#16: The Alevi Turks (c. 1902)

Those Alevi Turks probably came near to representing the original inhabitants of Asia Minor, with a minimum of blood strains brought by invaders. The modern culture of the country rests on earlier strata, whether that of Hittites or other Aryan tribes, Roman, Byzantine or what not. How many times soever conquered by invading hosts many of the people have survived the conquests, carrying with them what they had under the former regime, with a protective coloring or camouflage adopted in recognition of the power that for the time holds sway.

It was often supposed that the Alevis represented a Christian heritage from the pre-Turkish generations. Possibly in some hour of agony they went over by tribes or villages far enough to secure protective toleration. Alevi women did not veil their faces before Christian men, though they wore the veil in the presence of true Turks. Alevis observed among themselves a sacramental meal which was commonly believed to be a perverted form of the Lord's Supper. At certain seasons their *dedes* or priests made the rounds of their communities. The occasion was one of great importance for these simple people. Sins were confessed and absolved, transgressors received punishment, quarrels were settled, and the sacramental supper was observed with much secrecy. Guards were placed around the village, around the house, and at the door of the room. The *dede* addressed his congregation inculcating the standard virtues and explaining the sacred ceremonies. The communicants approached on their knees and partook of bread and wine together. Possibly this ceremony was a heritage from forefathers of Christian name and faith. I have heard Alevis say, "he who was revealed to you as Jesus was revealed to us as Ali".

There is a legend that when the great Ali was slain by persecutors, his head by some chance fell into the keeping of a Christian priest and was by him protected. The persecutors demanded the head that they might defile and gloat over it, but the priest refused to surrender it and with the consent of the members of his family cut off his wife's head, that of his third son, his second, and his first born, and offered these successively as a ransom for the head of Ali, but without avail. The degree of truth or error in this story is not of importance to us now but wherever it was told by father to son, as they chopped wood or herded sheep together, or when related by a grandsire to a group around the winter fire it had a very deep significance. It showed the rising generation of Alevis that in the hour of agony for their great hero, he was slain by regular Moslems, while Christians gave their dearest life-blood in his behalf.

NEXT: Turkish "anastenaria" (c. 1902)

Back to "OTTOMAN ANATOLIA"