Alevis, who are ancestral to Anatolian Turkey, trace their migration to Germany to the 1960s, when they first arrived as guestworkers. They primarily define themselves by their faith – Alevism – a syncretic religion with roots in Islam which Alevis refer to as “the path” (yol, in Turkish). The path has been followed and transmitted orally through generations. Throughout Turkey’s history, Alevis have been subjected to persecution and were confined to practice their path in private home settings until the late 20th century. Due to salient differences between Alevi and Sunni Muslim (the majority and state-funded religious group) ritual practices, Alevis continue to face stigma and discrimination. The Turkish government does not legally recognize Alevi path rituals or their worship and communal space (called cemevi, in Turkish). In Germany, conversely, the Alevi community is the first among the Turkish migrant groups to receive public and legal recognition as a religious community (Köperschaftsstatus).
By situating the Berlin Alevi community within relevant migratory, transnational, and inter-religious dynamics, this dissertation argues that the very path practices that resulted in Alevis’ persecution and marginalization in Turkey, in the migratory setting constitute a form of local, national, and transnational integration. Thus, the Berlin cemevi (as others elsewhere in the European Union, EU) constitutes a site affording Alevis conspicuous cultural and religious expression, and as such these organizations are crucial to reproducing and renegotiating the path. At the same time, the community centers provide a nexus affording Alevis and Alevism a broader civic engagement with social and political issues, including in relation to the normative position of Sunni Islam and Muslims, both in Turkey and in the German perception of Turkish migration.
Epistemologically and analytically, my approach privileges Alevi emic understandings, and makes the case for using the path as a vernacular theoretical framework that is relevant toward understanding personal, communal, national, and transnational experiences. Seemingly insular embodied rituals and communal practices (and their documentation), constitute a gateway toward the social scientific understanding of how people continue to find meaning in everyday life and navigate inter-minority and broader social tensions. This dissertation’s contributions and anthropological analysis are thus necessarily grounded in extensive fieldwork - rich in ethnographic details and photographic visuals - which is centered on the Berlin Alevi community. Between August 2019 and July 2020, I collected qualitative data based on participant observation, semi-structured interviews, life histories, and semiotic landscaping (visual documentation).