September 6, 2013

Alevis Feel Closer To Orthodox Christianity Than To Islam

By Nikos Chiladakis 
(Journalist - Writer - Turkish Expert)

The revelatory view that Alevis in Turkey are closer to Christianity than to Islam is made by Sevılay Yükselir, who is a journalist and columnist of the known Turkish newspaper Sabah (haber3 16/7/2013). This invites once again a debate on the genuine religious identity of the Alevis who consider themselves descendants of the Christians of Asia Minor. This is an issue that occasionally occupies strongly Turkish affairs with clear disruptive trends for Turkey itself.

But the most important revelation of the Turkish columnist is that some time ago in Germany, where large communities of Turkish Alevis lived, they founded an Institution of Alevis with the very characteristic title: "Hıristiyan Alevilik Arkadaşlik Birliği" which means "Union of Christian Alevis Brotherhood". The title of this Institute shows in a most indicative and revealing way that Alevis do not feel themselves to be Muslims, but are much closer to the Christian religion. Sevılay Yükselir notes that this Institute was created to show that Alevis have more in common with Christianity (and of course the Orthodox from whom they originated) than Islam. Indeed the "Union of Christian Alevis Brotherhood" has asked for the support of the Christian Democratic Party of Germany, realizing that they will face the wrath of the Islamic Turks of the current Prime Minister Erdogan, who only by his words wants to show that he is a classic Democrat.

The issue of Alevis in Turkey came in the news again with the recent events of Gazipark and the demonstrations that have upset the neighboring country, and in many cases leading Alevis to consider themselves persecuted by the Islamic government of Erdogan. Alongside the policy of Erdogan, the civil war in Syria was another cause of Alevis uprising, after seeing the Turkish Prime Minister turn against Assad, who is himself an Alawite. But the straw that broke the camel's back is the name of "Sultan Selim Yavuz" which Erdogan gave the third Bosporus bridge, who was responsible for the biggest massacre of Alevis in Asia Minor.

Certainly the Alevi problem is one of the biggest problems of modern Turkish identity and for many historians it goes back to the root of the general problems of the current identities of the inhabitants of Asia Minor. The prevalence of Islam in a place with a Greek Orthodox Christian background at times occupies modern Turkey and is another "link" in the chain of problems which create tremors in the modern Turkish establishment.

It is worth mentioning some of the key elements of the Alevis that make them stand out completely from Muslims and equate them more with Orthodox Christians:

1. Thier places of worship are called a cem (pronounced "jem") and not mosques. They consider the cem to be a mystical place, more like a Greek Orthodox church. In some of them, especially western Greek Thrace where the majority of Muslims were Bektashi, there existed (prior to Turkish propaganda) offerings and icons of the Panagia and Saint George whom they especially honor.

2. Their faith has a trinitarian character by a Christian standard and they refer to one triune God who consists of Allah, Muhammad and Ali.

3. In religious ceremonies, they drink wine and raki, which is scandalous to Sunnis.

4. They accept monasticism and have monastic orders. Their monasteries perfectly correspond with Orthodox monasteries as places of contemplation, asceticism and purity.

5. They have a ritual confession of repentance, called "Baş Okutma".

6. In their Houses of Worship they have depicted icons of Ali and other saints of theirs, which is also a scandal to classical Islam.

7. The women do not wear a veil and are considered equal to men as in Christianity, but contrary to classical Islam.

8. They have the equivalent of the Twelve Apostles, whom they call the Twelve Imams.

9. In their ceremonies they cross their hands in the style of the old Greek Orthodox typikon (as kept today in Russia), when with folded hands the faithful came forward for communion.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

The "Lost Christians" of Asia Minor