In the rising momentum for new and reformulated cultural identities, the Turkish Alevi have also emerged on the scene, demanding due recognition. In this process a number of dramatic events have served as important milestones: the clashes between Sunni and Alevi in Kahramanmaras in 1979 and Corum in 1980, the incendiarism in Sivas in 1992, and the riots in Istanbul (Gaziosmanpasa) in 1995. Less evocative, but in the long run more significant, has been the rising interest in Alevi folklore and religious practices. Questions have also arisen as to what this branch of Islamic heterodoxy represents in terms of old and new identities. In this book, these questions are addressed by some of the most prominent scholars in the field.
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This volume, written by specialists, be they political scientists, historians or anthropologists, is a convenient handbook on the origins and history of Turkey's Alevis - an important group that is largely unknown in the West. It examined their ethnic identity, cultural representation, political life, and relations with the Turkish State, The Turkish Left and the Kurdish National Movement.
In November of 2002, the Justice and Development Party swept to victory in the Turkish parliamentary elections. Because of the party's Islamic roots, its electoral triumph has sparked a host of questions both in Turkey and in the West: Does the party harbor a secret Islamist agenda? Will the new government seek to overturn nearly a century of secularization stemming from Kemal Atatürk's early-twentieth-century reforms? Most fundamentally, is Islam compatible with democracy? In this penetrating work, M. Hakan Yavuz seeks to answer these questions, and to provide a comprehensive analysis of Islamic political identity in Turkey. He begins in the early twentieth century, when Kemal Atatürk led Turkey through a process of rapid secularization and crushed Islamic opposition to his authoritarian rule. Yavuz argues that, since Atatürk's death in 1938, however, Turkey has been gradually moving away from his militant secularism and experiencing "a quiet Muslim reformation." Islamic political identity is not homogeneous, says Yavuz, but can be modern and progressive as well as conservative and potentially authoritarian. While the West has traditionally seen Kemalism as an engine for reform against "reactionary" political Islam, in fact the Kemalist establishment has traditionally used the "Islamic threat" as an excuse to avoid democratization and thus hold on to power. Yavuz offers an account of the "soft coup" of 1997, in which the Kemalist military-bureaucratic establishment overthrew the democratically elected coalition government, which was led by the pro-Islamic Refah party. He argues that the soft coup plunged Turkey into a renewed legitimacy crisis which can only be resolved by the liberalization of the political system. The book ends with a discussion of the most recent election and its implications for Turkey and the Muslim world. Yavuz argues that Islamic social movements can be important agents for promoting a democratic and pluralistic society, and that the Turkish example holds long term promise for the rest of the Muslim world. Based on extensive fieldwork and interviews, this work offers a sophisticated new understanding of the role of political Islam in one of the world's most strategically important countries.
As a religious and cultural minority in Turkey, the Alevis have suffered a long history of persecution and discrimination. In the late 1980s they started a movement for the recognition of Alevi identity in both Germany and Turkey. Today, they constitute a significant segment of Germany's Turkish immigrant population. In a departure from the current debate on identity and diaspora, Sökefeld offers a rich account of the emergence and institutionalization of the Alevi movement in Germany, giving particular attention to its politics of recognition within Germany and in a transnational context. The book deftly combines empirical findings with innovative theoretical arguments and addresses current questions of migration, diaspora, transnationalism, and identity.
The Alevi constitute the second largest religious community in Turkey (following the Sunnis), and number some 25% (15 million) of the total population (Alevis claim 30%-40%!). Most Alevis are ethnic and linguistic Turks, mainly of Turkmen descent from Central and Eastern Anatolia. Some 20% of Alevis are Kurds (though most Kurds are Sunnis), and some 25% of Kurds in Turkey are Alevi (Kurmanji and Zaza speakers). Alevis consider themselves to be part of the wider Shi`a movement, who revere Ali (Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law) and the Twelve Imams of his house. Like all extreme Shia, their reverence for Ali verges on deification, for which reason classical Sunni ulama classified them as ghulat (exaggerators), outside the orthodox Islamic fold.
Until recently the importance of religion in the modern world has often been underestimated in Western societies, whereas its significance is absolutely crucial in the Middle East. Religion is critical to a sense of belonging for communities and nations, and can be a force for unity or division. This is the case for the Alevis, an ethnic and religious community that constitutes approximately 20% of the Turkish population – its second largest religious group. In the current crisis in the Middle East, the heightened religious tensions between Sunnis, Shias and Alawites raise questions about who the Alevis are and where they stand in this conflict. With an ambiguous relationship to Islam, historically Alevis have been treated as a ‘suspect community’ in Turkey and recently, whilst distinct from Alawites, have sympathised with the Assad regime’s secular orientation. The chapters in this book analyse different aspects of Alevi identity in relation to religion, politics, culture, education and national identity, drawing on specialist research in the field. The approach is interdisciplinary and contributes to wider debates concerning ethnicity, religion, migration and trans/national identity within and across ethno-religious boundaries. The chapters in this book were originally published as a special issue of the National Identities journal.
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In Managing Invisibility, Hande Sözer examines complicated invisibilities of Alevi Bulgarian Turks as a double-minority which faces structural and societal discrimination in Bulgaria and Turkey. The data for the book was gathered during 18 months of fieldwork in both settings.