|The Alevis of Turkey: A Question
Tina Hamrin Dahl
As he was studying how the process of civilization worked at a micro
level, Norbert Elias (1897-1990) suggested that that which is deemed
to be worthy of gossip is directly related to the norms and convictions
specific to a given society, as well as to the state of its social
relation. However, the established insiders of the society often
regard themselves as being more civilised than recently settled
outsiders, regardless of whether we study an English suburb (as
Elias was doing) or the city of Kahramanmaraş in southern Anatolia.
Thus, insights into the nature and function of rumour can be very
rewarding in the study of a particular divided society. Almost everywhere
there is a deeply rooted perception of outsiders. General opinions
and notions of people who have recently moved into the society often
function as selective criteria when rumours are spread about these
strangers. Events that do not conform to preconceived opinions are
seldom of any interest, but negative consequences, which are regarded
as the result of immoral actions by the newcomers, correspond to
the established image and constitute a very important substrate
for rumour, which is never an independent phenomenon.
Having conducted a study of outsiders, Elias noted the following
together with his student John Scotson: the negative image of the
new area which made "the villagers" see every confirming
episode as worth passing on, was the opposite of the positive image
that "the villagers" had of themselves. In everyday language,
we tend to perceive gossip as more or less degrading information
about a third person that two or more persons communicate to each
other. Structurally however degrading gossip is inseparable from
praising gossip, which is usually limited to one's own person or
to groups that one identifies with. Elias regards power from several
different perspectives. Power is not something that one group possesses,
while another group lacks it - rather, it is a question of relationships.
The balance of power is changeable in all configurations, and through
this flexible balance an authoritative relation can gain meaning,
but also lose its credibility. "Human figurations are in a
constant state of flux, in tandem with shifting patterns of the
personality and habits of individuals."
My research in Turkey calls to mind some of the issues raised in
the study mentioned above. Why did the Alevis in the province of
Kahramanmaraş meet such a miserable fate when they moved from their
mountain village to the towns in southern Anatolia in the 1970s?
Is it possible to find, in retrospect, the reasons for the massacres
and harrasment to which they were subjected? It is possible that
the consequences are more interesting than the circumstances which
brought them about, in which case we should explore the violence
as part of a phenomenon belonging to the social, cultural, religious,
political and economical elements of the given social and historical
whole. It should be possible to find explanations by means of history
and memory. The expression of the past, the actual representation
that carries the collective self-image of a group, is that which
guides the group into the future.
The phenomena of "nationalism" and "ethnic affiliation"
can be explored according to prescribed models presented by established
nationalism researchers. Is a nationalist way of thinking inherent
to human nature, as some claim; is nationalism a modernist phenomenon;
or perhaps nations are the creations of nationalists? Could nationalism
possibly be related to a capitalist need to control; or maybe we
should use ethno-symbolic interpretations in order to explain nationalism
as a phenomenon?
My reflections on classic analyses of nationalism have here given
way to Norbert Elias' ideas about insiders and outsiders. However,
the thoughts of Ernst Gellner are also present in my mind during
the research process, albeit at times implicitly.
The Alevis have come under fire several times; now they are voicing
their plight in a plea for help from the EU representatives in Brussels: "We
exist and want to be acknowledged as an ethnic or religious group
with minority status within the Turkish Republic!" My choice
of subject, a study of the Alevis in Turkey, is both socio-political
and ethno-religious, cultural and ideological - perchance it is
also an economic analysis?
Set of questions
To a certain extent, Mats Alvesson and Stanley Deetz emphasize a
perspective that I, too, use in my work: "'Politics' does of
course not primarily refer here to parliamentary, or even explicitly
extra-parliamentary politics, or to organisational politics or other
power struggles that are connected with expressed interests and
materialized conflicts (even if these are also significant), but
to the wider institutional and ideological questions that shape
society and social relations".
According to Mats Lindberg (previously Dahlkvist), who has analysed
the state as a problem logically and historically, researchers within
political science and political macro sociology often write about
nation-building using Stein Rokkan as their model, focusing on the
European nation state and nation building processes. If they do
not base their writings on Rokkan's view on the development of democratic
institutions and arenas, their guide is very often Seymour Martin
Lipset's studies of the socio-cultural and historical-economic conditions
of democracy. In many cases, the subject is the creation and organization
of a political movement/political party.
This "either/or" setup is not tenable, since the issues
explored are attitudes of an ethnocentric, modernist character.
The transitional situation between traditionalism/modernism and
nation/organization is seldom categorized in terms of political
science. The phenomenon that I will focus on is the process of both
ethnic construction and organization, with a religious reawakening
as its symbolic cement and part of a ideology of a community, but
which, at the same time, amounts to a political organization into
a movement. According to Lindberg's experience within the field,
a comparison with the labour movement, the Free Church movement
and the temperance movement would not be totally irrelevant as pertaining
to ethnic homogeneity and organising in a historical space where
the state building is structured and clear.
In this text, I will present some thoughts both on a proposed outsiderhood
and on an actual outsiderhood (as far as this state is at all measurable).
My subject is a group of people which is not fully accepted by the
Turkish state or by the country's Sunni Muslim majority. Above all,
the issue explored in terms of the constructions of identity.
From a modernist viewpoint, the process in Turkey can be regarded
as reform nationalism. Studies by primordialists, who think that
nationalism is a timeless phenomenon, and by perennialists, according
to whom nationalism is an old idea repeatedly emerging in new forms,
have not been taken into account in my study. Researchers on nationalism
of course hope to find the right theory, so as to be able to use
scientific methods and axioms for their analyses of nationalism.
Of the two dominant meta-narrative research theories that promise
to deliver the truth about nationalism, primordialism can be called
contextualism and modernism must be regarded as social constructionism.
However, by using perspectivism we might perhaps be able to see
that the grand narrative descriptions are limited for those who
want to understand what nationalism is.
Researchers who want to study the shaping of "abstract communities"
can, by applying a perspectivist way of thinking, get away from
the meta-narratives on ethnic minorities. They can move away from
social constructions and towards a competing model of interpretation
that is based on various approaches and perspectives. The interplay
in social relations is initiated by power, which is clearly discernible
when studying communities from several perspectives.
Ontologically speaking, we should avoid so called realities (that
are presented using various theories) and realize that nationalism
is much more complicated and confusing than the great meta-narratives
admit. Maybe the inter-subjective nature of the nation can be glimpsed
through perspectivism? We must focus on origins and development,
exceptions and exclusions, unforeseen events and potential possibilities
in the processes that shape nations. We must question the way in
which a certain perception of the nation is formulated and the way
in which that perception becomes predominant over other social misconceptions,
in order to perhaps create a special disciplinary form of knowledge.
By studying the nation through various lenses, researchers see that
this is a constantly shifting concept. Perhaps genealogical questions
should be asked the Sunni Muslim Turkish nationalists who present
We must explore what theories lie behind the various perspectives;
how they have come to manifest themselves by asserting certain rules
that have an impact on our powers of imagination and our thoughts
about society. In order to be able to describe nationalism, it is
important to know how different perspectives interact; we must also
excavate the power relations that support and confirm the perspectives.
In other words, in a study of nationalism the researcher must be
aware of the role of power relations and the risk of limiting one's
ontological gaze, since everything appears so clear and self-evident
in the various single models for interpreting nationalism. Power
relations are not only involved in the construction of disciplinary
meta-narratives within elite circles; they also play a certain part
in the theories of nation building that are evident in social life.
Thus, one must question and problematise nationalism instead of
reifying the phenomenon. What kind of reason is produced by the
nation? What forms for identity and customs are created because
of the ways Sunni Turks think of the nation and have a feeling for
some kind of nationalism?
People are always dependent on other people; therefore people exist
in figurations, that is, many mutually dependent people together
form groups. Norbert Elias uses the ballroom dance as a metaphor
for this, since we do not see dance as a formation outside individuals,
neither as a pure abstraction. The same dance figuration can, of
course, be danced by several different individuals; but without
several individuals, dependent on each other, who dance with each
other, there is no dance. Time and time again in history, Sunni
Muslims have tried to obliterate the Alevis; but both groups are
somehow mutually dependent, even if they have never succeeded in
dancing together. Methodologically, I explore texts that try to
express an image of the Alevis, that proclaim their existence. What
does the image look like? Are they outsiders? This essay is about
identity, about "us" and "them"; that is, the
social construction of "the Other".
Mustafa Kemal led the Turkish secularization process and demonstrated
what norms were to be applicable. Nevertheless, Islam as the basic
convention has never been eliminated; customs and manners have been
shaped within the Muslim tradition. The Hanafi legal school of Sunni
Islam has articulated the norms that are the standard of behaviour
in Turkey. The Kurdish Shafi'i form of Sunni Islam is, at least
nominally speaking, different, and the religion of the Alevis, which
is the subject here, differs considerably from that of the majority.
Kurds and Alevis are commonly regarded as being uncivilized by prejudiced
Sunni Turks, explains Nedim Dagdeviren, Head of the Kurdish Library
Using Elias' ideas on the relations between the established and
the outsiders as my point of departure, I will explore the situation
between Sunni Muslims and Alevis in the Kahramanmaraş region. Further,
I will study the chain of events concerning the massacre that took
place in December 1978 and reflect over theories of moral panic.
The image of "us" and "them", the created history,
the self-image of the Alevis - as it is presented both by Alevis
and external researchers - are in focus.
According to Elias, the social is much more than "a by-product
of agreements and contracts between freely acting individuals".
His concept of figuration accentuates a unity between an individual
and society which enables us to understand collective behaviour
during, for example, moral panic. The rationalisation of processes
must not be oversimplified - the individual and society must not
be constructed as two separate worlds. "In the figuration model
people are part of long and complex chains of dependence and interaction,
chains of inter-dependence between people. Here, people are connected
and related to each other, and between them there are power relations
The figuration model is also valid for relations between social
The spontaneous emotional impulses of individuals must be controlled
if individuals are to be able to interact in modern society. "This
important element of civilization Elias leaves partly to the self-control
of individual actors, partly to social institutions
Power is, according
to Elias, mainly expressed in the practical ability of dominant
actors to turn various kinds of resource into means of maintaining
or developing their own dominance."
Elias' concept of "double-bind figuration" is interesting
in this context, since the 1978 massacre in Kahramanmaraş can be
seen as a social situation with a spiral movement of panic and aggression
between social groups. "Such conflicts lock those externally
representing the groups in a destructive conflict and result in
the institution of stereotypes with a 'hatred picture of the other
side' which stands in contrast to an idealized picture of one's
The aim of this essay is to try and illuminate a nationalisation
process, focusing on a social group which is being harassed. By
exploring the Alevi self-image and the image that is ascribed to
this minority by the majority in Turkey, I will study an example
of a civilization process in micro format - an example of Norbert
Elias' theory of the established and the outsiders.
Is the process of stigmatizing the Alevis possibly linked to the
nationalisation process? My objective includes, as Elias suggests,
searching for ongoing processes that move over long historical periods.
Above all, I wonder whether the oppression is as explicit as the
Alevi historical narrative wants to claim, and whether various media
had cemented notions of "us" and "them".
By studying the literature and mass media, and combining this with
interviews, I will place Alevis and Sunnis against each other in
the polar pairs of majority and minority, insiders and outsiders
- however, always suspecting that dichotomies are illusory.
A survey of research on outsiderhood shows that studies of deviation
initially were totally functionalist (when it comes to modern sociology).
But when Howard S. Becker published Outsiders in 1963 and Erving
Goffman Stigma in the same year, the authors underlined that other
people's reactions contributed to the feeling (in those who were
singled put) of being different. In the 1960s a number of books
on deviance appeared. A disparate collection of theories on deviance
was called labelling theory. "Although these studies were often
classified together as belonging to the labelling or societal reaction
perspective, this designation was a very wide blanket term, co¬vering
a theoretically diverse body of works." Becker used theories
of symbolic interactionism; several others based their arguments
on Durkheim's functionalistic theories, while others used Marxist
conflict theory as their point of departure. Phenomenological sociology,
such as ethnomethodology, also began to be used within the sociology
My studies here deal with a, historically speaking, long drawn-out
process which repeatedly explodes in moral panic (the social construction
of deviance); I also analyse collective behaviour, focussing on
the function and role of rumour. As mentioned above, I will use
Norbert Elias' theories of the established and the outsiders, and
his observations about gossip.
Pertaining to research on ethnicity and nationalism, I find Benedict
Anderson's concept of imagined community very useful - the Alevi
community is in many respects an excellent example of this.
Having explored several different nationalist perspectives, Ernest
Gellner appears very convincing. He was one of those who actually
took care to look deeply into Islamic culture. According to Gellner,
the urban section of the population submits to the state power and
practices their religion in a different way from the ethnic groups
which are dispersed in the mountain areas, since the latter, as
far as possible, are able to act outside of the state rules on what
is permissible. A composed, written doctrine fits the urban culture,
while a less codified, more extrovert religiosity centred on individuals
is more suitable for the "tribes". People are inside or
outside the state sphere, and this division is crucial, since it
affects various aspects of social life.
Naturally, I react negatively to such categorizing, but social anthropologist
David Shankland (who has lived with Alevis for many years) happily
accepts Gellner's theories. This invites consideration.
Earlier research on Alevis and Sunnis in Turkey was mainly in line
with Gellner's thought: "Roughly speaking, there are two dominant
life-styles. In one of them, your women work in the fields, are
not secluded or veiled...social groups are very well defined and
visible, religious life is centred on public festivals in which
women play a very definite part, and which reaffirm the identity
and boundaries of groups."
In the second style, which can be applied to the Sunni Muslims "ritual
life is more sober, rule-bound, scripturalist, individualised, anonymous,
and has a more marked tendency to exclude women."
Those who are independent, beyond central government and state authorities,
need functional mechanisms for resolving disputes. Such groups have
members who act as judges or mediators. In these groups, holiness
is interpreted in a special way and persons who possess certain
abilities are engaged to resolve disputes or to mediate between
antagonists. The chosen ones enjoy certain privileges and the way
in which the group interprets holiness provides those who act as
mediators with protection. This affects many aspects of the society,
including gender politics.
According to Gellner, the secularised state protests against those
who inherit holiness and relatively autonomous groups with such
leaders run the risk of losing their independence under a centralized
state. Gellner also describes those who practice their religion
within the context of the nation state; these people are resistant
to secularism. (In the case of Turkey this applies to the Sunni
Muslims.) Thus, Islam is compatible with modern nationalism.
In general, the Alevis try, as far as possible, to stay outside
of the various state regulations. The Alevis have built their own
community in opposition to the central government. The "tribes"
that Gellner describes, and which he calls penumbra ("half-shadow"),
largely live in Anatolia, but the state has endured their resistance. "The
elite spoke Turkish, but did not single out the Anato¬lian peasantry
as its favored object. It was a state elite, linked to the state,
and it just happened to speak Turkish. It was in the past identified
with Islam, but it controlled an ethnically and religiously variegated
Gellner's theories on Islam are interesting, and perhaps he is right
in claiming that Islamic societies will remain Islamic; but maybe
the Alevis, through their ceremonies and rituals can contribute
to a secularization of the Turkish state.
Various explanations pertaining to nationalism and ethno-politics,
and descriptions of the great threat to the Turkish state that the
Alevis are alleged to constitute, are presented by several researchers.
But an in-depth study of much research material reveal that rumour,
slander, stories of group sex and general decadence, fanciful tales
that depict the most bestial, devilish happenings in the Alevi places
of worship, and spiteful descriptions that lable the Alevis as heretics,
form the basis of the persecution of Alevis since Osman times.
Ideally, in the following section I will present a historical, social
and political background, as well as a theoretical one, in order
to give the required initial parameters.
The situation for the Turkish Alevis is somewhat chaotic, which
is reflected here in the fact that I have not structured the article
in terms of temporalities and dimensions according to different
themes. Hopefully, analytical readers aware of perspectives can
imagine for themselves invisible headings such as: (a) state-forming;
(b) parties and social forces; (c) the Alevis as a people, religion
and movement, etc. Since the beginning of the 1990s, the Alevis
have attempted to become more manifest as an ethnic minority group.
All over Turkey, as well as in European immigrant communities, Alevi
movements have arisen. Intellectual Alevis and leaders in various
communities strain to define the Alevi identity, tradition and the
history of the group.
The religion differs from Sunni Islam in that the Alevis do not
pray five times per day; they do not fast during Ramadan, are not
obliged to give alms, nor do they go on pilgrimage to Mecca. Instead,
they have their own religious ceremonies (cem) that are led by holy
men (dede) who inherit their vocation. At meetings, religious poetry
(nefes) is recited, Turkish Alevi songs are sung and men and women
perform ritual dances (semah) together. 'Ali and the Safavid Shah
Isma'il are deified; at least they are perceived as being superhuman.
Pre-Islam Turkish and Iranian religious elements have to a large
extent been preserved among the Alevis, but have vanished within
Sunni Islam. It is, for example, common that the Alevis make pilgrimages
to holy sites, such as springs and waterfalls, mountain tops and
martyr graves. Shari'a does not form the basis of their norms and
values; the Alevis have their own moral rules. Generally speaking,
they consider themselves to be living according to the inner meaning
of religion (batin), instead of following its outer demands (zahir).
Alevism consists of several different communities whose beliefs
and ritual activities differ from each other to a relatively large
degree. Linguistically, four groups can be distinguished: in the
eastern province of Kars the Alevis speak Azerbaijan Turkish; religiously,
they are close to the Shi'ism of present-day Iran (called the Sect
of Twelve). 'Ali and his descendants are regarded as infallible;
they are illuminated by the Divine Light. Here, there are obvious
traces of Gnostic, Neo-Platonic and Zoroastric motifs.
The Arabic-speaking Alevi community of southern Turkey (Hataya and
Adana) can be seen as an extension of the Alawit group in Syria
(called nuşairīs). Historically, these should not be connected
with the Turkish Alevis.
The two dominant groups are the Turkish-speaking and the Kurdish-speaking
Alevis. According to Gloria Clarke's thorough study, we cannot claim
that there is one homogenous community, even if the same religious
belief system is shared by the Alevis and the Sufis belonging to
Bektaşi, since there are regional differences within each group.
The Tunceli province is the cultural centre of the Kurdish Alevis,
but they live in villages both in the south as well as in the east
and west. Religiously, both the Turkish and the Kurdish Alevis seem
to be related to the rebellious groups close to the Safavids. However,
in his research on the Kurds, Martin van Bruinessen claims that
most of today's Kurdish Alevis do not have ancestors who were Turkmens
or belonged to the hosts of Isma'il; but rather, they were followers
of other syncretic so called exaggerated (or extremist) sects. In
the 16th century, there were several heterodox groups in Anatolia
who had certain forms of contact with each other.
As the Safavid dynasty extended, two significant religious movements
emerged among the groups mentioned above. In addition to beliefs
influenced by tasavvuf, there also arose a view which was fıkıh
oriented, probably because of the Safavid influence. Otherwise,
there is no evidence of Shi'ism in Anatolia before the 16th century.
The identity struggle of the Alevis today is largely a question
of the choice between a Sufi doctrine, which is grounded in the
tasavvuf tradition, and imamet, which expresses the Shi'ia elements
in Alevism. Interestingly enough, this choice continues to be a
problem 400 years after the beginning of the Safavid indoctrination.
The Shi'ia features are of great importance for the Alevi identity
in the Sunni Muslim Turkish society.
The district from Gaziantep and Kahramanmaraş in the south through
Adıyaman to Malatya and Sivas in the north is ethnically and religiously
a very mixed area, consisting of a transitional zone from Turkish
Kurdistan in the south-east to the rest of the country. Most of
the clashes between the Sunni Muslims and the Alevis in the 1970s
took place in this zone. The latter usually lived in relatively
isolated mountain villages, which reflects their history of being
persecuted under the Osman Empire. Only in the 1950s did the Alevis
start to leave their villages to settle in towns in the region,
or to move to the large cities in western Turkey.
The Sunni Muslims did not give up their prejudices against the Alevis,
even when the country was secularised. The Alevis were accused of
being sexually depraved and of leading an immoral life. When the
Alevis were integrated into the wider society through urbanization,
education and professional careers in the public sector, they came
into closer contact with the Sunni Muslims. At times, the Alevis
competed with the Sunnis over means of livelihood; the Alevis were
partly therefore perceived as a threat towards those that they earlier
had been totally isolated from. This caused tensions in the Anatolian
society, particularly in the mixed areas of the smaller towns where
different ethnic and religious groups lived side by side. However,
problems also arose in the large cities of western Turkey. Newly
arrived villagers settled where people with the same background
lived, and thus distinctive Alevi quarters and housing areas occupied
solely by Alevis were created. The political polarisation that accelerated
in the 1970s aggravated the situation. The left defined the Alevi
uprisings of the past as proto-communist events and regarded the
Alevis as their allies. The fascists and the religious extreme right
therefore tried to recruit conservative Sunni Muslims in the mixed
regions, partly by spreading fear for and hatred against the Alevis.
This provoked many violent incidents. Rumours of Alevi bombings
of mosques, or of the Alevis having poisoned the drinking water
resulted in many Sunni Muslims joining the extreme right-wing movement.
A number of violent clashes culminated at the end of the 1970s with
pogroms in Malatya, Kahramanmaraş and Çorum.
The state was moving away from Kemalian ideas of a secular, unified
state with no classes and no ethnic or religious differences. A
strong, albeit divided, Kurdish movement and a radical labour movement
emerged at the end of the 1970s, at the same time as frequent clashes
between Sunnis and Alevis took place - this signalled the end of
When Bülent Ecevit in 1972 took over leadership of the party Cumhuriyet
Halk Fırkası/Partisi (CHP) founded by Kemal, it developed into a
Social Democratic party. But as Alpaslan Türkeş was Vice Prime Minister
in the 1970s, the youth organisation within his party, Milliyetçi
Haraket Partisi (MHP) turned into the Grey Wolves, that is, "the
Idealists" (ülkücüler), who came to represent the extreme right.
After the military coup in September 1980, the aim was to dispose
of those who had instigated divisions in society. The radical left
and the Kurdish movement was decimated, but Devrimci Sol (Dev Sol)
and Par¬tiye Karkeran Kurdustan (PKK) survived by going underground.
Through repression the military alienated the growing Kurdish population
from state ideals and thus contributed to an increasing support
of the PKK, despite rumours of violent actions.
At the turn of the year 1980, all leftist opinion was purged from
the police force which thus came to be dominated by conservative
Sunni Muslims and right-wing nationalists. On several occasions,
the police participated in activities resulting in the murders of
Alevis, which further widened the rift between the state and the
Alevis. The extreme right was hardly ever punished for its actions.
The fascist leader Alpaslan Türkeş was not arrested in the correct
way, despite his being an accomplice to murder, and he was released
without trial. This is explained by the fact that Türkeş's movement
was integrated into the state machinery. Young right-wing extremists
no longer needed to carry out secret raids against "communist
tea-houses"; instead, they became policemen and school teachers,
or were recruited to the special forces set up to fight against
the Kurdish guerillas. In December 1991, Türkeş proclaimed war against
eastern and south-eastern Anatolia. The official attitude towards
Sunni Islam has, since 1980, constituted a major step away from
the Kemalist tradition.
Apparently in order to compete with Islamist fundamentalism, the
military actively developed its own version of Sunni Islam: the
Türk-Islam Sentezi. This Turkish-Islam synthesis, a disordered doctrine
combining intensive Turkish nationalism and Muslim opinions, was
formulated by a small group of right-wing intellectuals as a response
to socialism. Kenan Evren, leader of the 1980 military coup, sympathised
with the synthesis and Turgut Özal, President of the country in
1989-1993, was another of its followers.
This amalgamation was actually given the force of official ideology
and doctrine; it allowed President Evren (1980-1988) to combine
the Koran with Mustafa Kemal's political ideas in his speeches.
The synthesis legitimized the military regime; but civilian politicians
also later exploited it for their own gain. They could regard themselves
as real Turks with an Ottoman past and liked to use Kemalist symbols
for their Western-influenced purposes.
As for the political arena and its development, the synthesis proved
to be a less successful solution. All Turks did not strive for "Turkishness,"
and advocates for a "Westernising" process fought against
those championing Islamisation for the leading position. The situation
was such that when the description of the state political goals
gained support from a certain group, it correspondingly provoked
another group, which was thus excluded - which, in turn, resulted
in reduced political participation. "Turkification excludes
the Kurds and does not offer them any solution other than assimilation."
The study of religion, which earlier had been a voluntary subject,
now became compulsory in all schools. Diyanet İşleri Müdürlüğü,
the Board for Religious Matters, which, among other things, oversees
the mosques in Turkey and abroad among Turks in the Diaspora, increased
its power base. Several mosques were built and new Imams were appointed
to oversee Alevi villages. The Government apparently tried to force
the Alevis into the Sunni fold.
All the changes that took place in the 1980s resulted in a renewed
interest in the Alevi identity and many Alevis started contemplating
the Alevi religion. In the 1970s, young Alevis were fairly uninterested
in religion; for them Alevism was a social movement. However, the
leftist setbacks led many Alevis to first regard the Alevi affiliation
as a cultural identity, and only later as a religious one. The leftist
movements that were supported all over the country in the 1970s
had lost most of their followers by the end of the 1980s. According
to the media, the left was then a non-religious Alevi movement,
but its members had started to reflect upon their Alevi identity.
Many Alevis had earlier already reacted against the alliance with
the Left and for a long time pondered their own religious tradition.
Naturally, the state support of Sunni Islam was of great importance
for the Alevi awakening. When the ban on religious movements that
had been in total force since 1980 was somewhat relieved in 1989,
Alevi societies developed in all parts of the country. Cem rituals,
which had been forbidden since 1925, were carried out in public
and places of worship (cemevi) were opened.
Alevi writings were published, where intellectual Alevis attempted
to explain their history, Alevi doctrines and rituals - and they
also wished to define the relation of the Alevis to Sunni Islam.
Some books provoked heated discussions in the Alevi community as
to whether Alevism is an Islamic sect or a religion of its own,
and whether this separate religion is Iranian or Turkish, etc.
This development influenced the nature of Alevism and caused it
to change. From having been a local, secret movement with initiation
rites and an oral tradition that was known only to the select, Alevism
suddenly became a formalised public religion with written doctrines
and rituals. Most Alevis did not belong to the class of religious
leaders who had always held a monopoly on ritual competence and
claimed to possess superior knowledge of the tradition. Now, however,
most had received a modern education and the new texts reflected
the mentality dominating the educational system - all very Kemalian.
Even now, changes are taking place as Alevi writers continue to
reformulate the tradition and sometimes they express things in a
way quite typical for followers of nationalist movements in the
This renaissance of Alevi identity and religion was encouraged by
secular persons within the political establishment, particularly
by politicians who have always regarded the Alevis as their friends
in the struggle against political Islam. Politically, Alevis have
existed across the whole spectrum of parties in Turkey. However,
the party that has been most popular among the Alevis is he Social
Democrat Cumhuriyet Halk Par¬tisi (CHP),which has had many Alevi
delegates and representatives. In 1991, CHP became a subordinate
party in the government coalition together with Doğru Yol Partisi
(DYP, "the True Path Party") lead by Süleyman Demirel
(later by Prime Minister Tansu Çiller)
Since many Alevi Kurds supported PKK at the end of the 1980s, the
state authorities tried to stimulate "Alevism" as an alternative
to Kurdish identity. At the beginning of the 1990s, the state openly
supported the Alevis, for example by publicly sponsoring the annual
festival celebrating Haci Bektaş Veli. In the 1970s, this festival
was a gathering place for radicals; during in 1980s it gradually
became less political and in the 1990s it got the support and protection
of the Government. Now politicians from all parties participate
in order to show how much they care about the Alevis.
During the 1990s, the state recognised the more conservative Alevis
and their leaders were elected into the state apparatus; with their
support the Turkey-based nationalism was to be strengthened. At
the same time, many authorities were suspicious of the Alevis because
of their earlier connections with the Left. There were many within
the police force and in certain government departments who clearly
demonstrated their contempt of Alevis. Nevertheless, many Alevis
were gratified by the acknowledgement expressed in the fact that
Alevis were elected into the political establishment. Hacı Bektaş
came to be a symbol for loyalty to the Turkish state. During the
initial stages of the state, many Alevis in the countryside had
actually whispered that Mustafa Kemal was an incarnation of Hacı
Bektaş. Historically, the Bektaşi movement played an important role
in integrating heterodox religious groups and so called troublemakers
into the Osman Empire. This Sufi order strongly supported Mustafa
Kemal during the War of Independence and, as indicated above, during
the first years of the Republic Kemal was perceived by many religious
Alevis as an reincarnation of Hacı Bektaş.
Around 1990 this theme was revived and an Alevi author presented
Haci Bektaş as a proto-nationalist; some called him ülkücü ("idealist",
a term that extreme natio¬nalists and fascists in the Türkeş party
has earlier monopolised, see footnote 18 above).
The nationalist discourse prevalent in the country has influenced
both Kurdish and Turkish Alevis. Many of the Kurdish Alevis have
sided with the Kurdish nationalists and among the Turkish Alevis
there have been expressions of Turkish nationalism and even racism.
These political choices are totally alien to the Alevi tradition.
Going back to the mid-1990s, there were no Alevis who would have
emphasized that they were Turkish or Kurdish - an ethnic-national
identity did not matter - they belonged to Alevilik, which was regarded
as a religious community. Now, it is often the case that common
symbols are defined according to ethnic traits in discussions dealing
with the nation. Hacı Bektaş, who is the protector of the Alevis,
is also the patron saint of Turkish nationalists. Therefore, those
who place their Kurdish identity above their Alevi identity have
made the rebel and poet Pir Sultan Abdal their sym¬bolic protector.
The rebel saint Pir Sultan Abdal (1510/1514-1589/1590) lived in
Banaz, a village in the Sivas ¬province, and he was hanged in the
city of Sivas. When the Pir Sultan Abdal Association organized a
cultural festival there in July 1993, the city was made their meeting
place. Sivas is one of the provinces with a large Alevi population,
both Turkish and Kurdish-speaking, but the towns in the province
are dominated by conservative Sunni Muslims.
The festival was opposed by means of aggressive demonstrations,
staged by the ultra right movement and reactionary Sunni Muslims.
They demolished a statue of Pir Sultan Abdal that had been erected
by the festival organisers. Instead of being calmed, the mob was
egged on by a speech given by the Mayor (who belonged to the right-wing
party for Muslim welfare). The demonstrators surrounded a hotel
where festival participants were staying; they then attacked the
hotel and threw stones and burning rags through the windows. The
agitated mob set the hotel on fire and 37 people were killed in
This confrontation in Sivas differed from the attacks against the
Alevis in the late 1970s; it was not a massive assault on Alevi
neighbourhoods. Probably Aziz Nesin and some intellectual Alevis
were the main targets, as was the statue of Pir Sultan, above all
as a symbol for the Alevi leftist tradition and the Kurds. In this
context, the actions of the local police and the civil authorities
that were part of the demonstrators are of great significance, as
is the Government's inability/unwillingness to neutralise the powers
that were on the move.
The Mayor openly sympathised with the demonstrators and the police
did not in any way try to scatter them or hinder them from reaching
the hotel; neither did they take any noticeable action when the
hotel caught fire. When the hotel was surrounded, Aziz Nesin and
some of his friends managed to reach the Vice Prime Minister Erdal
Inönü by phone. He answered that an order had already been sent
to Sivas that the festival participants were to be protected. This
order had no effect whatsoever. A police film of the events, which
happened to reach the press, shows that the police received orders
over the radio not to stop the demonstrators as they attacked the
hotel. Most policemen just stood and watched as the hotel burned.
Nevertheless, some did help and a policeman happened to save Aziz
Nesin. However, when others among the police noticed this, they
started beating the exhausted man; nevertheless, he was protected
by others and taken to hospital.
The tension between the Government and the Alevis increased further
when the police and Alevis clashed in the Gazi area of Istanbul
in March 1995. This is a poor area with a large Alevi population.
On the evening of 12 March armed men drove a stolen taxi through
the neighbourhood and fired directly into five different tea-houses.
One person was killed and several wounded. The police took a long
time arriving at the scene and might very well have been involved
in the incident. As a reaction to this, crowds of people gathered
and young people took over the streets in protest against the attack.
Youth gangs started demonstrating outside the police headquarters
in the areas that were governed by right-wing extremists and policemen
who were against Alevis. Recently, an Alevi held in custody at the
headquarters had been tortured to death. There were clashes between
Alevis and policemen everywhere in the area. Shops were destroyed
and the police shot a demonstrator, which also caused unrest in
neighbouring areas of the city. Youngsters threw stones at the police
and built barricades, while sensible Alevi leaders tried to calm
the masses. Instead of using conventional methods, the police lost
their heads and fired into the crowds, killing 15 more people. The
patronizing language used by the police shouting at the Alevi leaders
who were trying to mediate, shows that the actions of many policemen
were based on an intense hatred against Alevis. However, there were
also policemen who attempted to hold back their colleagues, but
did not succeed in doing so.
Both the hotel fire in Sivas and the clashes in Istanbul reveal
that the state sided with the attackers. The authorities of the
central government had no control over the police force, which since
1980 had consisted of extreme right-wing Sunni Muslims. So, Turkish
society was deeply divided; the rift was also splitting the Government,
whose conservative members said outright that it was the fault of
Aziz Nesin that the arson in Sivas had taken place. Earlier in the
year, Nesin had announced that he was going to translate Salman
Rushdie's The Satanic Verses into Turkish, which was taken as provocation
in Islamist circles.
Today's Alevis strongly oppose the idea of an Islamist state. A
majority supports social democratic politics, but after the massacres
in Sivas, new alternatives have emerged. The political agenda includes,
for example, a suggestion of an Alevi party.
The events mentioned above supported a revival and radicalized the
Alevi process of renewal. Alevi leaders who try to co-operate with
the state authorities have lost the support of the people. Young
Alevis today are radical and the Government's attempts to present
the Alevi identity as an alternative to Kurdish nationalism has
failed. The alienation created by the clashes brought the Alevis
closer to the PKK, even if Kurdish Alevis, up to 1991, rarely sympathised
with the separatist party. The state's close relations to the Sunni
majority had in 1994 resulted in many Alevis giving the PKK their
support. All the same, a majority of the Alevis define themselves
primarily as Alevis and only secondly as Kurds. State-supported
publications emphasize, however, that Alevism is a special Turkish
form of Islam and that all Alevis essentially are Turks. Kurdish
nationalists therefore try to convince Alevis that the most important
identity is the Kurdish one, and that the Alevi religion is part
of an Iranian, Zoroastric tradition, rather than of Turkish origin.
Thus, Turkish Alevis are also religiously more closely related to
Kurds that to Turks. Even Zaza-speaking Kurds, of whom some are
Alevis and others Shafi'it Sunni Muslims, started to voice nationalist
feelings in the 1990s, even if those who speak this Dimili language
(which belongs to the Pahlawâni group) have never formed a distinct
ethnic group. The general trend is that in the areas where Alevis
have been murdered by Sunnis it does not matter whether one is Kurd
or Turk, since the primary identity is the religious one.
Today, many Alevis with socialist views regard members of the PKK
as their allies, since the Alevis face extreme right-wing political
forces which strongly influence the actions of the Government. The
members of the conservative, religious and ultra-nationalist block
are not interested in cultural and religious pluralism, and they
counteract compromises with both Kurds and Alevis. In its struggle
to create a monolithic state and a uniform society, this political
block is the most disruptive force in present day Turkey.
Already the results from the 1995 elections showed that identity
politics are the current issue in Turkey. The three parties which
then represented different group identities - the Fazilet Partisi
which stood for an Islamis¬t identity, the Milliyetçi Haraket Partisi
representing the ultra-nationalist Turkish identity and Halkın Demokrasi
Partisi that officially functioned as the mouthpiece for the Kurds
- obtained approximately one third of all the votes. The growing
interest among the Alevis in their Alevi identity is also underlined,
while at the same time, the important role of the Alevis for Cumhuriyet
Halk Partisi (CHP) is mentioned.
"The Alevis" in the definite form is an example of an Alevi self-image
in the Diaspora. Thus, when I write of "the Alevis", I
am influenced by those living here in Sweden, since it is the expression
of something impossible except as a self-representation created
by Alevis outside of Turkey (or by those who know European languages).
This is so, because there is no definite article in the Turkish
Can it be the case that this definite form, used in the self-description
of Alevis in the Netherlands and Sweden, reflects the hopes for
the existence of a form that denotes something known by its characteristics,
that is, the hope for such a form being a reality? The definite
form seems to be the means by which the Alevis with a distance to
the authoritative state can create a discourse which is also conveyed
through their actions: - We are the carriers of a definite form!
Deviance is not an absolute phenomenon; cultures are reshaped and
symbolic-moral borders change (or remain stable). Agreements pertaining
to the character of morality are compiled with rules deciding how
power is to be executed and what is legitimized as power when a
nation state is being created.
What legitimizes power is a moral order that also defines the borders
between various symbolic-moral worlds in society. Behavioural patterns
demonstrated and acts taking place at the limits, where different
worlds border on each other, are seen as problematic and insulting,
and therefore they challenge both power and morality. Such acts
labelled as problematic are deviant and political. Deeds that directly
and explicitly challenge the social order, or are aimed against
the power and morality of the central government, are politically
What, then, constitutes deviant behaviour? Generally speaking, deviance
is a breach of norms, but it can also be a sociological construction
of an analytical concept. Deviance is connected to changes in symbolic
When a certain etiquette is created, that is, a convincing social
construction which people adopt and use (this could take the form
of labelling that which is deviant), there are some features that
determine whether the construction manages to effectively claim
that this or that particular incident constitutes deviant behaviour.
The group passing judgment must, for example, possess enough power
to enforce their definition and version of morality on others. This
is a process that underlines and accentuates the borders between
different symbolic-moral worlds. Negotiations on the moral significance
of rhetorical ideas are a continuous process between the deviant
and the community in which he or she lives and acts. From an analytical
perspective, deviance is always a consequence of agreements reached
concerning morality and the way in which power relations are shaped.
According to this viewpoint, deviance is a relative phenomenon,
a subjective experience and an intentional act. Even if there are
norms that seem universal and not relative, for example that it
is forbidden to kill another person, there are rhetoric notions
(such as "blood feud") which justifies and explains why
somebody's life has been taken against the will of that person;
there are also ritual situations that occasionally are termed vendettas,
human sacrifice or duels. Some car accidents are also classified
as "the taking of another person's life"; the police kill
sometimes "in self-defence", and then there are those
who regard abortion as murder. So, it seems to be the case that
the rationalisation of these acts is something conditioned. Both
theft and swindling are also relative concepts. In other words,
it is generally difficult to draw any hard and fast moral borders
as to what is right and wrong, suitable and unsuitable. Power and
morality are used to mark socially constructed differences between
In Turkey, there are several symbolic-moral worlds; one world negotiates
with another and within each community the members negotiate amongst
themselves. These negotiations are expressed through, for example,
criminalization and stigmatization.
Deviant behaviour is a central element in a functioning society.
In politics, deviance clearly brings about social change. When it
comes to power and moral politics, deviant behaviour can maintain
specific symbolic-moral universes through the depiction of particular
behavioural patterns as bad, evil, contaminating and impure. However,
analyses of political deviance and political elements present in
that which is deviant show that deviance is often connected to processes
of change. A questioned behaviour can be used during a process of
nation building to construct the imagined community within which
new personal and national identities and moral borders are shaped.
It is the combination of power and morality which lies at the basis
of what is defined as deviance and what is not. The eternal play
between competing moral entrepreneurs, the symbolic moral universes
which they help to create, define, and maintain (and in which they
are trapped), and the power which they are able to generate, mobilize,
and utilize - these have always deter¬mined the demarcation between
deviance and non-deviance.
It is not necessarily the powerful that ascribe the powerless with
a deviant behaviour; it might just as easily be the case that a
group with no actual power persuades those belonging to another
sphere, another symbolic-moral universe, that we do this in the
name of God, and thus power is generated and an agreement on morality
is created. Moral universes and moral borders,
In Turkey, the Sunni Muslim majority regard themselves as being
the wardens of the righteous symbolic-moral universe and its borders,
even if the society is officially secularised.
Collective deviance refers to the fact that members of some categories
of people stigmatise all members of a certain other category, simply
because of the affiliation of these group members. This is partly
a question of Erving Goffman's stigma types. It is, of course, not
politically correct to ascribe "deviance" to a minority
group, but nevertheless the Alevis in Turkey are pointed out as
deviant. Stigma "can be transmitted through lineages and equally
contaminate all members of a family". What he calls "the
tribal stigma of religion" does not only pertain to religion
as a belief system, but also in the sense of "belonging to
a religious category" - a group status - regardless of individual
beliefs. "Religion", according to Goffman's tribal stigma,
belongs to a categorical way of thinking, which some use to typify
some or all persons that the label can be applied to. In this case,
deviant behaviour is a quality not attached to an individual but
to an entire collective. A person is deviant because he or she belongs
to a certain group, the membership of which is stigmatizing.
Moral panic, society's reaction to deviance, often has quite obscure
reasons. Politicians, writers and representatives of the majority
religion do not react as rats in a laboratory on arbitrary stimuli
- they react on the basis of positions, status, interests, ideologies
and values. Their way of reacting to rumour is not only related
to the rumour itself and its message; the crucial thing is whether
the rumours can provide support to their own special interests.
Morality is connected to unity and solidarity with one's own people,
in this case the Turks. Turkishness is an identity that implies
Sunni Muslim affiliation. Those who choose another belief are disloyal
to the Turkish state. Greeks, Jews and Armenians have been acknowledged
since the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, but Alevis are not yet accepted;
they are regarded as deviant. The lack of norms ascribed to the
Alevis by the Sunni majority forms the basis for the moral panic
that the massacres in the Kahramanmaraş province are an expression
of. Lack of norms, or anomie, which is described by Robert Merton
in his article "Social Structure and Anomie" (1938), is
a problem already suggested by Durkheim in Suicide (1897).
According to Merton's functionalist perspective, deviant behaviour
can be evoked by disturbed circles, that is, because the order in
society is upset. Disturbances in the traditional social order lead
to anomie, which results in some people displaying deviant behaviour.
When the Alevis moved into towns, having made money on their small
farms, they were labelled as abnormal. When they adopted socialist
politics they were regarded as deviant: "social structures
exert a definite pressure upon certain persons in the society to
engage in non-con¬forming rather than conforming conduct."
In the eyes of Durkheim, opposite is true: the anomie disturbs the
social order, creating a situation where there are no norms, when
convention is no longer able to control people's behaviour. Durkheim
thought that when norms were dissolved, people behaved in any way
they pleased. But Merton's view of anomie is totally different:
deviance does not emerge because society lacks norms and is weakened,
on the contrary, a society with strict moral rules can actually
provoke deviant behaviour. When two perceptions, or spheres, are
set up against each other as mutually exclusive alternatives, anomie
can be discerned in a disjunction between culturally defined goals
and structurally available opportunities.
The Alevis had their own religious, cultural system and their own
places of worship, but the Sunni Muslim culture and mosques were
forced on them. They are Merton's rebels - through another religion
they abandon the mosque, the holy central pillar of the town, and
place themselves on the political left, against all the established
norms of the town-dwellers. When the means of the majority are totally
different from those of the minority, it does not matter if they
have the same goal. Deviant behaviour is that which does not conform
to the institutionalized expectations of the majority.
Since the Alevis were not greeted with open arms by the suspicious
Sunni Muslims in the towns, they kept to themselves. They were not
very successful in the traditional sector; the conservative forces
of society forced them to take a stance against the existing order,
which happened by choosing a socialist line, and this was perceived
as deviant behaviour. But positivism, represented by Merton, is
related to essentialism, and the approach becomes rigid. The borders
are not so clear in reality; the differences are not so easy to
Conservative observers think that the sociology of deviance is an
untenable way of studying social transgression. This is so because
we know what is bad through our own tradition. Thus, in Sunni Muslim
society it is regarded as deviant not to attend Friday prayers,
not to follow the Five Pillars of Islam, etc.
But the sociology of deviance is not about defining evil; deviance
is that which is regarded as wrong, not what is fundamentally wrong.
Sociological theories on deviance explore that which is represented
as deviant: "deviance is a universal, trans-cultural, trans-histori¬cal
concept." Societies institutionalize rules for correct behaviour
and indicate what is incorrect behaviour; those who break the rules
are punished. The Alevis are regarded as collectively deviant: "Collective
deviance simply means that one is automatically discredited as a
result of belonging to a racial, national, ethnic, and religious
category of humanity."
In a society that has been "forcibly secularised", many
believers appear to be very conservative in religious matters. They
are very quick to condemn that which is "different".
"The ordinary Sunni Muslim believes that his way of life, his beliefs and his
religious practice constitute the certain and correct path (sırat-ı
müstakim), since they are based on the holy book, the words and
deeds of the prophet, the interpretations of religious scholars
(ulema) and the consent of the Muslim community at large (ümmet).
The traditional belief is that these have not changed for centuries."
Since hadith and içtihad are based on divine inspiration, the unchanged
tradition is holy. All changes that have been imposed by the state
the Imams have simply disregarded; this is a case of a kind of quiet
disobedience: people continue to practice Islam in the traditional
way, regardless of what the state theologians say. Conservative
Imams say what the people want to hear: "that they should go
on doing what they presumably have always done, that this is prescribed
When the nationalist and secularist Zekeriya Beyaz, Professor of
Theology, suggested a law that chickens could be sacrificed during
the religious festival of Kurban, the Imams in the mosques read
from a book of interpretations made by Kemal's chosen theologian
Ömer Nasuhi Bilmen Hodja. Only sheep, goats, camels and cows can
be sacrificed, while chickens, hens and geese must not be sacrificed;
offering them as sacrifice is religiously abominable (mekruh), since
such customs are reminiscent of those that the Mecusis (this refers
to Zoroastric traditions and indirectly to Alevis) practice. Chicken
sacrifice is a Mecusi custom! By laying claim to a general custom,
supported by references to Kemal's theologian, the Imam can satisfy
the people without irritating the state authorities. The rites of
the religion must not be renewed
Rumours and gossip
When the Alevis settled in the small towns in the Kah¬ramanmaraş
province bringing with them habits which were totally different
from those of the Sunnis, they disturbed the order. However, it
was the rumours of immorality, in combination with the communist
label, which egged reactionary Sunni Muslim groups on to violent
Collective behavior is defined as behavior that is relatively spontaneous,
volatile, evanescent, emergent, extra-institutional, and short-lived;
it emerges or operates in situations in which there are no, or few
adequate, clearcut definitions as to what to do from mainstream
culture. Collective behavior operates outside the stable, patterned
structures of society; it reflects the "maverick" side
of human nature. Compared with conventional, everyday life, collective
behavior is less inhibited and more spontaneous, more changeable
and less structured, shorter-lived and less stable.
In Folk Devils and Moral Panics (1972), Stanley Cohen mentions that
certain forms of collective behaviour are significant for moral
panic: mass hysterics , misconceptions within a large group, catastrophes
and collapses following such, riots, crowds and throngs, slander,
rumours, and legends.
A rumour is both a process and a product, a catalyst that accelerates
the process of collective behaviour and a kind of collective behaviour
in its own right. It is, on the one hand, a mechanism that characterizes
collective behaviour, an on the other, an example of such behaviour.
Rumours are commonly regarded as narratives that per definition
are false, but researchers do not define a rumour on the basis of
its possible incorrectness, or based on the contents of the rumour
at all, but on the lack of evidence, since rumours are unconfirmed
accusations. The definition of rumour is that it is passed on without
documentation of reliable facts. Rumours might certainly be verified
or falsified at a later point in time, but the important aspect
here is that rumours per definition are unconfirmed. Rumour is hearsay,
rumours are narrated, regarded as true and passed on, not because
of the proof presented, but because those spreading the rumours
expect the narratives to be true.
Four factors ease the spreading process: (1) topicality (the subject
is seen as important) and that the result is relevant for the one
who lets him or herself be involved in the spreading of rumours;
(2) uncertainty and ambiguity; (3) personal fear or worry; (4) gullibility
When gullible people feel afraid of a certain group, because the
situation is ambiguous and uncertain, and the contents of the rumour
are such that what is said might possibly worsen the life situation
of those who hear it, they probably believe it. Generally speaking,
a story of something insignificant (having less important consequences)
is not a source for speculation. Rumours about events that do not
matter for the hearer, that do not affect his or her life, are seldom
passed on. For example, Swedes do not spread rumours about the price
of camels in Afghanistan, since we do not care about how much a
camel costs there. Thus, rumours grow and spread at high speed under
certain conditions, particularly when the subject being aired is
of great significance for those who engage in the spreading of the
Often the context is problematic, the rumour deals with something
that is not familiar and the uncertainty makes the rumour-spreaders
unsure. Worry and anxiety are both personal and structural; some
people worry more easily than others and certain circumstances create
more general worry than others do. "Rumor flies on fear."
Anxious people tend to pass on rumours, compared with more secure
people, who do not do this to the same extent. Additionally, more
rumours are spread in unpleasant situations than normally, and are
then perceived as credible.
A person, who believes in the claims of others without any reflection,
is also keen to pass on what is being said, since he or she does
not want to appear sceptical and critical. Rumours appear to be
the truth to the gullible. Those who are sceptical and question
the truthfulness of hearsay are the enemies of rumour.
The Sunni Muslims in Kahramanmaraş were very ignorant about the
ways and customs of the Alevis, which naturally contributed to their
uncritical attitude when rumours were being spread. Gossip can be
seen as improvised news that is spread when information is lacking.
News flying about is symptomatic of people trying to solve problems
that befall their own community; rumours help them cope with things
that they feel insecure about.
Tamnotsu Shibutani, who studied rumour in the 1960s, looked for
cognitive and rational factors. When a subject was fairly uninteresting
and not very exciting, people were quite critical and scrutinized
the sources of the rumours spreading, but when they were keen to
know something and the news information was nonexistent, they had
a great unsatisfied need. The subjective excitement was then strong
and the interest enormous; in such circumstances many improvised
and rumours appeared spontaneously - any sources would do.
But Goode and Ben-Yehuda think that a rumour is an irrational process,
since rumours represent people's need to get their deeply rooted
opinions and notions verified; it is not a question of exploring
concrete facts. Rumours often confirm affiliation and virtue for
those who are insiders and victimise somebody else; those who are
outsiders are exploited and made the object of malice.
Moral panic is something that hinders people from making critical
judgements. In the midst of moral panic people perceive the supposed
threat as being directed against them personally, but they are unsure
of its exact significance. The Others (who are perceived as threatening)
make the anxious people suspicious, which results in those who are
worrying wanting more information on the threatening than is available
- therefore they lower the threshold and become less critical towards
For example, religious fundamentalists are inclined to believe that
devil-worshippers sexually abuse children and kill a lot of children
every year. Agnostics, atheists and religious sceptics do not have
the same tendency to spread rumours about Satanists. Rumour-spreaders
often have a low level of education, live in the countryside, are
more traditional and worry about the secular trends in society,
such as women working outside the home. Here, we can see parallels
with the Sunni Muslims in the Anatolian towns.
Individuals in ethnically divided communities tend to see the other
ethnic group as threatening, and rumours about what the Others have
done to members of their own group are common.
"Rumor is one of the basic processes that both fuels and is fueled by the moral
panic. A moral panic sets the stage and provides a context for rumormongering;
when rumors take place, they provide the justification for fears,
exaggeration, and a sense of threat. Rumor is a vital element in
the moral panic. It is one of the reasons why moral panic must be
regarded as a form of collective behaviour."
When there is a difference in power between two mutually dependent
and interacting groups, this disparity contributes to the creation
of a notion of different moral values of the groups. Persons who
possess power see themselves as being better, that is more moral,
than people who do not have power. The established group tries to
force a definition on the other group, of both their own insider
group and the other, representing outsiderness. Power differences
between groups are, according to this argument, produce different
levels of moral status. According to Norbert Elias, it is "the
way in which outsiders are treated that explains why some of them
come to act and behave in precisely the ways that are morally encumbering.
Elias describes a kind of group charisma, attached to one's own
group, and a group shame, ascribed to those who are outsiders. The
superior majority with power tries to get the minority to realize
that they lack the virtues of the insider group, and that they therefore
are morally inferior.
The higher value that the established group regards themselves as
having is set against the Others' group shame. An emotional barrier
obstructs contact with the outsider group; for generation after
generation there might be a taboo against any closer relations,
but changes can create a "counter-stigmatisation in a power
struggle where the difference slowly shrinks".
By ascribing superior qualities to their own group, the majority
motivates a social exclusion of the Others. By using rumour and
banning contacts isolation is maintained, "the group's ability
to stay unified is the basis for its power... [and] the moral differentiation
plays an important part for both establishing and maintaining power
Elias' thoughts can be summarised in the following theses:
a) an imbalance in the power relation between two groups who are
closely dependent on each other creates a hierarchy of moral valuation
of the groups and their members;
b) the moral valuation of the groups is central to the (power) relation
c) the ascribing of moral value is a central mechanism for upholding
the superiority of the established group and for creating and maintaining
the inferiority and lower status of the subordinate group;
d) the symptoms of human inferiority that a powerful, established
group tends to perceive in a subordinate outsider group are the
behaviours and features that are created by the very outsiderness
and the oppression and inferiority thus following.
As in Winston Parva (in the study that Elias uses as his basis for
the analysis of insiders and outsi¬ders), a valuation and stigmatising
process is also discernible in the Kahramanmaraş province.
"The newcomers were seen as a threat to established norms, values and ways
of life, including behavioural codes. By excluding the newcomers,
the established confirmed their own identity, created differences
in the notions of the groups, while at the same time the unity was
the power resource that enabled the maintaining of the differences."
Charisma stands against dishonour and shame, and contacts with members
of the immoral minority were impossible for the Sunni Muslims in
Kahramanmaraş in 1978, since this would have constituted a threat
against an individual's position in his or her own group. According
to Elias' argument, people can be "subjected to 'contact contamination',
since the outsider group by definition is supposed to have a lower
moral status. The categories by which the outsider group is described
are as such strong expressions of subordination and shaming".
In line with Elias' description, on Alevis in the eyes of Sunnis: "
behaviour got the old inhabitants to feel that each closer contact
with them might threaten their own position, drag them down to a
lower level of status both in their own eyes and those around them,
harm the prestige of the neighbourhood with all the instances of
pride and satisfaction that it offered."
A complex weave of unity and interaction based on practices created
power relations between the established majority in Kahramanmaraş
and a minority that had moved to the town from mountain villages.
If we regard charisma as a kind of risk, religion is important and
makes social interaction predictable. Elias often disregards religion
in his extensive explanation of the civilization process, but this
does not make his argument less convincing, since the paradigms
of the figurations still include religious institutions. I turn
to religion in order to find an answer to the question as to what "Alevi"
The Alevis - a closely united group?
Alevilik is the name of a community where membership is defined
through origins. It stands for a strong, special collective identity,
and seen from a formalist perspective, the Alevis demonstrate characteristics
that are often used when identifying an ethnic group. In this essay,
I use the term Alevism for the Turkish Alevilik, which is also translated
as Alevitism. The term carries both ideological and sociological
meanings: Alevilik is a belief system, it is a particular community;
earlier, the term also represented leftist opinions, which today
are no longer characteristic of Alevis.
Once more, it needs to be emphasized that a more religiously defined
identity was set aside during the 1970s, and replaced by socialism.
In the beginning of the 1980s, Alevis were not mentioned at all;
the military coup in 1980 contributed to erasing Alevilik from the
public mind. Since the late 1980s, a process of restructuring is
going on, which initially was a community revival in Turkish media,
and Alevis in the Diaspora published their own newspapers (in German,
English, Dutch and French).
The Alevis are seeking their identity in a political climate coloured
by conservative Sunni Muslim values. The worry that the Alevis experienced
because of the increasing Islamisation of Turkish society made them
look for ideological alternatives, placing their hopes in universalist
ideas of the Enlightenment. Many Alevi leaders, who earlier were
engaged in the socialism then associated with the so called Third
World, have found it problematic to address Post-Modern ideologies.
Representatives of the community, who had universalist ideas, became
increasingly aware of the conflicting interests between their explicit
universalist orientation and the particular form of an Alevi renaissance
that they were fighting for. This resulted in political irresolution.
At this stage of the development, the religious identity and the
new ethno-political identities were set against each other.
Generally speaking, three different standpoints dominate the Alevilik
debate. The traditional religious elite regard Alevilik as the true
form of Islam, but because of the old Turkish-Iranian conflicts,
representatives of the elite want to clean Alevilik of Shi'ia elements
and shape the religion in a more Sunni-oriented direction. This
view of Alevism contains certain conditions the need to be fulfilled
if Alevilik is to be openly acknowledged, for example, the Alevis
must recognize the Five Pillars of Islam and men must attend Friday
prayers at Sunni Muslim mosques.
Another group defines Alevilik as a secularised belief based on
folkloristic elements. The adherents of this view see Alevism as
an ethno-political unity alongside Sunnis and Shi'is.
The third standpoint is based on the opinions of a coalition between
modern and traditional Alevis. The heterodox and syncretic structure
of Alevilik is important; the community does not stand for "a
secular belief", nor is it an expression of "true Islam".
It is, however, problematic to pass on an eclectic tradition, a
theosophy which earlier has only been transmitted orally. Thus,
the migration into towns gave rise to the need for an Alevi theology.
Some advocate association with the teachings of the Bektaşi order,
since Alevis and Bektaşi members have historically always been connected;
others go one step further and think that a bridge between Alevis
and Sunni Muslims can be built with the aid of Bektaşi Sufism.
Alevis who look for their identity in adjacent religions (Sunni
or Shi'ia), the first standpoint described above, will probably
be integrated into one of those two religions and religious communities.
The Alevilik now being formed is, to a large extent, a matter of
the definition of who actually is an Alevi. Traditionally, members
are born into the community, and those wanting to establish an ethno-political
community think it would be easier to let origins set the socio-political
basis. But should those external to the group who refer to the Declaration
of Human Rights regard Alevilik as a separate unit? These Alevis
do, after all, define Alevilik in accordance with universal values.
Such questions cause problems in the debate. Those trying to combine
traditional and modern values also have their dilemmas. By defining
Alevilik as a belief system, they can easily distinguish between
Alevis and non-Alevis, but many Alevis are not religious believers
and they see Alevilik as something universal. All those who want
to define themselves as Alevis should have the right to do so; if
a belief is the basis of existence and a distinctive character,
non-religious Alevis are deprived of the Alevi identity.
When identity suddenly becomes a matter of self-definition, all
leaders who are seen as having inherited their position, are threatened.
If anybody can become an Alevi, soon anybody can become leader.
Many of the clergy therefore underline the importance of origins.
By emphasizing concepts such as "true religion" and the
pure line that, according to tradition, goes back to 'Ali, those
in authority underline that their leadership is legitimate and that
their position cannot be questioned. This argument is interesting
for the discussion about an allegiance between Alevis and Bektaşi
members. Bektaşi is a Sufi Order and membership is voluntary; Alevis
and Sufis previously had totally different social, cultural and
The Bektaşi Order had its members in larger and smaller cities;
the Sufis often came from a middle-class background, but also from
lower classes. When starting to consciously look for an identity,
many Alevis joined Sufi fraternities - Alevi-Bektaşilik was an increasingly
common name for the alliance. However, there were practical problems,
since the Bektaşi members elect their leaders in accordance with
the fact that the Sufis reject the idea of inherited leadership.
Furthermore, the Alevis had always been organised around the home
and oriented towards the private sphere. However, because of the
political development in Turkey, its future membership of the European
Union, etc., the Alevis have become more extrovert. Today, politically
active Alevis are turning to non-Alevis calling for their attention.
Some claim that both Sunni Muslims and Christians have converted
to Alevilik - which is perceived as provocative information by conservative
Despite their differences, the Alevis are close to the Bektaşi when
it comes to matters of faith, and the heritage from many religions
(that are layered in Anatolia) survive in their common beliefs:
Apart from an advanced pantheism (which is shared by many Sufi movements),
Gnostic thoughts were also included. For example, belief in transmigration
seems to have been very common. Depending on one's merits, after
death one's soul could either be elevated to the spiritual world,
or enter an animal with characteristics similar to one's own. There
were also traces of old Turkish Shamanism, in the form of certain
taboo animals, for example the hare and the bear. From a social
perspective the Bektashi Order was unique in the Islamic world in
that it allowed women to be included as full members and partake
in the rituals on an equal basis. Outsiders regarded this as utterly
shocking, and it gave rise to rumours about unspeakable orgies.
The identity now being shaped is, to a large extent, based on religion.
When the Alevis lived in mountain village in central Anatolia, they
could convey antagonistic messages of a religious nature orally,
whereas today written texts are required and this changes the circumstances.
If they leave out inherited leadership in order to merge with the
Bektaşi more permanently, the Alevis probably have better prospects
of being accepted into Turkish national politics. But if they hold
on to imamet, meaning that the clergy is divinely enlightened and
pure, and descended from Mohammed and 'Ali, they will be regarded
as Shi'ia Muslims. This, in turn, implies a closer allegiance with
Iran than with the Turkish state, which will worsen the Alevis'
situation in Turkey. Thus, it is of great importance for their future
whether velayet or imamet is to be the basis for Alevi leadership.
Through personal effort, an individual can become a veli or a perfect
man or woman (insan-ı kamil) with direct knowledge of God. In this
context, pertaining to the concept of velayet, the principle of
lineage is irrelevant.
In fact, the unified group is a new invention and perhaps only an
illusory construction. Nevertheless, this possible unity is always
emphasised. "In spite of this potential unity, the Alevis today
appear extremely diverse. Their costumes, nomenclature, dances,
prayers, rites and even annual ritual calendar often differ substantially
among groups and locations. They have no church, no codified doctrine,
no accepted clergy and no schools teaching Alevi customs. There
is, though, a certain underlying compatibility." But it is
precisely this prospect of unity that scares the Sunni Muslims.
There is a great number of Alevis, and if they succeed in creating
a common doctrine based on the oral tradition, they constitute a
threat against the Sunni Muslim majority. The Alevilik principle
must therefore be nipped in the bud.
The new Alevism that has emerged with the urbanisation process creates
uncertainty among conservative Sunni Muslims. The violence in focus
here is mainly physical, but the issue at stake is also power in
a more abstract sense. In his German publications, Elias used the
word Gewalt which denotes violence, assault, power and coercion,
but can also be connected with the state and staatsrechtliche phenomena,
as in Gewaltente¬ilung and Gewaltentrennung. There is an implicit
message here, indicating that the legislative power and the executive
(violent) one, as the judicial one, are separated . Elias often
refers to violation and offence of physical integrity when he uses
the term "violence". The number of people involved in
the violent acts is significant; violence is often connected with
group norms and transgressions, and with 'we-images'. When the violence
pertains to identification with a leading group, or an established
opposition, such as the Alevis, it is political violence. The we-image
can be tied to the nation state and the feeling of guilt aroused
by violence against an ethnic group is then seen as existing on
a national level - as when all Germans were accused of the Nazi
holocaust of Jews.
Elias asks whether an act of violence is carried out as the result
of a rational choice made by the violent person to realise a plan,
that is, whether the violence is instrumental, or whether the act
of violence is emotionally satisfactory as such, that is, an expressive
I address similar questions in my study of the massacres in Maraş.
According to Elias, the civilization process is dependent on the
control of violence: landowners, who are involved in a process concerning
competition, try to eliminate each other by violence, in order for
the violence then to be controlled by those in power. However, power
is based on relations, and a mutual dependence between the two groups
in Kahramanmaraş developed, even if the relation involved no shared
rules or norms. An antagonistic relation is a kind of functional
interdependence. When Alevis became neighbours and competitors of
the Sunni Muslims, the spreading of rumours accelerated. "Collective
fantasies have to be understood in the context of fluctuating power
relations...the workings of we-images and we-ideals stand out most
sharply when fantasy and reality fall apart."
The acts carried out by one group are not understandable unless
we refer to the action of the other group. In conflicting circumstances
there is a dynamic that can lead to violence, and the mutual dependence
reveals a processual structure. When the established and the outsiders
lack common norms and do not use the same means to reach their religious
goals, plans and actions within both groups are governed by the
imaginative descriptions of the threat constituted by the other
group; this also involves the frightening power resources of "the
Elias calls a situation where two groups are connected by their
suspicion of each other a double bind.
Such circular processes result from a lack of control over natural
or social processes, the dynamics of which are relatively or completely
autonomous from the wishes and intentions of those involved with
them. A lessening or lack of human control over any set of events
will increase the tendency for people's thinking about such events
to involve a higher emotional and fantasy content; and the more
emo¬tional their thinking becomes, the less able they are to formulate
more realistic or adequate models of these events.
In order to explain the socio-genesis of violence, Elias uses the
concepts of "social habitus" and "national identity".
The traditional habitus of the Alevis, their outer appearance, has
lived on in their social habitus. However, the social organization
that once created the Alevi lifestyle, the customs that are not
shaped by the Turkish nation state (that is, relations typical of
groups living isolated in the mountains), came to be influenced
by the unequal relations of dependence that developed in the towns
after the Alevi settled there. The changes naturally include conflicts,
and these function as an intermediate stage for the transition from
one level of integration to another. The ethnic group, which by
the Sunni Muslims is called "Mountain Turks" or "Tribal
People", was to be remoulded into supporters of the Turkish
nation state through a civilisation process. But they resisted;
the men did not want to attend Friday prayers at the mosque and
the Alevis struggled to maintain their own customs and habits. Conflicts
between the established and the outsiders emerged at an early stage.
The established and the outsiders
Gossip always has two poles; one consisting of those who gossip
and the other of those who are being gossiped about. When the subject
and the object belong to two different groups, the frame of reference
is not only that of the group gossiping, but also the situation
and structure of both groups, as well as the relation between the
groups. This wider frame of reference is necessary for us to understand
that rumour is an efficient method which is being used by some to
offend and humiliate members of another group, and to secure their
own advantage and superiority.
The things being said by those doing the gossiping are, to a large
extent, untrue, but those being gossiped about find it difficult
to correct misunderstandings and are seldom able to openly confront
false accusations. Those singled out as shameful and addressed with
derogatory names can seldom return the accusations and retaliate
with the same means as they form an oppressed minority. The group
lacks power. But when exploring the rumour configuration on a deeper
level, personal opinions can be discerned in parallel with the organisational
aspect (which, for example, reveals that Sunni Muslims hold all
key positions, meaning that the network of the majority is the one
The phenomenon of individuals being either blamed or praised because
they belong to a group which is blamed or praised exists all over
the world. Those being harassed cannot retaliate, since even if
they personally are innocent of what they are being accused of,
they do not want to give up their group identity. Slander and abuse
trigger a feeling a guilt and shame in those who belong to the oppressed
social group - partly because of symbols infusing a feeling of inferiority,
partly because they are ascribed worthlessness - and all this suppresses
their opposition. Thus a feature of the social mechanism is created
that the dominating social group makes use of in order to maintain
their superiority. Individuals cannot escape the stigmatisation
of the group. They are identified with the character and situation
of their own group both externally and internally. Those originating
from the same village tend to judge themselves on the basis of the
image that others hold of them. The collective disgrace that the
powerful majority group ascribes to the minority is expressed in
commonly acknowledged invectives and stereotypical blaming rumours;
this kind of gossip is rooted in personality structures and the
identity of individuals, as in the collective honour or virtue that
the majority group thinks they embody. A kind of group charisma
exists as the central element of the members' self-image; thy do
not see themselves as individuals, but as belonging to a certain
group, a collective. Therefore they find themselves to be particularly
However, it is only when a sharp line is drawn between one's own
group and the other that the group charisma fufills its uniting
functions; it then becomes group-preserving. When a border has been
defined and the Others have been excluded from participation, these
outsiders will never be able to get any part of the honour and virtue
that the established insider-group has ascribed to itself. By elevating
those included in the group, the group charisma automatically banishes
the outsider-group to a lower social status, a subordinate position.
The charisma that the established think they possess is sharp-edged;
it not only helps to define the border between inside and outside,
the charisma also functions as a weapon keeping the outsiders at
a distance, which maintains the purity and integrity of the group.
Thus, group charisma can be both a weapon for self-defence and a
tool for attacking. The charisma implies that it is a sign of dishonour
not to be part of the honour and virtue that the established majority,
the eminent group, allegedly carries.
Everywhere, group charisma ascribed to one's own group, and disgrace,
used to label the other group, are phenomena that complement each
other. By using stereotypical expressions, one group praises itself
and condemns another; even the most criminal and dangerous among
the insiders partake of the charisma and identify with the characteristics
and values that the majority group as a whole is seen as representing.
A threatening and unpleasant person can think of himself as being
as good when only some in the established group actually are.
The structure of rumour is connected with the gossiping group; self-praise
turns into idealization and blaming rumours transform into clichéd
slander, and these phenomena are closely related to the perception
of the charisma of one's own group and the dishonour of the other
group. The conservative Sunni Muslims in the Anatolian small towns
have grown up with negative views of the Alevis in the mountain
villages. Notions of Alevis existed together with symbols correspondingly
praising the Sunni group. Abusing and insulting words were always
close at hand when the Others were to be described. A person who,
since childhood, has heard positive and negative descriptions of
groups is deeply affected by this and it is obviously decisive for
the individual's personal image of these groups. The collective
identity, and as a part thereof, the collective pride and the aspiration
for group charisma, shape an individual's identity and is seen in
the perception of both the individual person and that of other people.
Nobody grows up without one's personal identity rooted in identification
with the group, or with several groups, even if this is only subtly
expressed and perhaps totally forgotten. Most people know the conditions
pertaining to positive gossip about one's own group and to negative
rumours about the other; they have heard praise and slander, and
know something of the superiority as opposed to the feeling of inferiority
connected with these.
Norbert Elias adopted neither Marxist nor Weberian ideals when he
set out to analyse social changes. He thought, for example, that
not everything could be reduced to issues of control over financial
power. Neither did the various concepts of the Weberians, with three
dimensions or factors significant for the change and distribution
of power, fit the thoughts of Elias.
Meaning (significance) and power are in focus. Power is a polymorphous
phenomenon made up of the characteristics that all relations of
mutual dependence possess. Elias tried to find categories that could
be used to eliminate the inequality displayed in social relations.
The theory of the established and the outsiders, like the theory
of the civilisation process, links changes in the power relations
between groups to the social habitus of the group members. These
two theories resemble each other; the issue of established people
and such who are not allowed to enter the community is not a question
of what society looks like at a certain point in time (in this case,
Kah¬ramanmaraş in December 1978), but how it has developed over
the years. Sunni Muslims who have belonged to the majority since
the Osman Empire are proud of this fact. The established small town
families see themselves as guarding virtue and respectability; their
networks consist of institutions that channel both mutual help and
rumours about the Others. So, rumour is the powerful instrument
for exclusion. The newcomers were not accepted by the majority;
this was noticeable by the fact the cafés frequented by Alevis became "Alevi
haunts" and the Sunni Muslims stopped going there.
Elias has a similar description of gathering places that are not
good enough for the established once the outsider group has started
frequenting these places. This is an example of the morality and
self-restraint that the insider group uses as a means of distinguishing
themselves from the "inferior", which refers to the arguments
presented by Elias in Über den Prozess der Zivilisation. Soziogenetische
und psychogenetische Untersuchungen. Erster band: Wandlungen des
Verhaltens in den weltlichen Oberschichten des Abendlandes (1939)
, for example concerning the feeling of that which is "embarrassing".
The self-image of the established includes the view that they are
more moral, that is, have more civilised norms, and that the intruders
threaten their traditions and the common small-town identity. The
outsider group is labelled as uncivilized, and here rumour plays
an important part. "Gossip is highly selective and distorting.
Through it, people compete in demonstrating their fervent adherence
to their own group norms by expressing their shock and horror at
the behaviour of those who do not conform."
Elias' study shows that the rumours conveyed by those who regard
themselves as superior are quite similar. The story had all the
typical features of a pieceof gossip. The tone of voice and the
choice of words were identical, as was the simplification of characters
and motives, the arrangement of the points of the story in black
and white, and, of course, the underlying norms and beliefs. In
most cases, the entertainment value of gossip seemed to be linked
to ingredients that flattered the self-esteem of the narrator, the
listener or both. This did not mean that the stories always were
an accusation of the Others, or had an undertone of malevolence.
Praise-gossip always concerned the established group itself.
When key positions in society belong to the majority and the minority
lacks an influential network, it can be the case that some of those
belonging to the group of outsiders feel ashamed on behalf of other
non-established people and their behaviour which is not accepted
by the majority. Once more, it can be noted how closely tied the
structure of gossip is tied to that of the gossiping group. What
has earlier been noted as 'praising gossip' tending to idealization
and "condemning gossip" tending to stereotypical slander,
are phenomena closely connected with the belief in the charisma
of one's own group and the collective shame of the other group.
An unfavourable collective we-image is incorporate in the self-image
of the individual and develops in parallel with the favourable image
that the established group holds of itself. In old established groups,
where the youth and perhaps their parents and grandparents since
childhood have been fed with such convictions, with connected symbols
of praise and blame, positive and negative images of this kind permeate
the individual's personality. The collective identity, and within
it, the collective pride and the charismatic claims of the group,
contribute to shaping the identity of the individuals in both their
own eyes and those of around them.
Rounding off in the footsteps of Norbert Elias
Elias uses the concepts of group charisma and group disgrace - the
charisma of the established, powerful group in connected with the
dishonour ascribed to the outsiders and the group disgrace that
the non-accepted have internalized. There are various examples of
the fact that people in general have experienced both praising and
condemning gossip, and the attitudes of superiority or inferiority
connected with these.
According to Elias, the satisfaction that group charisma gives leads
to a kind of compensation for the frustration that is always caused
by the adjustment to the strict norms of the group (characterising
an elevated position). "Higher standards of 'civility' are
reflected through our heightened 'thresholds of repugnance', our
'disgust func¬tions', which led to our moral criticism of, and indeed
physical revulsion towards, breaches of corporeal taboos."
This is connected with Elias' civilisation process discussions on
the habits of the elite, shame as a mechanism and on the ambivalent
relations between social groups; these are significant aspects in
the long run for the large-scale development of communities.
Elias' message is that we must not think that differences in status
as based on an agreed ranking of positions in society which in some
way would be incompatible with conflict. Terms such as 'status hierarchy'
and 'order of rank' are sometimes used as if they referred to normally
harmonious figurations that are only temporarily connected with
tension and conflicts. The fact is that tension and conflicts constitute
and inherent structural element in status hierarchies everywhere.
Elias' theory on the established and the outsider has often been
overshadowed by the theory on the civilisation process, but the
one is actually a continuation of the other. Both deal with the
connection between the development of power relations and structures
of character; the focus is on the mutual dependence between the
individual and the collective.
Sunni Muslims and Alevis are mutually dependent on each other. But
since the Sunnis monopolise all important posts in the small towns
of southern Anatolia, the power balance is very unequal. The notions
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 be 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 resignation, despite resistance to it. 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 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 caused 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.
By illuminating collective fantasies that are expressed in rumour,
the theory of the established and the outsiders complements Elias'
theory on the civilisation process. The collective imagination is
a strange phenomenon. Power relations are characterised by collective
praise and defamation, and many figments of the imagination have
developed over a long period of time. The issues observed and explained
must be seen as parts of processes, and therefore tradition plays
an important role in creating power relations.
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
The massacre in the town of Karamanmaraş in 1978 was the culmination
of a long process. The abounding rumours had built up during a long
period of time, and the moral panic that broke out in December can
partly be interpreted by using Elias' theory on the established
and the outsiders. "Rumors crystallize the perceptions that
members of each group have of the group toward which they feel hostile."
The Sunni, and right-wing extremist, attack on the Alevis cannot
be explained by gossip only, but rumours and orgies of violence
are connected. Rumours often trigger riots; at least they aggravate
the situation and pave the way for violence in combination with
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