“I am Alevi”said Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, the Turkish opposition presidential candidate, on Wednesday April 19 in a video posted on Twitter to evoke a “very sensitive subject”. By publicly evoking his membership of the Alevi faith, a minority in Turkey, the candidate broke a taboo in a country that is constitutionally secular but overwhelmingly Sunni. “I am a sincere Muslim”added the one who comes from the region of Dersim, in the east of the country, with a Kurdish and Alevi majority.
Alevism, a confession with multiple influences
Alevism is a so-called heterodox confession of Twelver Shiite Islam born in Central Asia in the 9th century. As its name suggests, it advocates the worship of Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed and first imam, and his son Hussein. The Alevi faith is based on a trinity of Allah (or Divine Truth), Muhammad and Ali. The Alevis have also incorporated Sufi borrowings, Zoroastrian influences and beliefs from pre-Islamic shamanic religions. They hold the Bible as sacred as apocryphal Christian writings.
The Alevis have a fairly broad interpretation of the Koran and the five pillars of Islam. They don’t do the hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca, do not pray five times a day, drink alcohol and do not fast during the month of Ramadan. They have their own rites, notably fasts to commemorate the martyrdom of Hussein or to celebrate the mourning of the first twelve imams, characteristics of Twelver Shiism. They also have their own places of worship, the cemeviswhere they dance the semahgyratory dance of the whirling dervishes.
The Alevi confession took on an initiatory dimension in the wake of the teachings of Haci Veli Bektas, a mystical figure of the 13th century, who preached Alevism in Anatolia and promoted the creation of religious fraternities.
In addition to the Anatolian plateaus, the Alevis are historically present in the southern Balkans, in Kosovo, in Albania, in Bulgaria, in Macedonia and in Greece. From the 1950s, the Alevis followed the paths of Turkish emigration to Europe. They are a strong minority in Germany.
The Anatolian cradle of the Alevi
In Turkey, the Alevi represent more than a quarter of the population, that is to say between 15 and 20 million people mainly settled in the south-east of the country. Most of them are Turkish-speaking or Kurdish-speaking, with the exception of an Arabic-speaking minority (half a million people), living on the Syrian border, in the province of Antioch, the former sandjak of Alexandretta. With the rural exodus, many Alevis joined the big cities and formed fairly homogeneous neighborhoods from a confessional point of view, such as Gazi and Okmeydani in Istanbul.
The Alevis, whose rites and rules differ from those of orthodox Islam, have been the target of massacres in the past, as they were considered heretics by some strict Sunnis. These include the massacre of Sivas in which thirty-seven intellectuals and artists, mostly Alevi, were burned alive by Sunni fanatics in 1993. The eight people who died in Taksim Square in 2013 during demonstrations against Recep Tayyip Erdogan were all Alevi.
A discriminated minority in Türkiye
They remain discriminated against in contemporary Turkey. The state denies them the right to be recognized as a religious movement in its own right, nor does it consider cemevis Alevi as places of worship, thus depriving them of its financial support.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, from the AKP, an Islamist party, had in the past targeted this Alevi minority, accusing its members of being “dominant” among the judges in Türkiye and to invent “a new religion”. Living for the most part near the epicenter of the earthquakes of February 6, the Alevis had criticized the absence of state aid in rural areas.
Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, who could become the first Alevi Turkish president, has promised if he is elected in May to end discrimination and “confessional disputes that caused suffering” Turkey.