Alevi in ​​the Republic of Turkey –

Alevis are accepted by modern Shia scholarship, although there has long been controversy over this issue. From the beginning of their existence until today, the Alevis have been called by various names. In colloquial Turkish and in official documents of different periods there are many designations for them. At the same time, they identify themselves with different names. The names “Kazalbashi”, “Alevi” and “Bektashi” have gained the greatest popularity. It is fair to point out that the term “Alevi” neither historically nor chronologically corresponds to the name “Kazalbashi”. The word “Alevi” means “descendant of Ali ibn Abu Talib”, who was the son-in-law, cousin and first companion of the Prophet Muhammad. In the Ottoman Empire, this term is found since the 19th century and is preserved in modern Turkey. It refers to opponents of Sunni Islam, i.e. followers of Ali, who defend his right to rule in the ummah (Muslim community) after Muhammad’s death. Today, the “Alevis” are the groups professing moderate or extreme Shia beliefs and mysticism. The name “Kazalbashi” appeared at the end of the 15th century and referred to the followers of the Safavids, then included all Turkish groups in Anatolia who professed heterodox Islam and in which the cult of Ali played a major role. The name “Kazalbash” comes from the Turkish words kazal – red and bash – head, i.e. red-headed, from the twelve red ribbons hanging from their hats in honor of the twelve Shia imams. In documents from the time of the Ottoman Empire, ‘Kazalbash’ is found as a synonym of the terms ‘Rafazi’, ‘Mulhid’ and ‘Zandak’, which mean ‘heretic, apostate, impious’ and have a pejorative meaning. Due to this negative meaning, “Kazalbash” is still replaced by “Alevi” to this day. It should be noted that even within the community, the name “Kazalbash” is not offensive. The founder of the Safavid state, Shah Ismail himself, called himself and his followers “Qazlbash” without attaching any pejorative meaning to this term. According to I. Melikoff, the Qazlbashes of Anatolia, like their similar sectarian groups in Iran, should be referred to by the general name “Ali illahi”, since their common feature is the belief in the divinity of Ali. And they themselves are called so in their religious verses and prayers. At the same time, Alevis (Kazalbashi) in Turkey are also called Bektashi, which refers to the Bektashi Order and Bektashiism in general. A significant number of them also identified themselves as Babai and thus identified themselves with the Babai movement which arose in 1239-1240 against the Seljuk central power. They are also defined as Ja’farites, that is, as followers of the school of the sixth Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq, whose teachings they secretly follow. The community in question also uses for itself names kept secret for the uninitiated. Such are, for example, “ahl-i Haq” (“people of God, people of Truth”), “Hak erenler” and “gerchek erenler” (“those who have attained divine Truth”) or “gyuruh-i naji” (“community of the redeemed”). Considering these meanings, one can conclude that they perceive themselves as having known God and attained divine truth.

With their settlement in Anatolia, the Seljuks imposed the system of land leasing – ikta, linked to military and official duties. The Turkish beys also received the right to rule for life and thus became a kind of functionaries, subordinating large tribes and many sedentary peasants. Thus, the foundation of the provincial Turkish dynasties was created. Among the tribes that arrived in Anatolia after the Mongol invasions, the imposition of the ikta system no longer went smoothly. The growing discontent among the Turks caused serious clashes between them and the Seljuk power. Most shocking was the Babai rebellion of 1239-1240 during the reign of Sultan Gyaseddin II Keyhusrev (1237-1246). The Turkic tribes resisted the advance of Islam. However, he penetrates into their lives in various ways – through coercive methods, through peaceful propaganda, through commercial relations and due to economic interests. But caught in their cultural milieu, Islam was forced either to wage war on Turkish beliefs or to adapt and become part of it. He chooses the path of adaptation and the creation of syncretic forms. Thus, for four centuries, Islam managed to impose itself among the Turks. Entering the community of the Orthodox, the Turks retained various national and regional traditions, integrated into their new religion. Although they have become part of the Muslim tradition, many Turks find it difficult to separate themselves from their old religious ideas, borrowed from shamanism and other religious systems with which they have come into contact (Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, Mazdakism). A large part of the Turks become followers of Islamic orthodoxy, but there are also a considerable number of adherents of Shiism who practice it in moderate or extreme forms. The penetration of Shiism among these groups is due to the fact that in the eastern provinces, also inhabited by Turkish groups, the propaganda of the Alids (supporters of Ali and his family) spread rapidly. Already within the borders of the Ottoman Empire, the unrest of the Anatolian population did not stop. In the period after 1500, powerful Turkic groups from the central Anatolian steppes, the Taurus mountains and the Tokat and Sivas heights declared themselves against the centralized Ottoman administration. In an attempt to protect the sedentary population and preserve their agricultural income, the administration tried to impose control on these tribes. To this end, it registers them in its cadastral registers and submits them to systematic taxation. In the period mentioned, the Ottoman regime was no longer compatible with nomadic economy and tribal customary law. He espoused the cause of Sunni orthodoxy, while the tribes fanatically adhered to the orders of the dervishes, preaching a form of Islam radically modified by tribal customs and shamanic beliefs. The mentioned tribes, known as Qazalbashi because of the red hood they wore, became an expression of strong anti-Ottoman social and political sentiments. The Kızlbaş were the basis of the Akkoyunlu state in eastern Anatolia, which was one of the rivals of the Ottoman Empire in the east. In 1473, Mehmed the Conqueror crushed them mercilessly. Around 1500, however, Ismail Safavi, who belonged to the Safaviye dynasty, was supported by the Akkoyunlus in eastern Anatolia, in present-day Azerbaijan and Iran. As the head of a heretical religious order, he extended his influence over all Anatolian Turkic groups. His people preached his ideas throughout Anatolia. Thousands of Ottoman subjects followed Ismail and he became their religious and political leader. For the Ottoman central power, the Qazalbashi movement was a serious internal problem because Ismail announced that he would make Anatolia part of the Iranian empire. In 1511, when Bayezid II was old and sick and the Ottoman princes were in conflict for the throne, the Qizlbaş of the western Anatolian highlands revolted, led by one of Ismail’s men. They attack Bursa, burning and destroying everything in their path. Prince Selim was among the first to press for strong action against Ismail. Selim obtained the support of the Janissaries and on April 24, 1512, forced his father to abdicate. He imprisoned about 40,000 associates of Shah Ismail and executed them, then also attacked Ismail, declaring him a Shiite heretic. The sultan caught up with the Shah’s army in eastern Anatolia and won a decisive victory at Chalderan on August 23, 1514. This victory temporarily eliminated the threat from the Qazalbaş and allowed Selim to annex the mountainous region of Erzurum to Diyarbakır to the Ottoman Empire. In 1516-1517, local dynasties and rulers of the region recognized Ottoman suzerainty. Turkic tribes in Anatolia, and especially Eastern Anatolia, emigrated en masse to Iran and Azerbaijan, where they served as the main force in the Safavid armies. In the 16th century there were also many forced deportations of heterodox groups from Eastern and Central Anatolia and conquered Azerbaijani regions. The forced resettlement policy was most intense under Selim I and Suleiman I. In the Balkans, including Bulgarian lands, large groups of displaced Qazalbashi arrived. Another part of the kizalbashi were killed. They remain outside the millet system. Along with the institutionalization of official religions and the creation of the millet system, Istanbul began to treat the Kızlbaş as a “fifth column” both religiously and politically. After defeating Safavid Persia, the Ottoman Empire severed ties between the Qazalbashi living in Ottoman territory and Iran. During this period of isolation, many og Qazalbash communities joined Bektashism, which included the Janissary Corps. This religious brotherhood, associated with the name of Haji Bektash (13th century), succeeds in a way in channeling the heterodoxy of the Qazalbashi. However, one should not equate the religious practices of the Qizalbash and the Bektash, even though many of their elements of worship and belief are close. Adherence to Bektashism is associated with a conscious act of initiation into a teacher. Membership in the Qazalbashi is, however, predetermined at birth. The leaders of the two groups are not the same. The Bektashite brotherhood is led by the dedebaba, who is elected. Spiritual authority over most Qazalbashi is exercised by the chelebiya, believed to be a descendant of the saint Haji Bektash. Moreover, not all Alevi groups belong to Bektashism. Some remain self-sufficient, such as the Tahtaji living along the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. Ties between Bektashi and Alevi weakened during the period of modernization that entered the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century. The Bektashi are a predominantly urban type of population, many of whom are part of the elite of Istanbul, Izmir and Thessaloniki. They participate in modernization processes and a large number of them are among the reformers close to power. However, the Alevis remain a predominantly rural population, foreign to the process of reform and the idea of ​​modernization. The Safavid episode was decisive for the formation of Qazalbash beliefs and practices, and Bektashism brought them somewhat closer to Muslim mysticism. Alevis interpret the Quran flexibly. They believe that Sunnis are incapable of understanding the spirit of the Holy Book. They also do not observe some of the sacred pillars of Islam, eg daily prayers, fasting during the month of Ramadan, pilgrimage to Mecca. Their system of moral rules is concentrated in the formula “eline, diline, beline sahip olmak”, which translates as “be master of your hand, your tongue and your loins”, i.e. do not steal , do not lie and you will not commit adultery.

(to be continued)

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