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Alevis (Turkish language: Aleviler or Alevilik) are adherents of an endogamic religious community in Eastern and Southern Turkey, it also has communities in the Balkans due to the presence of the Ottomans, where they are more widely known as the Bektashi.

Most of the Alevi community consider Alevism to be a strand of Shi'a Islam, with pre-Islamic influence. The terms Alawite (Arabic: Alawī) and Alevi, although they share the same etymology, refer to different religious groups. The Alawites are found in Syria.

However, there are significant numbers of the community who view the existence of Alevism to be a syncresis of pre-Islamic Turkic religion with Shi'a influences. the government of Turkey recognises Alevism as the indegenous Anatolian religion, and it is recognised as such under Turkish Law.

Modern Alevi theology has been profoundly influenced by humanism and universalism. Thus, while many of the older generation view Alevism as a religious belief, many of the younger generation prefer to term it a philosophy, finding spiritual fulfillment in listening to traditional Alevi music "Nefes" in Alevi cafés.

Whilst Sunnism and Twelver Shi`ism possess a tradition of authoritative religious scholarship backed by carriers of formal learning, Alevism lacks both and is more a flowing together of various related movements, doctrines, ideas, rituals and traditions in a flexible synthesis, its strength lying in shared local traditions and esoteric interpretations of Islamic belief and practice.

Alevi communities are strong supporters of Kemalism due to its strong secularist ideology. Alevism espouses the separation of religion from state.


The name is derived from Ali ibn Abu Talib, son-in-law of Islamic prophet Muhammad and, along with Muhammad, the central figure of Shia.

They are not to be confused with the Alawite of Syria, who are another specific branch of the Shīa (though also named for Alī), with distinct, although related, beliefs.

However, according to the Kurdish linguist Jamal Nebez, the word Alevi is probably derived from the word Halav or Hilav meaning tip of the fire flame. [1] Alev also happens to be the Turkish word for "flame".


Adherents of Alevism (Alevîlik) are called Alevis. The exact number of Alevis is not known, with estimates varying to 15% of the population of Turkey alone, i.e. 21 million believers in Turkey, with perhaps as many as three million in Iran and Turkmenistan and half a million Iraqi Turkmen Alevis in Iraq. Alevism has integrated many diverse religious influences over time, such as pre-Islamic religions of the Near East. Both Bektashi Alevi and Kizilbash Alevi revere Hajji Bektash Wali, a saint of the 13th century. The Turkish language and Zaza language is used in Alevi rituals and while worshiping.


Ethnic groups that have Alevi adherents include Turkish people, Zaza people, Kurds, Turkmen people, and Azerbaijani people, with a particular concentration in central Anatolia in a belt from Çorum in the west to Muş in the east. The only province within Turkey with an Alevi majority is Tunceli Province, formerly known as Dersim. It must be noted that the Alevis in former Dersim (present-day Tunceli Province), Muş, and Erzurum provinces view their Alevism as non-Islamic.

In addition, many Alevi have migrated to the large cities of western and southern Turkey, as well as to western Europe, especially Germany.

Today, the Alevi community in Turkey is heavily urbanised due to mass migration (1960s to present) from their often mountainous and barren rural home districts to cities.

There are also large communities of Alevis in some regions of Iranian Azerbaijan. The town of Ilkhichi (İlxıçı), which is located 87 km south west of Tabriz is almost entirely populated by Alevis. For political reasons, one of which was to create a distinct identity for these communities, they have not been called Alevi since the early 20th century. They are called various names, such as Ali Ilahi, Yarsan and Goran. Groups with similar beliefs also exist in Iranian Kurdistan. Interestingly both the [Dersim] (Zaza) people and the Gorani, who are both considered as belonging to the Kurds (even though their languages differ from Kurdish language tongues Kurmanci and Sorani), adhere to a form of Alevi faith which resembles in many significant respects, such as the perpetuation of a caste system, the religions of the Druze or Yazidi.


The nature of Alevi faith can be hard to define, as they do not have a central authority and are based on an orally transmitted tradition, which has been kept secret from outsiders for centuries. So various descriptions of Alevism can be found by different groups.

Despite disputes regarding the non-Islamic origins of Alevism, all of its variants are infused with strong heterodox Shiite (otherwise known as Ghulat currents.

Many of the beliefs, rituals and practices are shared with followers of Yazidism, Yazdânism and Yarsanism, also present in the area of Kurdistan and its vicinity. All three of these religions do not claim to have Islamic origins, nor do their adherents claim to be Muslims.

While the Sunnis recognise the four caliphs: Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali, the Twelver Shias (incl. the Alevis) recognise Ali as the first of the 12 Imams of the Muslim community.

The fundamentally Shia beliefs within Alevism are more similar to Nizari Shia-Imami-Ismailism than with Ithna'ashari Shiism (otherwise known as Twelver Shiism).

Below is a list of the most widespread Alevi beliefs, some of the more doctrinal beliefs are only considered static by the Bektashi Order of Dervishes, which is like the monastic order within Alevism.

  • Alevism, if regarded as a branch of Islam, is clearly part of the Batiniyya group, due to the belief that there is an Esoteric or Batini and Exoteric or Zahiri interpretation of the Qur'an. According to the Institute of Ismaili Studies, the "Batini" is the inner or esoteric meaning of a sacred text, ritual or religious prescription, often contrasted with zahiri.
  • Alevism has a concept of God at different levels, all being emanations of Haqq the Ultimate Reality. The underlying concept within Alevism is that there only exists one and the same religion and that each religion usually degenerates into establishing a priesthood and a hierarchy, uses as time passes, invariably degraded knowledge to control fellow men and societies in order to obtain privileges. Consequently new prophets emerge to preach the original message, which briefly can be summarized as 'love thy neighbor.' But underneath any exoteric concept of God, there is a chain of emanation from God to spiritual man, man on earth, animals, plants and minerals. This concept is called Wahdat-ul-Wujood.
  • Resulting from the Alevi concept of God is the belief in the 'trinity' of Haqq-Muhammad-Ali. In the Shia Islamic context Ali is given the dominating role - like Christ for many Christians. In the Alevi context God seems to be beyond reach and Muhammad is clearly eclipsed by Ali. These aspects of the instruction were scanty and unclear and it shall not be excluded that I have over-interpreted them in order to arrive at a comprehensible picture. Drawing comparisons of the Alevi concept of 'trinity' to the Christian concept it can be explained thus:

God the Father seems to be pure spirit or pure truth, and accordingly taking no interest in the lives of individual human beings. God the Son seems to correspond to Perfect man 'Insan-i Kamil who has achieved union with God, represented by i.e. Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed and Ali according to denomination. God the Holy Spirit seems then to correspond to the Spiritual Self, the Voice of Conscience, guiding man on his way to perfection and union with God.

  • The elevated status of Ali ibn Abi Talib.
  • Muhammad often appears as identified with Ali in such a way that the two are like two sides of a coin.
  • A keystone of Alevi faith and society is müsahiplik, a covenant relationship between members of the community. In a ceremony in the presence of a dede, the members make a life-long commitment to care for the spiritual, emotional, and physical needs of each other and their children. The ties between couples who have made this commitment is at least as strong as it is for blood relatives. So much so, that müsahiplik is often called spiritual brotherhood (manevi kardeşlik), the children of covenanted couples may not marry.
  • Alevis do not perform the Salat or Namaz ritual.
  • Alevis do not perform Wudu, the ritual ablutions of Muslims.
  • Alevis do not have mosques, they have their own ceremonial halls called Cemevi.
  • Alevis in Turkey see Ataturk as a kind of Mahdi, a divine emanation along the lines of Haji Bektash Veli. His portrait is hung up besides Ali in Cemevis and in many homes and businesses.
  • Men and women pray together in the same room without partition.
  • Alevi leadership does not follow the same model of Muslims, instead they have Dedes and Babas. Ismailis have Mukhi and Kamadia.
  • Alevis, like Ismailis, reject polygamy.
  • The practice of Taqiya.
  • The main Alevi ritual is the cem (Alevi ritual), Ismailis also have their own ceremonies. Raki is used ceremonially during the Cem.
  • The main Alevi fast is held during the first 12 days of the Muslim month of Muharram (or Mâtem Orucu), which comes 20 days after Eid ul-Adha (Kurban Bayramı). Another Alevi fast is the three-day Hizir fast (Hızır Orucu), generally observed on the 13-14-15 February.
  • The Fast of Muharram (Mâtem Orucu) is the major Alevi fast which is generally held the first twelve days of the month of Muharrem. In addition to abstaining from food, many Alevis who fast from sunrise to sunset during these twelve days will also abstain from drinking water both day and night. They will intake liquids other than water during the evening. During this fast, Alevis will also avoid any sort of comfort or enjoyment. The main exoteric purpose of this fast is to mourn the murder of Ali's son, Hussain, during the battle of Karbala. The main esoteric purpose is self-sacrifice for character building. At the conclusion of the fast of Muharram, a special food dish called ashure (aşure) is prepared from a variety (often 12 in number) of grains, fruits and nuts. Many events are associated with this celebration, including the salvation of Hussain’s son, Zaynul Abideen, from the massacre at Karbala, thus allowing the bloodline of the family of the prophet to continue.
  • Many Alevis fast for three days in mid-February to honor Khidr (in Turkish: Hizir), a supernatural being akinned to the Green Man who they believe has been sent by God throughout history to save those who are in distress.
  • There is no set formula or amount expected for almsgiving among Alevis. A common method of Alevi almsgiving is through donating food, especially sacrificial animals, to be shared with worshippers and guests. Alevis also donate money to be used to help the poor, to support the religious, educational and cultural activities of Alevi centers and organizations (dergâh, vakıf, dernek), and to provide scholarships for students.
  • Ritually visiting Mecca is not an Alevi practice. However, visiting ziyarat and performing dua at the tombs of Alevi-Bektashi saints or Pirs is quite common. Alevis are not commanded or required to make these visits. They do not go to gain credit in heaven. Their purpose is to ask for spiritual cleansing and blessing for themselves or others. Some of the most frequently visited sites are:

1. Hacı Bektaş, Kırşehir

Hundreds of thousands of Alevis gather in the memory of Haji Bektash at his lodge (tekke) and tomb every 16 August.

2. Abdal Musa, Tekke Köyü, Elmalı, Antalya

Its special celebrations are held in June.

3. Şahkulu Sultan, Merdivenköy, İstanbul

Cem services are held here every Sunday and on Alevi holidays.

4. Karacaahmet Sultan, Üsküdar, İstanbul

Cem services are also held here every Sunday and on Alevi holidays.

5. Seyit Gazi, Eskişehir

  • Semah is the Alevi ritual dance characterized by turning and swirling, this dance of worship has many varieties. Performed by men and women to the accompaniment of the lute, the semah is an inseparable part of any ceremony. It symbolizes the putting off of one’s self and union with God.
  • Four Doors, Forty Levels (Dört kapı kırk makam)

One key way Alevis describe how they are different than those who follow Islamic law Shari'a, but also love the family of the prophet, is with the concept of Four Doors, Forty Levels (dört kapı kırk makam). This is the process by which an individual commits him or herself to a living spiritual guide (dede, pir, mürşit) and that spiritual leader guides the person through a series of four “doors” (kapı), each of which has ten “levels” (makam). The individual enters the first door as a novice. The person who makes it through to the fourth door achieves oneness with ultimate truth (hakikat). The doors' names are religious law, spiritual path, spiritual knowledge/skill, and spiritual truth (şeriat, tarikat, marifet, hakikat).

To Alevis, anyone who only believes in the rule of religious law has not advanced beyond the most basic level of spiritual knowledge. Whoever has entered the next level through a relationship with a spiritual guide has left religious legalism behind and started on the path of inner, deeper spiritual insight.

This belief is shared with Ismailis.

  • The “perfect human being” (Insani kâmil)

Related to the idea of going through stages of spiritual development until achieving oneness with truth is the concept of attaining total completeness. This is called becoming the “perfect human being” (insan-ı kâmil). It appears to me that most of today's Alevis would define the perfect human in practical terms as one who is in full moral control of his or her selfish desires (eline, diline, beline sahip), treats all kinds of people equally (yetmiş iki millete aynı gözle bakar), and serves the interests of others. It is the goal of all Alevis to achieve the moral standards of the perfect human being.

  • “I am Reality”

A significant point in Alevi mysticism is the concept of the worshipper becoming one with Haqq, that is, Truth, Reality, or God. They love to tell the story of Mansur Al-Hallaj, a 10th century Sufi who uttered the phrase, “I am Truth” (Ana al-Haqq). Religious authorities interpreted this statement as Mansur’s literally equating himself with Allah. They brutally martyred him in Baghdad for his so-called blasphemous mystic beliefs.

Folk Beliefs

  • lighting candles at the tombs of saints;
  • kissing door frames of holy rooms;
  • not stepping on the threshold of holy buildings;
  • seeking prayers from reputed healers;
  • writing wishes on strips of cloth and tying them to trees that are considered to be spiritually powerful.

Internal Groups

A Turkish scholar working in France has distinguished four main groups among contemporary Alevis, which cautiously show their distinctive features in modern Turkey[1]}.

The first is mainly represented by the urban population and emerged during the Republic. It has for decades belonged to the political left and regards Alevism as an outlook on life more than a religion. The followers hold ritual unions of a religious character and have also established cultural associations named after Pir Sultan Abdal. Man enjoys a central role as illustrated by the phrase 'God is Man' quoted above in the context of the Trinity.

The second group is more directed towards heterodox mysticism and stands closer to the Haci Bektashi Brotherhood. St Francis of Assisi and Mahatma Gandhi are considered better believers than many a Muslim.

The third group regards themselves as true Muslims and are prepared to cooperate with the state. It adheres to the way of Jafar as-Sadiq, the sixth Imam. Its concept of God is closer to orthodox Islam but as the two groups already mentioned it considers the Qur'an to have been manipulated by the early Sunni Caliphs in order to eliminate Ali.

The fourth is said to be under active influence from official Iranian Shia, to be confirmed adherents to Twelver Shia and to reject Bektashism. It follows Sharia and opposes secular state power. Information on strength and location is not available.


The name Alevi can be simply translated into English as “of Ali” or “follower of Ali.” It fits a pattern in Turkish for common names of two other major religious groups: Musevi, (follower of Moses (Musa), or Jewish); and İsevi, (follower of Jesus (İsa), or Christian).

There is much debate as to actually when the broad Anatolian population which today call themselves Alevis actually took on that name. For our purposes here, it is enough to simply know that today they do prefer to call themselves Alevi.

It is visibly obvious that Ali is extremely important to modern Alevis. His picture is prominent in every Alevi worship place and association, and it often appears on the cover of Alevi publications. Many families place pictures of him in their homes. And some, particularly young people, wear small gold replicas of Ali’s sword, Zulfikar, attached to chains around their necks.

  • Essential Views

While there is a wide variety of opinions among Alevis about exactly who Ali was or is, almost all Alevis agree on the following:

1. Ali was Muhammed’s cousin (amca oğlu) and son-in-law (damat), marrying the prophet’s daughter, Fatima.

2. Ali was the first to believe in Muhammed's prophethood; therefore he became the first Muslim.

3. Ali was the closest human being to Muhammed.

4. Ali was Muhammed’s intended successor, and therefore the first caliph, but competitors stole this right from him. Muhammed intended for leadership of Muslims to perpetually stem from his family line Ahl ul-Bayt beginning with Ali, Fatima, and their two sons, Hasan and Hussain. Ali, Hasan, and Hussain are considered the first three imams, and the other nine of the Twelve Imams come from Hussain's blood line.

Most Alevis believe that the 12th imam, Muhammed Mahdi, grew up in secret to be saved from those who wanted to wipe out the family of Ali. Many Alevis believe that he is in occultation.

  • Debated Views

Apart from these basic ideas, there is a wide spectrum of opinion even among Alevis as to the true nature of Ali. The following ideas are all based on a combination of Qur'anic verses, hadith, and folklore. Here are some of the most common concepts of Ali circulating among today's Alevis.

1. Ali is the ultimate example of the perfect human, apart from the prophets. Ali is attributed with nearly supernatural strength and spiritual wisdom, giving him a place almost as high as a prophet. An example of this thought is the saying (sometimes attributed to Muhammed):

“Muhammed is the city of spiritual knowledge, Ali is the door.”

Muhammed ilim şehridir, Ali kapısıdır.

2. Ali is equal to Muhammed in enlightenment and authority. Ali and Muhammed are likened to the two sides of a coin, or two halves of one whole apple, as in the following poem:

“Ali is Muhammed, Muhammed is Ali;

I saw one apple, praise Allah”

Ali Muhammed'dir, Muhammed Ali

Gördüm bir elmadır, elhamdü-lillâh

Again, from a saying attributed to Muhammed:

“Before the creation of Adam, we were one glorious light; the light of glory on Adam's forehead was divided into two; one half appeared on my forehead, the other on Ali's.”

Hz. Âdem yaratılmadan önce tek nur idik; Hz. Âdem'in alnındaki nur ikiye bölünmüş ve birisi benim, birisi de Ali'nin alnında doğmuştur.

3. Ali is deity in a trinity with Allah (Hak) and Muhammed.

Most Alevis recite this phrase in their prayers: “For the love of God, Muhammed, Ali” (Hak-Muhammed-Ali aşkına). When many say this and the phrase, “Allah-Muhammed-Ali” they are intentionally equating the authority of the three.

4. Ali is deity by himself.

In a poem written by a Bektashi lodge leader named Hilmi Dede Baba and commonly quoted by Alevis, the poet says that wherever he looked - at Adam and Eve, at Noah, at Abraham, or even in the mirror - “Ali appeared before my eyes” (Ali göründü gözüme). I understand the poet to mean that Ali is timeless and present everywhere. The poem also declares:

“He is Jesus, the spirit of God,

He is king of this world and the next,

He is the protector of the believers,

Ali appeared before my eyes”

İsa-yı ruhullah O'dur

İki alemde Şah Odur

Müminlere penah O'dur

Ali göründü gözüme

The poem’s final stanza says,

“Ali is first, Ali is last,

Ali is inner knowledge,

Ali is external knowledge,

Ali is pure, Ali is glorious”

Ali evvel Ali ahir

Ali batın Ali zâhir

Ali tayyib Ali fâhir

One more poem cited by Alevis is attributed to Jalaladdin Rumi (Mevlana), who was among the greatest of Turkish mystics, but himself not considered an Alevi.

“At the coming into existence of the world,

Ali was present.

While the world was forming,

Ali was there.

Until the world took its basic form,

The one present was Ali.”

Cihan var oldukça Ali var idi.

Cihan var olurken de Ali vardı.

Cihan'ın temeli suret buluncaya kadar

Var olan Ali idi.

VI. Alevis, Haji


The essential Alevi corporate worship service is called a congregational or assembly meeting (cem or ayini cem). Alevis generally believe that the cem has its roots in an original worship and teaching meeting of forty spiritual individuals (Kırklar Meclisi) led by Ali.

In Anatolia, assemblies have been traditionally held on Thursday evenings and called cuma akşamları, literally, “Friday nights.” However, for convenience, in some places today they are held during the day on Sundays, which is the official weekly holiday in Turkey.

A building or room set apart for such meetings is called an assembly house cemevi, but private homes are also a suitable location for an assembly meeting. Cemevis do not have minarets, and cem meetings are not announced by a call to prayer Adhan.

An assembly meeting is led by a “grandfather” Dede, a man recognized to have spiritual and moral authority in the community and who claims a direct blood line connection to the family of Muhammed, the Ahl ul-Bayt, through one of the twelve imams. In Anatolia, dedes generally serve in geographical regions. That is, one dede takes responsibility for one, two, three, or more villages, and travels between them. All of the residents in a village are responsible to one dede.

A traditional Alevi cem is only open to those who have made a commitment to each other and to follow their dede. No unreconciled people can participate in an assembly. Before the dede holds the religious services he acts as a judge in a kind of people's court (halk mahkemesi), reconciling differences between congregational members. Those who do not confess their personal sins or who are not reconciled with others are disciplined by the dede, and are considered put out of fellowship (düşkünlük). They are not entitled to take part in the service or share in the community meal until they repent.

Open, public cems are held in some cities today. Their format is somewhat different than a traditional village cem. The following is a brief description of the kind of assembly a visitor may be invited to attend or will see demonstrated on television.

The dede sits on a sheepskin (post) on the floor at one end or side of the room. The congregation, which consists of both men and women, sits in a circle on the floor facing each other. There is no physical separation of men and women. The women are not required to wear any certain type of clothing or to cover their heads, although many do. Children are also allowed in the meeting.

Participants in the assembly take off their shoes before entering the room. A visitor will generally not see Alevis perform ceremonial washings Wudu immediately before a public service; worshipers are instructed to come to the assembly after they clean themselves all over by bathing or showering. Most Alevis say coming to worship clean on the inside (batıni or iç temizlik) is at least as important as being clean on the outside (zahiri or dış temizlik). Many say inner cleanliness is even more important.

The service mainly consists of the dede saying prayers, giving short religious messages, singing solo ballads, and leading the congregation in singing. Another key element is a circling ritual dance semah performed by selected men and women in a group that can vary in size. The dede plays a seven stringed lute called a saz or bağlama while singing and while the dance is being performed. Sometimes an accompanist zakir will play a lute with, or instead of, the dede. During certain parts of the service, the congregation assumes a worship position, kneeling and sitting on their ankles, occasionally bowing their heads to the floor in unison (halka namaz).

The service is held entirely in Turkish, including all the prayers and singing. However, in some cems portions of the Kuran may be read in Arabic. The subjects of the ballads, prayers and speeches include encouraging the congregation to love God, to love other people, and to apply the teachings of Muhammed, Ali, the twelve imams, and Haji Bektash. An emotional climax of the service is one or more ballads in memory of the murders of Ali and his sons. The murder of Ali’s son, Hüseyin, at the battle of Karbala is especially remembered, the commemoration of the martyrs of Karbala has today been generally replaced with remembrance of the victims of Sivas.

To conclude the worship service, the congregation shares a meal together, which usually includes a ram that has been ceremonially sacrificed.

There are other details involved in the assembly meeting, comprising twelve acts of service called Hizmet, such as distributing holy water Niyaz, sweeping the floor, lighting candles etc.

Though Alevis are mystical in many of their beliefs, they do have regular form or design in their ceremonies and practices. Traditionalist Alevis believe that certain exact rituals must be followed and specific prayers said during cems and for all other religious rites and ceremonies. Because most Alevi forms and traditions have been passed down the generations orally rather than in writing, these forms may vary from region to region. However, non-traditionalist Alevis will say that it is not necessary to follow any form strictly.

Relations with other Muslim groups

There is some tension between folk tradition Alevism and the Bektashi Order, which is a Sufi order founded on Alevi beliefs[2]}. In certain Turkish communities, other Sufi orders, namely the Helveti-Jerahi and some of the Rifa'i, have incorporated significant Alevi influence. Though generally regarded as a Sunni group historically, some Rifa'is accept the Alevi identity. This is particularly common among Turkish teacher Sherif Baba's Rifa'i Marufi Order, whose worship combines elements of typical Alevi traditions with Sunni practices. They have sometimes identified with the Alevi, with whom they share secularist principles, a general scepticism of extreme orthodoxy, an emphasis on men and women worshipping together, a common group of revered saints such as Hajji Bektash Veli and Pir Sultan Abdal, and a deep devotion to the family of the Prophet Muhammad.

According to Shia belief, whoever says the Shahadah is considered a Muslim. Accordingly, Ayatollah Khomeini put an end to excluding Alevis from the ranks of muslims. He pronounced that they are technically considered Muslims even if they have differing beliefs to the Usoolis.[3]


  • Nevruz

The day of 21 March is known by most Alevis as a day of newness, reconciliation, and the start of spring. Many Alevis also believe that 21 March is the birthday of Ali. Some also believe that it is the wedding anniversary of Ali and Fatima, the day Joseph was pulled out of the well, and the day God created the earth. Nevruz is celebrated with cems and special programs. Nevruz is the Alevi New Year.

  • Hidrellez

According to legend, Khidr (known in Turkish as Hizir) and the prophet Elijah or Ilyas drank of the water of life. Khidr comes to the rescue of those in distress on land, and Elijah helps those at sea. It is believed by many that they meet at a rose tree in the evening of every 6th of May. The festival is also celebrated in parts of the Balkans by the name of "Erdelez" and always falls on the same day as Djurdjevdan or St. George's Day.

  • Ashura

Ashura is marked as the conclusion of the Muharram fast and as a commemoration of the martyrdom of Hussain.


File:Haci Bektas Veli.gif
Hacı Bektaş Veli

Alevis trace their origins back to the early days of Islam. After the death of Muhammad his followers were divided into who should lead the Muslim community. The modern day Sunni majority followed Abu Bakr, while the modern day Shias thought Ali, the son-in-law of Muhammad to be his legitimate successor. This rift was widened when Husayn ibn Ali, grandson of Mohammed was killed after the Battle of Karbala, an event which is memorized intensively by Alevis and Shias alike. The Alevis also recognize twelve Imams similar to the Twelver community.

An important influence to the Alevi tradition has been Sufism. The Sufi philosopher Hajji Bektash Wali, who lived in Anatolia during the 13th century, is highly revered and generally seen as the founder of the Alevilik faith. Most of his followers belonged to the Turkmen people tribes. The tribes, who tried to keep their traditional customs, often stood in opposition to the Seljuq dynasty and later the Ottoman Empire. In the late 15th century, a militant Shia order, the Kizilbash, fought with the Safavid dynasty against the Ottomans. After they lost their power, they were assumed to have merged into the Anatolian Alevis. Kurdish Alevis are sometimes still called Kızılbaş. Even as far East as Pakistan, many Shias have "Qizilbash" as their family names, with most still having red hair in their gene pools. [2]

In the early 20th century, many Alevis supported the Turkish revolutionaries and the creation of the Turkish republic. Atatürk was seen by some as a new Hacı Bektaş, and his secularist principles as a liberation from Sunni dominance. [3]. Their expections came to be disappointed, when the Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığı was founded as an exclusively Sunni institution, and the Bektaşi orders were banned in 1925.

The Alevis have traditionally been discriminated against and persecuted in the rural areas of East Central Turkey. Their religion is tolerated in Turkey, but while compared to the Sunnis, they suffer less state intervention into their internal affairs and the contents of their teaching. On a contast though. they get less financial and organizational privileges. The Turkish state has built and financed Sunni mosques in many Alevi villages and small towns that are almost homogenous in their ethnic makeup; many Alevis consider this a deliberate humiliation against their ethnic group.

Recent history

In the 20th century, many Alevis became involved in secular left-wing politics in Turkey, both in the establishment Republican People's Party (Turkey) and parties further to the left, some to the point of left-wing extremism. In 1970s, Alevi-inhabited regions were a setting for violent conflicts between left-wing groups (often with an Alevi base) and Nationalist Movement Party militants (supported by Sunni population). In 1978, confrontation between Sunni residents and Alevi immigrants (mostly Alevi Kurds, particularly from Pazarcık) in Kahramanmaraş eventually led to a massacre by the ultra-nationalist Grey Wolves of the city's Alevi population, leaving over 100 dead. The incident was of key importance in the Turkish government's decision to declare martial law, and the eventual Turkish military coup, 1980.[4]. Alevis bore the brunt of the anti-leftwing backlash after Kenan Evren's coup in 1980, and of Islamic fundamentalist violence. The oppression reached its dénouement in Sivas, Turkey on 2 July, 1993, when 36 people (Alevis, leftist non-Alevi intellectuals, and a Dutch anthropologist) attending a cultural conference were burned to death in a hotel by Sunni locals. Attending the conference was a left-wing Turkish intellectual Aziz Nesin who was vastly hated amongst the Sunni Turkish community as it was he who attempted to publish Salman Rushdie's controversial novel Satanic Verses, in Turkey. The Sunni locals in Sivas, after attending Friday prayers in a near by mosque, marched to the hotel in which the conference was taking place and set the building on fire. The Turkish government sees this incident as being aimed at Aziz Nesin only, yet most agree that the target was the Alevis since many of the Alevi victims in the fire were very important artists and musicians. One musician, Hasret Gültekin, the most important and influential bağlama player in modern time was also killed in this fire. Gültekin is still considered a great loss for Turkish and Kurdish culture by Alevis and otherwise.

The response from the security forces at the time and afterwards was weak. The assault took 8 hours without a single intervention by the police and military. Alevis and most intellectuals in Turkey argue that the incident was triggered by the local government as flyers and leaflets were published and given out for days before the incident. The Turkish government refers to the Sivas Madımak Hotel incident as an attack towards the intellectuals but refuses to see it as an incident directed towards Alevis.

Alevism is now recognized in Turkish Law as an "indigenous" Anatolian religion, and the government now sponsors certain Alevi festivals.

Music and poetry

File:Pir Sultan Abdal.jpg
Pir Sultan Abdal

Alevis have a significant role in Turkish music and poetry. Pir Sultan Abdal, a 16th century Alevi poet whose poems and songs often contain spiritual themes, is revered as a saint and hero. Important figures are the Sufi poet Yunus Emre, widely regarded as having been Alevi, and Kaygusuz Abdal. Their poems shape Turkish culture up to now, and are also performed by modern artists. Songs attributed to these poets have been embraced by left-wingers in the 20th century. The Ashik bards are also influenced by Alevi tradition.

Many of the major traditional musicians in Turkey are Alevi, including Arif Sağ, Musa Eroğlu, Erdal Erzincan, Neşet Ertaş, Muharrem Ertaş, Aşık Mahzuni Şerif, Aşık Feyzullah Çınar, Aşık Veysel Şatıroğlu, Ali Ekber Çiçek, Sabahat Akkiraz, Belkıs Akkale. Other non-Alevis, such as Ruhi Su and Zülfü Livaneli, have recorded many Alevi songs. Mercan Dede, an artist whose music combines electronic and traditional sufi elements, has made some songs involving Alevi themes in cooperation with singer Sabahat Akkiraz. [4]


  1. Bilici, F: "The Function of Alevi-Bektashi Theology in Modern Turkey", seminar. Swedish Research Institute, 1996
  2. Ataseven, I: "The Alevi-Bektasi Legacy: Problems of Acquisition and Explanation", page 1. Coronet Books Inc, 1997
  3. Nasr, V: "The Shia Revival," page 1. Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc, 2006
  4. Zurcher, Eric. "Turkey: A Modern History". I.B. Tauris: London, 1993: 276-277
  • Kingsley, John, The Bektashi Order of Dervishes {{{author}}}, The Bektashi Order of Dervishes, Luzac & Co, Luzac & Co, 1965, {{{id}}}.
  • ((cite book | last=Brown | first=John | title=The Darvishes or Oriental Spiritualism | publisher=Unknown | year=1927 | edition=1st))
  • ((cite book | last=Moosa | first=Matti | authorlink=Matti Moosa | title=Extremist Shiites: the Ghulat Sects | publisher=Syracuse University Press | year=1988))
  • ((cite book | last=Kocadağ | first=Burhan | authorlink=Burhan Kocadağ | title=Alevi-Bektaşi Tarihi | publisher=Can Yayınları | year=1996))
  • ((cite book | last=Melikoff | first=Irene | authorlink=Irene Melikoff | title=Uyur İdik Uyardılar | publisher=Cem Yayınevi | year=1993))

See also

  • Yarsan
  • Yazdanism
  • Yazidism
  • Ahl-i Haqq
  • Bektashism
  • Kizilbash
  • Ismailism

External links


  • John Kingsley Birge, The Bektashi order of dervishes, London and Hartford, 1937 (out of print)
  • Karin Vorhoff, Zwischen Glaube, Nation und neuer Gemeinschaft: Alevitische Identität in der Türkei der Gegenwart, Berlin, 1995
  • Irène Mélikoff, Hadji Bektach, Un mythe et ses avatars. Genèse et évolution du soufisme populaire en Turquie., Leiden, 1998 [Islamic History and Civilization, Studies and Texts, volume 20], ISBN 90-04-10954-4
  • Aykan Erdemir, "Tradition and Modernity: Alevis' Ambiguous Terms and Turkey's Ambivalent Subjects", Middle Eastern Studies, 2005, vol.41, no.6, pp.937-951.
  • Ali Yaman and Aykan Erdemir, Alevism-Bektashism: A Brief Introduction, London: England Alevi Cultural Centre & Cem Evi, 2006, ISBN 975-98065-3-3