Alevi means « follower of Ali ». Alevis are the first minority in Turkey, representing 20% of the population. They are also located to a lesser extent in Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, the Caucasus and Iran.

Haçi Bektas Veli lived in the XIIIth century AD and settled down near Cappadocia. Sultan Sahkulu was his companion and together converted many Anatolian people to Islam and their brotherhood.

— Portraits of the three holy men for Turkish Alevis (from left to right: Ali, Haçi Bektas Veli, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk) in Sahkulu Cemevi, Istanbul, Turkey


« Three things were essential to Haçi Bektas Veli: intelligence, sciences and justice. Images of Veli usually show him embracing a deer and a lion, an allegorical rendering of his teachings about peace and tolerance. »

Alevis follow the mystical teachings of Muhammad, Ali, the Twelve Imams and Haçi Bektas Veli.

« The Qu’ran does not demand five prayers, nor mosque attendance, nor pilgrimage. Fasting is not mandatory and we think that alcoohol is holy if you do reach the limit of being too drunk. That is why we produce our own wine and beer. »

— Hüseyin Abi, director of Sahkulu Cemevi, Istanbul, Turkey


Alevism regroups different sub-branches such as Nosaïri, Zaza, animists, en-el Hak… Most of the alevis were Bektashi and they were employed by Ottoman sultans as military elite troops known as the Janissaries. These troops were send in Anatolia, Iran, Bulgaria and spread alevism. They melt with local traditions and beliefs. It thus explains the origin of these differences within Alevism.

« From the sixteenth century onwards, the Janissaries became very (too?) powerful and begin to rebel against the sultans. Sultan Mahmoud II abolished the order and executed 6,000 soldiers in 1826. Sultan Abdul Aziz’ mother asked her son rebuild all the cemevis destroyed under Mahmoud II. »

Hüseyin Abi

« Alevis also pray Christian Saints. When Haçi Bektas Veli lived, the Ottoman Empire was a real melting-pot, with a great number of religions, movements and cultures. Haçi Bektas Veli was in the intellectual stance and acceptance of others. »

Pr Ahmet Tasgin, University of Konya, Turkey

— Sahkulu Cemevi, Istanbul, Turkey


« DIYANET should be reformed. We are in a lay country and they pay directly the Sunni imams serving in Turkey as well as the mosques charges. Either government closes DIYANET or opens it to other religions and respects secularism. We have formulated the following demands : egality between religions and people, abolish Koranic lessons in public schools, stop building mosques in Alevis villages, create a museum relative to the massacre in Shivas of Alevis and transfer the property of cemevis – our worship places- to us. »

– Hüseyin Abi

« Turkey will unfortunately increase the power of DIYANET. Its role, budget and powers have been reinforced since 2006. We have however no will to create a political party nor be seperated from Turkey. We believe in Ataturk’s vision of Turkey. »

— Ali Reza Selmanpakoglu, Mayor of Haçi Bektas, Turkey


Cem is Alevis’ religious services and are carried out by men and women together. The room disposed in circle represents the Universe. God and humans are combined in this circle. Belief is universal and never disappears.”

— Ali Reza Selmanpakoglu

Cem incorporates zikr (like Naqshbandiyyas – repetition of God’s name) and sema (ritual dance). Mystical poetry from Cah Hatayi (Ismail) and others and music performed by a zakir with a saz (a form of lute) accompanies the ceremonies.


« Cemevis are primarily a place for education. Schools and librairies are present in every cemevi.

Men, women, the Universe, God are set together. Humans are the only animals doted with intellegence and should his education and intelligence seeking perfection and development. »

« When you come to the cemevi, you have always to bring a present and to share it with the community. Usually it is food. You cannot say no to a gift.« 

— Songül Keles, in charge of the restoration of Sahkulu Cemevi, Istanbul, Turkey

— Aydin Ileki, Library Director of Sahkulu Cemevi, Istanbul, Turkey

« Donations are not mandatory. Any Alevi should have a job and must not depend on each other to survive. »

Pr. Ahmet Tasgin, University of Konya

— Alevis queuing for the meal shared after the cem, Sahkulu Cemevi, Istanbul, Turkey


« If your parents are not alevis, you have to be sponsored to become an Alevi. Then you have to follow the spiritual path which takes place through four major « gates ». The first one is named Seriat – or sharia. You have thus to accept Ali as Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law. The second one is named Tarikat. This step is about accepting the tahlip – the promise. You have to swear that you never did the following major crimes:

  • killing a person

  • committing adultery

  • divorcing one’s wife

  • stealing

  • backbiting/gossiping

You swear in front of the community that you will be fair, loyal, humble, helpful and that you will not abuse someone’s rights. »

The third step – named Marifet or the perfection- and the fourth – named Hakikat or the truth – are kept to become a dede or ana, the spiritual leader of the community (could be respectively a man or a woman and baba, the saints.

Alevi-bektashi vote to elect their dede or ana. In contrast to bektashi, in other sub-branches of Alevism, leaders succeed to their role on the basis of family descent. Traditionally alevis arrange weddings between leaders’ children.

— Hasan Hubadyu Dede


“In the cemevi, we make no difference between bektashi, kurds, zaza and other branches of Alevism. Muhammad said that every human is the same. Our philosophy is about friendship, love, peace and insight.

PKK is a Sunni movement.

We do not want a Kurdish state, we are Kurds living in Turkey. We have to live together anyway. Kurds also regroup Sunnis, Chias, Yezidis, Yarsan… so even between us, we have to understand each other. A Kurdish state will not change the acceptation of others. »

— Veli Dede, Kayseri, Turkey

DEATH & Mourning

“The period of mourning lasts 40 days during which there is no music played and no poem reading.

We believe in reincarnation. If a man has not reached perfection during his life, Allah will send him back on earth in a new body until he reaches the perfection. »


“Music is absolute. Muhammad and his companions were singing and we do just the same. Music is universal. ”

To avoid problems with Iranian authorities, Yasar and his friends prefer not having their picture taken.

— Yasar

« We all look at the same things but we do not see them in the same way. Just because we wear different glasses »

 » We pray the same saints as in Turkey. In Iran, we also pray Sultan Sahak who was also the spiritual leader of the Yarsans.« 

— Yasar

— Yasar