Alevi and Sunni in rural Turkey : diverse paths of change
University of Cambridge
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Shankland, D. (1993). Alevi and Sunni in rural Turkey : diverse paths of change (doctoral thesis).
This dissertation has two aims. The first is to contribute toward our knowledge of changes in contemporary Anatolia in a coherent way, the second to provide the first systematic ethnographic account of the Alevi, a Shiite minority living in rural Turkey. From March 1988 until November 1989, I conducted fieldwork in a sub-province in the north-eastern part of central Anatolia, and returned for a brief visit in August 1990. The population of the sub-province is approximately 70,000; about 12,000 live in the only town, the remainder dispersed among 96 villages. I lived in one village but made frequent visits to others, and to the town. The people are Muslim, divided into two sects, Alevi and Sunni. 74 villages are Sunni and 20 Alevi, 2 villages contain both Alevi and Sunni. The town I estimare to be 90 per cent Sunni. The finding which I discuss in my dissertation is that the Sunni villages are more successful than the Alevi villages at moving into the modern world. More specifically, though most Sunni villages are declining in size, some are growing larger, and even turning into small towns. In striking and direct contrast to this, all the Alevi villages are losing population, so much so that the total Alevi population of the sub-province has diminished by more than half over the years 1980-1990. Similarly, whilst most Sunni men continue to confirm their faith, many Alevi men are becoming sceptical, some even doubting the existence of God. The model which I use to account for these findings suggests that the social order within the Sunni villages is compatible with being absorbed gradually into the national, centralised administrative system. In contrast to this, traditional Alevi culture is based on the idea that they have offered submission to an authority which is not that of the central government, but another which lies outside the jurisdiction of the central state. As the Alevi internalise their membership of modem Turkey, the right to solve disputes becomes transferred from indigenous mediators, whose position is supported by the traditional myths, to figures whose authority is sanctioned by central government. In addition, the Alevi settlements are much smaller than the Sunni; a number of them together are declared a village by the state, causing conflicts of loyalty, ownership and identity within their communities. In short, the dispersed nature of Alevi traditional settlement patterns and their uneasy relationship with central authority means that their communities cannot become part of modern Turkey without undergoing fatal disruption. In spite of the great upheavals in their communities, the Alevi do not become violent. Rather, their religion, which might be described as 'Shi'ite mystical Islam', loses it force as an instrument of social control, and, fused with Kemalism, becomes a secular humanitarian ethic by which they can lead their lives in the cities.
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