► What is Alevism?
Defining Alevism is almost an impossible mission, as meanings differ from one community to another. ” It is for some a religion, for others a philosophy or a cult., analyzes Élise Massicard, researcher at the CNRS in political sociology. Steeped in oral traditions, varying from one village to another, without a single founding text or spiritual leader, Alevism is not, moreover, “structured hierarchically like the Catholic Church, she continues. Never has a single authority decided on dogmas. »
According to estimates, the Alevi community would represent a fifth of the population in this country of nearly 85 million inhabitants. Their presence extends as far as the Balkans, notably in Bulgaria and Albania, as well as in Syria and Iran. It was only in the nineteenthe century that the term alevi is forged to designate the nomadic or semi-nomadic populations of the Anatolian countryside in Turkey.
► On what beliefs is Alevism based?
Originally, this religion is built on shamanic beliefs and is transmitted orally and hereditarily. Among these beliefs, the adoration of the sun, practiced for example in the mountainous region of Dersim, in eastern Turkey, where the main opponent of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is from, or the metempsychosisthe belief in the reincarnation of the soul in a human, animal or vegetable body.
Some rites come from Shiite Islam, even if identification with the Muslim religion is not unanimous, Élise Massicard adds: “For some, the Koran has been falsified, for others it is a founding text. »
THE Buyruk (” commandment » in Turkish), a set of descriptions of rituals and prayers, is one of the reference texts, but its interpretations vary greatly between communities.
The Alevis do not respect the five pillars of Islam (such as fasting in Ramadan, the pilgrimage to Mecca or the five daily prayers). But like the Shiites, a majority of practitioners respect the Muharram fast. This one commemorates the martyrdom of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed massacred during the battle of Karbala, in Iraq in 680 AD. The assassination of Hussein is the genesis of the current schism between Sunnis and Shiites.
► How are Alevis perceived in Türkiye?
The way of life of the Alevis is resolutely liberal, which has long led them to be jeered at by the rest of Turkish society. Unlike mosques, men and women pray together in prayer houses, called cemevi. The headscarf is not obligatory for women who, moreover, can be designated spiritual leaders in the same way as men.
Although the principle of secularism has been enshrined in the Turkish Constitution since 1937, the Alevis are often considered as ” heretics, deviants », analyzes Élise Massicard. This stigma dates back to the Ottoman Empire, and resulted in numerous massacres until the 20the century : “For many conservative Sunnis, Dersim (the region where Kemal Kiliçdaroglu is from) is an abomination. »
Perceived as a secret people, considered as ” infrequent and disloyal”, continues the political scientist, the Alevis have long been the subject of rumors of all kinds, accused for example “ritual incests and orgies”.
They keep traces of this millennial ostracism. Between the 1950s and 1980s, the Alevis left the rural areas to join the cities. They seek their legitimacy from the Sunnis. A movement of standardization then began in the 1990s. A certain number of pre-Islamic worship practices were erased because they were judged “difficult to legitimize in public”explains Élise Massicard.
The Alevis continue to be considered in Turkey as a subculture and not as a religion in its own right. Unlike mosques, their prayer houses are not subsidized by Istanbul, an asymmetry that Alevis blame the Turkish state for.
► What role does belonging to the Alevi religion play in the upcoming elections?
The victory of Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, the main opponent of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the presidential election on May 14, would be, for the Alevis, a hope of legitimizing their cult. Coming from the only department with an Alevi majority in the country, Kemal Kiliçdaroglu is the leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP). The center-left candidate is given the lead, facing Erdogan, in the latest polls, with 54.6% of the vote in the second round against the Islamo-conservative president. The one who could become the first Alevi Turkish president has promised, if elected in May, to put an end to discrimination and “confessional disputes that caused suffering” Turkey.
For the first time, Kemal Kiliçdaroglu spoke publicly about his belonging to the Alevi minority on April 19 in a video posted on Twitter. The statement, which lifts a major taboo, denotes a certain footing in the Turkish political landscape, according to political scientist and author Ahmet Insel: “He succeeded in breaking one of the major axes of polarization, he analyzes. This is the opposition between the Sunnis and the Alevis. »
A successful tour de force thanks to the constitution of an unprecedented alliance called “the Table of Six”. Main opposition coalition facing the presidential party, ” the alliance represents all political, ethnic, confessional tendencies in Turkey”, continues Ahmet Insel. Another factor weighs in the balance, concludes the political scientist: “Many moderate Muslims are tired of the use of Islam as a factor of power by Erdogan, which weakens reluctance towards an Alevi candidate. »
Alevism, a confession with multiple influences
philosophy, religion or cult, the meanings of Alevism, steeped in oral traditions, without a founding text or spiritual leader, differ from one community to another.
The Alevi community represents a fifth of the Turkish population. Its presence extends as far as the Balkans as well as Syria and Iran.
Some of his rituals come from Shia Islam. However, identification with the Muslim religion is not unanimous. The Alevis do not respect the five pillars of Islam but, like the Shiites, a majority of practitioners respect the Muharram fast.
The liberal Alevi way of life (men and women pray together, women do not wear the headscarf, and can be designated spiritual leaders) has often led them to be considered heretics.
In 2011, Turkey’s first official apology for the massacre of thousands of Alevi Kurds
Between March 1937 and September 1938, several thousand Alevi Kurds were massacred in the Dersim region by the Kemalist regime, which was then seeking to “Turkify the country through mopping-up operations”, explains Jean Marcou, teacher-researcher at Sciences Po Grenoble, specialist in contemporary Turkey. 13,500 people are killed according to an official report; between 30,000 and 50,000 according to historians.
“If it is necessary to apologize on behalf of the state, I will apologize and I apologize,” declared President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on November 23, 2011. No other massacre had yet been the subject of an official apology in Turkey. At the time, the tactical dimension of these excuses could not be ignored: they put in difficulty the Kemalist party of the CHP (Republican People’s Party), led by Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, and aimed at boosting the popularity of the AKP (Parti de justice and development) with the Alevi Kurds.