Martyrdom in Alevism

Alevis understand their historical origin with the motto “allegiance with the oppressed (mazlum)” and “standing against the tyrant (zalim)”. They seal their destiny in allegiance with Ali. His right to claim the caliphate was overridden from the political powerful rivals. Then, his two sons, Hasan and Hussein, were killed in their search for justice. The murder of Hussein with his 72 followers in Kerbela in 680 has significant importance in defining Alevi’s we-group identity. Following his death, many people took side with Ali’s cause throughout the history and they were punished for their advocacy of Ali. The execution of these people perfectly articulated with the perception of eternal victim destiny in Alevism. What is common in these historical events, “they were killed by a superior state authority which was either de jure or de facto Sunni Islamic” (Reinhard Hess 2007: 282). Reinhard Hess further differentiates the notion of Martyrdom in Alevism and Sunnism. The “absence of violent details… or aggressive interpretation… oriented towards an outward enemy” (ibid. 276) differentiates the notion of Martyrdom in Alevism from that in Sunnism. He also underlines that this album of martyrdom in Alevism is open to further affiliations.

For instance, the Abolishment of Janissary Organization in 1826 is understood as insistent continuation of the Ottoman oppression against Alevism. The Janissaries are infantry unity formed in the 14th century as the household troops of the Sultanate. The Bektashi order was appointed as the patron lodge to this special military force. The Janissary system became politically corrupted during the recession period. As a part of modernization reforms, Mahmut the Second attempted to abolish this force in 1826 and the Bektashi lodges were also aggressively targeted during the massive military campaign against the Janissaries.

It is popularly claimed that Alevis welcomed and venerated the establishment of Republic in 1923. However, this is not true for all Alevi communities, especially, those, who contravened or did not give support to the Republic, targeted by the military campaigns in 1921 in Koçgiri and 1938 in Tunceli. The abolishment of the main Bektashi Lodge in 1925 in accordance to the secularism caused irreversible devastations in their spiritual and social organizations.

This articulation gains obvious political characteristic in the 1970s. Alevi communities were victimized by rightist-Islamist militancy in the Middle and South-Eastern Anatolia during the political polarization in the 1970s. For instance, 111 Alevis were killed in a civil war-like clash in Maras in 1978. Reinhard Hess indicates that these civil victims as well as Alevi leftist militants are “quoted in an Alevi source in a line of continuity with traditional Alevi martyr figures” (2007: 281).

On the second day of the Pir Sultan Abdal Cultural Festival, 2nd of July 1993 in Sivas, a crowd of thousands people began protesting against the festival after the Friday prayer. When they could surrounded the hotel where the festival participants were staying, the protest got out of the control and 37 person lost their lives in the fire set by the Islamist militant. Two of them were among the protestors and another two were from the hotel personnel. The rest of 33 persons, also includes a Dutch female anthropologist, took their place in the line of martyrdom continuity.

Two years later, in the evening of the 12th of March 1995, an anonymous car opened fire with machine guns to three Alevi café-houses in Gazi District, historically left wing and Alevi shantytown area in Istanbul. An elderly dede, Halil Kaya, and another Alevi person lost their lives. Following this attack, the local residents organized a protest and marched to the police station in the district. The police responded their protest aggressive and the protest evolved into civil upraising and spread to other Alevi shantytown districts under partial curfew. 19 people lost their lives in three days uprising.