Universal faith or Islamic denomination: on the struggle to define Alevism
Journal of Church and State
Oxford University Press
47 - 69
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The term “Alevi” is related to heterodox Islamic groups that have lived in Anatolia and its bordering regions since the introduction of Islam in the late eleventh century. It refers to a number of heterodox groups such as Kızılbaş, Tahtacı, Çepni and Ocakzade, and others that have traditionally practiced endogamy. The Alevis include Turkish, Zaza, Kurmanji, Pomak, Albanian, and Arabic speakers. Distinguishing themselves from Sunnis, they venerate Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammed, and are named after him. In addition to Ali, Alevis follow the Twelve Imams, as well as the teachings of Hacı Bektaş-i Veli, an Islamic mystic who lived in Anatolia in the thirteenth century. Alevis were often involved in uprisings against and faced persistent discrimination by the Ottoman state. Alevis underwent systematic persecution especially during the reign of Selim I; thousands of them revolted during the Celâli rebellions and were massacred because of their alleged loyalty to Shiite Iran and the Safavid dynasty and the threat they comprised for the Ottoman Nizam-ı Âlem (Global Order). Following the suppression of the revolts, Alevi communities never regained the trust of Ottoman authorities. The demographic size of the Alevi community has also raised controversy, due to the lack of census data and the prevalence of dissimulation practices among Alevis. Some studies estimated that the current Alevi population could amount to 15 to 20 percent of the Turkish population.