The ac­cel­er­at­ing visibility of Ale­vism

Turkish Review - - REVIEWS CONFERENCE - BENJAMIN WEI­NECK, Uni­ver­sity of Hei­del­berg Uni­ver­sity of Bayreuth &


The in­ter­na­tional work­shop was or­ga­nized by the re­search project “Ne­go­ti­at­ing Alevi Cul­tural Her­itage” at the In­sti­tute of Nearand Mid­dle East Stud­ies, Uni­ver­sity of Hei­del­berg. The work­shop was con­ducted in co­op­er­a­tion with the Hei­del­berg Cen­ter for Cul­tural Her­itage (HCCH). Both project and work­shop ad­dressed pro­cesses of stan­dard­iza­tion and can­on­iza­tion of rit­u­als and texts within Alevi com­mu­ni­ties in Ger­many and Turkey. Ever since Alevi or­ga­ni­za­tions in both coun­tries be­gan to open their hith­erto con­cealed tra­di­tions to a grow­ing public from the late 1980s on­wards, ques­tions have gained mo­men­tum re­gard­ing the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of

Alevilik via its cen­tral char­ac­ter­is­tics and com­mon de­nom­i­na­tors, such as the cem rit­ual, for ex­am­ple. In th­ese con­texts, var­i­ous re­searchers have ob­served pro­cesses of stan­dard­iza­tion of re­li­gious prac­tice1 as well as other en­deav­ors that aim at can­on­iza­tion -- for ex­am­ple, a work con­tain­ing canon­i­cal hymns to be sung at the rit­u­als is­sued by the Cem Vakfı. More­over, in the 1990s a con­sid­er­able num­ber of Alevi pri­vate re­searchers and schol­ars started col­lect­ing and edit­ing texts from an (as­sumed) Alevi con­text for iden­tity for­ma­tion. Th­ese pro­cesses of can­on­iza­tion and stan­dard­iza­tion as well as the (re)dis­cov­ery of re­li­gios­ity by Ale­vis cul­mi­nate, for the mo­ment, in ap­proaches that aim at es­tab­lish­ing “Ale­vism” as a con­fes­sional the­o­log­i­cal and ed­u­ca­tional aca­demic dis­ci­pline in Ger­many. In the field of his­tor­i­cal re­search, the ac­cel­er­at­ing visibility of Ale­vism also brought up ques­tions con­cern­ing pos­si­ble sources for its his­to­ri­og­ra­phy.

Tak­ing th­ese is­sues -- to a con­sid­er­able ex­tend raised by pre­vi­ous re­search on Ale­vism in Hei­del­berg -- as a point of de­par­ture, the work­shop ad­dressed the in­ter­de­pen­den­cies as well as con­flicts re­gard­ing the dis­cus­sions of an Alevi cul­tural her­itage be­tween his­tor­i­cal-philo­log­i­cal re­search and nor­ma­tive ap­proaches such as the­o­log­i­cal ones. “Text” and “cul­tural her­itage” are thus to be taken as metaphors for th­ese two dif­fer­ent epis­te­mo­log­i­cal ap­proaches to his­tory and his­to­ri­og­ra­phy as well as to their sources and re­sources.

Thus, the work­shop’s first ses­sion, called “Defin­ing an Alevi Canon and Her­itage,” started with dis­pu­ta­tious dis­cus­sions on the topic

WHAT: Text and Cul­tural Her­itage: Alevi-re­lated Sources be­tween Philo­log­i­cal Re­search and The­o­log­i­cal Can­on­iza­tion

WHO: The In­sti­tute of Near- and Mid­dle East Stud­ies, Uni­ver­sity of Hei­del­berg

WHERE: Uni­ver­sity of Hei­del­berg

WHEN: Nov. 29, 2014

of pos­si­ble tex­tual (in a nar­rower sense) canons of Alevi be­lief and Alevi his­tory. Rıza Yıldırım (TOBB Uni­ver­sity, Ankara) raised the ques­tion whether it was pos­si­ble, and if so, how, to de­fine a text as “Alevi.” With an ex­am­ple from the “Alevi-Bek­taşi Klasik­leri” (Ale­viBek­taşi Clas­sics) se­ries, which is is­sued by the Di­rec­torate of Re­li­gious Af­fairs (Diyanet), it was dis­cussed to what ex­tend such text may con­sti­tute, both eth­i­cally and his­tor­i­cally, a specif­i­cally “Alevi” canon of texts. Whereas Yıldırım was skep­ti­cal about this project, Doğan Ka­plan (Necmet­tin Er­bakan Uni­ver­sity, Konya) main­tained in his pre­sen­ta­tion that the afore­men­tioned se­ries could be con­sid­ered as rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Ale­vism even though it was Diyanet pub­lish­ing th­ese texts. As it was Alevi dedes (el­ders, the re­li­gious au­thor­i­ties among Ale­vis) who chose the texts to be pub­lished in the se­ries it would be -- nor­ma­tively speak­ing -- a le­git­i­mate (re)source for rep­re­sent­ing Ale­vism.

Mark Soileau’s (Ar­tuklu Uni­ver­sity, Mardin) pre­sen­ta­tion added the “Bek­taşi fac­tor” to th­ese is­sues. Although both tra­di­tions (Ale­vis and Bek­taşis) must be dis­tin­guished from one an­other in so­cio-ge­o­graph­i­cal terms, a com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor be­tween them is, ac­cord­ing to Soileau, a shared mytho­log­i­cal world. The ha­giogra­phies of Ana­to­lian saints, though re­flect­ing a folk-dervishBek­taşi tra­di­tion, are also con­sid­ered an Alevi tra­di­tion by many Ale­vis and as such are ca­pa­ble of con­tribut­ing to an Alevi cul­tural her­itage as a tex­tual re­source.

The dis­cus­sion was chal­lenged by a com­ment that any en­deavor to de­fine an Alevi tex­tual canon would in­evitably sub­scribe to a hege­monic no­tion of reli­gion. An in­ner-Alevi dis­cus­sion should rather ap­proach such ques­tions with a wide tex­tual un­der­stand­ing which would in­clude oral tra­di­tions and other cul­tural as­sets char­ac­ter­is­tic for Ale­vis.

The fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent sta­tus of the writ­ten word in Alevi com­mu­ni­ties was fur­ther il­lu­mi­nated by David Shank­land (Royal An­thro­po­log­i­cal In­sti­tute, Lon­don, and Uni­ver­sity of Bris­tol). In a panel called “Oral Cul­ture and Text,” he ar­gued that the way of lead­ing life in scrip­ture-based and non-scrip­ture-based re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties -- that is, for ex­am­ple, in Alevi vs. Sunni vil­lages -- is or­ga­nized dif­fer­ently and thus im­plic­itly un­der­lined an ap­proach to an Alevi her­itage not based on texts in the nar­rower sense, as it is cus­tom which con­sti­tutes a pri­mary char­ac­ter­is­tic of Alevi so­cio-re­li­gious in­ter­ac­tion.

Ulaş Özdemir’s (Yıldız Tech­ni­cal Uni­ver­sity, Istanbul) con­tri­bu­tion marked the be­gin­ning of yet an­other ses­sion, headed “Stan­dard­iza­tion and Di­ver­sity be­yond the Writ­ten Word.” The dy­nam­ics of con­tem­po­rary Alevi rit­ual prac­tice (in­clud­ing mu­si­cal per­for­mances), he ar­gued, also yielded a chang­ing role con­cern­ing, for ex­am­ple, the za­kirs in the rit­u­als. In an anal­ogy to Yıldırım’s pre­sen­ta­tion, Özdemir asked what cri­te­ria could con­trib­ute to a no­tion of mu­sic be­ing char­ac­ter­ized as Alevi. Of­ten­times, as he ar­gued, any mu­sic sung by Ale­vis is cat­e­go­rized as Alevi mu­sic, but what kind of melody, text or per­son may be char­ac­ter­ized as such? Be­ing him­self an ac­tive mu­si­cian, he re­fuses to sub­scribe to such a cat­e­go­riza­tion.

Martin Greve’s (Ori­ent-In­sti­tut, Istanbul) pre­sen­ta­tion fol­lowed Özdemir’s and il­lus­trated some of the thoughts brought to the scene be­fore. In his talk on “Re­li­gious Mu­sic in Der­sim be­tween Stan­dard­iza­tion and Re­gional Re­con­struc­tion,” he main­tained that although Alevi rit­ual prac­tice and mu­sic played therein may be more and more stan­dard­ized, a younger gen­er­a­tion of mu­si­cians, such as Metin and Ke­mal Kahra­man, for ex­am­ple, is try­ing to de­velop a style of mu­sic that fo­cuses more on his­tor­i­cal re­con­struc­tions of melody and text. Thus, ex­am­ples from th­ese mu­si­cians show to what ex­tent so­cio-eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tions and pro­cesses of stan­dard­iza­tion within Ale­vism may be chal­lenged when such a form of mu­sic -- which in the con­text of Der­sim, where Ale­vis con­sti­tutes a ma­jor­ity, is not named as specif­i­cally Alevi -- is de­tached from rit­ual prac­tice.

Béa­trice Hen­drich (Univer­sität zu Köln) an­a­lyzed in her talk a paradig­matic change from per­for­ma­tive to ma­te­rial cul­ture within the pro­cesses of


stan­dard­iza­tion of rit­ual prac­tice and strug­gles for recog­ni­tion. The

cem rit­ual, she ar­gued, is in­her­ently per­for­ma­tive in its mean­ing with the dede as the “em­bod­i­ment of mes­sage” cre­at­ing a sa­cred space by a speech act. Re­cent claims for

cem evis as mark­ers of recog­ni­tion as well as the ma­te­rial ex­is­tence of them un­der­mine this fun­da­men­tal per­for­ma­tive as­pect and em­pha­size ma­te­ri­al­ity. Thus, this ev­i­dence raised yet again the ques­tion whether such a “ma­te­ri­al­ist turn” rep­re­sents suc­cess in an Alevi strug­gle for recog­ni­tion or rather an ex­am­ple for the ar­gu­ment that recog­ni­tion is only to be achieved by sub­scrib­ing to hege­monic un­der­stand­ings of reli­gion and the ma­te­rial man­i­fes­ta­tions thereof in the form of built sa­cred space.

The last ses­sion was ded­i­cated to a wider range of Alevi re­lated texts and Ot­toman his­tor­i­cal con­texts. Markus Dressler (Univer­sität Bayreuth) spoke about the chang­ing con­no­ta­tions and per­cep­tions of Alevi and Alevilik in the 19th and 20th cen­turies. His his­tor­iza­tion of the terms Alevi and Alevilik in Turk­ish na­tion­al­ist dis­courses con­trib­uted to the work­shop’s dis­cus­sion in em­pha­siz­ing the con­tin­gency of the terms it­self. Any at­tempt to dis­cuss a his­tory or a na­ture of Ale­vism, he ar­gued, had to be sen­si­tive about the pos­si­bly anachro­nis­tic as­sump­tion, tak­ing a concise Alevi com­mu­nity for granted in times be­fore the na­tion state.

Pos­si­ble sources for such an Alevi his­tory and his­to­ri­og­ra­phy con­sti­tuted the topic of Jo­hannes Zim­mer­mann’s (Univer­sität Hei­del­berg) con­tri­bu­tion, “Find­ing only half the Nee­dle: Alevi Pres­ences in Late-Ot­toman Sources -- Glimpses at Health Re­ports, Pro­vin­cial News­pa­pers and Semipri­vate Let­ters.” He ar­gued for broad­en­ing the ar­chive of Ot­toman texts re­lated to Alevi his­tory. Whereas texts from the cen­tral ad­min­is­tra­tion and from con­texts of

Kızıl­baş per­se­cu­tion were widely known and pub­lished by Alevi

araştır­macı yazars, later pro­vin­cial ma­te­rial has been largely un­der­stud­ied, with a fo­cus on Alevi pres­ences. The ex­am­ples given in his pre­sen­ta­tion pro­vided in­sight into the per­cep­tion of lo­cal ac­tors, such as doc­tors, and their ob­ser­va­tions on lo­cal cus­toms, de­tached from an im­me­di­ate im­pe­rial nar­ra­tive on re­li­gious de­viance.

This re­viewer’s talk took a sim­i­lar line His pre­sen­ta­tion about a group of peo­ple from an Alevi con­text hand­ing in a pe­ti­tion to the im­pe­rial di­van in the late 18th cen­tury showed to what ex­tent th­ese parts of the pop­u­la­tion were in­ter­act­ing with Ot­toman au­thor­i­ties with­out their re­li­gious iden­ti­ties be­ing a cen­tral el­e­ment in this in­ter­ac­tion. He took Yıldırım’s considerations con­cern­ing the “Alevi­ness” of texts into ac­count and dis­cussed method­olog­i­cal prob­lems of Alevi’s in­tel­li­gi­bil­ity in Ot­toman texts when they are not ex­plic­itly named as re­li­giously de­viant or po­lit­i­cally sub­ver­sive as Kızıl­baş.

Most of the pa­pers pre­sented -though widely dif­fer­ing in both method­ol­ogy and dis­ci­plinary back­ground -- sur­rounded ques­tions of stan­dard­iza­tion and can­on­iza­tion and asked who does or may de­fine such canons and for what pur­poses or to what ends a cer­tain canon or a spe­cific stan­dard could be ac­cepted as such. Like­wise, the pre­sen­ta­tions as a whole brought to­gether mul­ti­ple pos­si­ble fields of in­quiry and sources for study­ing Alevi his­tory and iden­tity. The var­i­ous ap­proaches also de­picted the va­ri­ety of epis­te­molo­gies re­lated to the ques­tion of text as a “source” for an Alevi his­to­ri­og­ra­phy and as a “re­source” for iden­tity is­sues and the­ol­ogy. One im­por­tant as­pect in the over­all dis­cus­sion was also the ques­tion whether pro­cesses of stan­dard­iza­tion -- be it in con­texts of text, rit­u­als, ar­chi­tec­ture or oth­ers -- are nec­es­sar­ily linked with ac­com­mo­da­tion to hege­monic norms and ideas about reli­gion, re­li­gious prac­tice or sa­cred texts. This very lo­cus, at which hege­monic def­i­ni­tion and self-stan­dard­iza­tion meet, was also the point at which the project this work­shop was re­lated to lo­cated the ne­go­ti­a­tion of Alevi her­itage.

Ale­vis at a cem

evi in İstanbul. APRIL 3, 2008 PHOTO: REUTERS, ÜMİT BEK­TAŞ

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