 du Toit 1990: 118.
 Cf. Apter 1987: 37.
 Apter 1987:40; cf. ibid.: 48.
 du Toit 1990: 119.
 Apter 1987: 40; cf. íbid.: 48.
 Apter 1987: 43.
 Apter 1987: 41, 237, 249-251.
 Schüler 2000: 208.
 Schüler 2000: 208-209.
 Schüler 2000: 209.
 Schüler 2000: 213.
 Çelik 2002: 199-200.
 Cf. Butler 1987: 137-138.
 Butler 1993: 34.
 Butler 1990: 29.
 Cf. Butler 1990: 124.
 Butler 1990: 25.
 Benhabib 1992: 239.
 Cf. Weaver 1953: 222.
 Cf. Stallybrass and White 1986: 89.
 Cf. Bhaba 1990: 4.
 Bozarslan 2003: 36.
 Feldman 1991: 260.
 Conquergood 1994: 213.
 Goode and Ben-Yehuda 1994: 74-75.
 Goode and Ben-Yehuda 1994: 75.
 Çaha 2004: 335.
 Shankland 2003: 120.
 Esposito 2001: 152.
 Elias 1998: 105.
 Vorhoff 2003: 105.
 Marx 2003: 150.
 Kertzer 1988: 69.
 Kuper 1999: 247.
 Marx 2003: 150.