(UNESCO / Japan Young Researchers' fellowships programme)

Rituals of Alevi and Bektashi Religious Minorities – The Religious in a Sunni Majority Environment in Secular Turkey

Summary of research carried out: 
Rituals of Alevi and Bektashi Religious Minorities – The Religious in a Sunni Majority Environment in Secular Turkey

The research project concerned problems of communication and cultural dialogue of Alevi and Bektashi groups with their Sunni neighbourhood as well as with the local authorities. It focused on Alevi and Bektashi religious rituals as the most distinctive feature of both groups and the necessary foundation for the building of mutual acceptance. The project was carried out in Turkey, in Alevi and Bektashi groups as well as in the Sunni neighbourhood, mainly in the village of Hacıbektas¸ (Nevs¸ehir), a popular religious centre. The comparative field study was conducted among Ankara Alevi and Bektashi groups, and in Afyon, Eskis¸ehir, Kütahya, Düzce, Kayseri, Istanbul and Urfa. However closely related the theology and philosophy of Alevis and Bektashis may be, the ceremonies to mark the year cycle cannot be treated as a ritual cycle typical of both groups - especially in the case of some Bektashi born and brought up in other traditions. In Alevi groups, theological differences are deeper than the differences typical of a heterogeneous group. Yet, in spite of this, Alevis are a single group in terms of their consciousness.

The ceremonial year cycle may be seen as a criterion in this regard. The calendar of Alevi rituals is broadly speaking common to all Alevi groups. Probably in the past it was completely identical. In the course of certain celebrations, regional differences may be observed. However, the most significant difference is the intensity of the different celebrations.

Throughout the year, both Alevi and Sunni celebrate Ramazan Bayramı, Kurban Bayramı, As¸ure Günü, and Nevruz, but usually in different ways and never together. There is no community of celebration. Such a community is neither explored nor popularized by the media, education systems or research programmes.

In fact, it does not exist outside of the calendar. The only community recognized as such is the group of Turks – Sunni, of course. In Turkey, each and every inhabitant of the State is held to be Turkish and Sunni. If Alevis are not Sunni, how then can they be Turks? Since such a notion is inconceivable to many Turks, there is only one possible answer: since Alevis are Turks, they are also Sunnis. If this were not the case, they would become a danger for the Turkish nation and State. Consequently, research on Alevi religious rituals is potentially problematic both for the stability and security of the State and for the Turkish national psyche. To sum up, a large-scale education programme is needed to build bridges of communication between those belonging or not belonging to the Islamic world - Alevis, the Turkish Sunni majority and the authorities, who usually perceive social reality through Sunni lenses. Future educational projects and campaigns should not concentrate solely on Alevi culture and religious rituals, but rather on folk culture and rituals in Turkey seen as a part of contemporary Turkish culture.