Arab Alawites Through a Historical Lens and Identity Preservation

19 October 2016 Wednesday, 10:34

The Report of Workshop  1  

Arab Alawites Through a Historical Lens and Identity Preservation


During our workshop yesterday, we saw that we have some internal quarrels regarding our own history for a very long time. One of these discussions was on which term was more appropriate for our identity, “Arab Alawite”, “Nusayri”, or “Mediterranean Alawite”. We also realized that instead of the more pressing question of “who are we?”, we were more concerned about how the state named us. Of course it is not possible to find the answer to the questions of “who are we” and “which term describes our identity best” during one workshop. Therefore, we focused on how free we were when trying to name ourselves. We believe that whatever name we choose to describe our selves, it is more important than the name the state has chosen for us. Therefore, we will continue on our path while being aware that this process will take a while. Whatever the name might be, we need to be the ones who decide and determine the meaning. We do not accept our history to be told by someone else.

Narratives regarding the massacres, exiles, policies aimed towards Arab Alawites during the Ottoman and Republican eras are of high importance, considering “official” history has either ignored or distorted these realities. It is possible to see what sort of a historical narrative has been passed on by looking at the academic works on Arab Alawites. The history itself is just as important as how this history will find a place in the community. Policies aimed at “Turkifying” Arab Alawites are an important turning point that has resulted in the assimilation of the identity, language, and culture as a whole. While critiquing ourselves on the matter of assimilation during the workshop, we also tried to come up with tactics and strategies to resist assimilation. We agreed that the relationship between religion, identity and language is an important one that is necessary to preserve our identity. Within the topic of preservation, we highlighted the fact that our religion has not been institutionalized, while acknowledging that there are different approaches as to why. Some argued how important it is to receive state support, while others expressed their worries about being under state supervision. We agreed on how important it is for religion to be accessible within daily social lives and that is why we need to spare no effort in keeping this institution alive. It would be meaningful if we developed a response to the problems within this institution. In order for religious leaders also be regarded as opinion leaders, it is important for them to become well-equipped. By this we do not mean that religious figures are incompetent, but that we need to reach a certain standard and provide them with the resources needed so that they are able respond to the needs of the society.

The process of returning goods that belong to Arab Alawite foundations needs to be initiated.

It is important to seek legal support in renaming Turkish street names that were once Arabic and to be able to give our kids Arabic names. We should use the media to advance our goal of teaching our kids Arabic and dismantling prejudice against Arabness. We should openly speak up against terms that in fact do not have a negative meaning, but have been used to belittle Arab Alawites, such as “fellah” and “maraba”. It is a fact that Arabic is eroding in our daily lives, especially in urban areas. There are requests that qualified teachers should teach Arabic courses. We also need places to collect sayings, songs, and folk knowledge.

As a self-critique: We have not been able to counter assimilation effectively. We have found ourselves in a process of forced acceptance. While we try to combat this, we need to be aware of this truth. Arab Alawites have always struggled to stay alive, but even this has not been mentioned in formal records.

Connecting with other Alevi groups will make us part of a greater network. Even if not all parts agree on all topics, organizing and coming together to combat political, communal and cultural repressions will help our voice to become stronger. Through this workshop we saw that assimilation does not only work through language, but also through culture as a whole. Therefore, we also need to raise awareness regarding the transformations within the cultural arena. Preserving Alawite values is in fact preserving our conscience. Solidarity is our most important basis. In this sense, we need to assert that we are not alone in this struggle for freedom by developing a posture for every other minority group in cases of hate speech, repressions and enforcements.

We have had the chance to touch upon these topics during our workshop. We are aware that this workshop is only a beginning and that a long process is awaiting us. We would like to thank everyone who has and who will put in their efforts on this path.