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What is it like to be a crane? Notes on Alevi semah and the Sivas massacre

Accepted version
Peer-reviewed

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Article

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Abstract

Semah is an Alevi ritual practice performed throughout Anatolia (Turkey) and the Alevi diaspora consisting of collective, dance-like movements that often take on or mimic the movements of animals, especially cranes. In attempting to elucidate that interplay between human performer and sacred animal, I draw on theoretical writings (especially philosophy and affect theory) about how people might – or might not – be able to become – or become like – other animals or forms of life, and what kind of affective processes that becoming might entail. I focus here especially on the role of semah in Sivas, Turkey, during the 1993 Pir Sultan Cultural Festival, during which Alevi participants, including many semah performers and musicians, were killed in an arson attack. Histories of that event highlight how prior to the attack, semah performers at the festival exemplified the possibility of becoming (like) cranes. Furthermore, many Alevis have placed semah at the centre of subsequent memorial events, suggesting new forms of affect and becoming as a political (and often public) response to the Sivas massacre.

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Keywords

5003 Philosophy, 47 Language, Communication and Culture, 4702 Cultural Studies, 50 Philosophy and Religious Studies

Journal Title

Culture, Theory and Critique

Conference Name

Journal ISSN

1473-5784
1473-5776

Volume Title

61

Publisher

Informa UK Limited

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All rights reserved