In between Invisibility and Hyper-visibility: Alevis in the Time of Post-Coup Purge in Turkey.

By Besim Can Zirh
Submitted to Session P4766 (Precarious Visibility as a Mode of Governance: The Case of Alevis in Turkey, 2017 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
On the 15th of July, Turkey has lived through one of the most unusual episode in her entire history since the establishment of the Republic in 1923. In a short time period of eight hours, a coup attempt realized, attempted yet precluded with the support of civilians at the risk of their lives and the democracy was defended. In the wake of the latest, unsuccessfully yet still-be-anonymous coup attempt, a harsh series of purges initiated by the government and more than 100 thousand people directly faced with various sanctions under the state of emergency.

In the midst of the purge, Alevis of Turkey, the largest belief-culture group after the Sunnis in majority, became the target of the pro-AKP circles accusing them for not participating in public demonstrations condemning the coup attempt. The pro-government demonstrators event attempted to march through Alevi neighborhoods in Antakya, Istanbul and Malatya which evoked memories of traumatizing attacks against Alevis at the end of the 1970s. It is interesting to note that although being-against-the-coup has no opposing political position in Turkey, how the AKP attempt to narrate this incident sharpens the social polarization in Turkish society. As a result of their historically disadvantages location in Turkey, Alevis became more stigmatized as the scapegoat of this political process.

In this paper, my primary aim is to understand this historical role assigned on Alevis by employing the concept of invisibility which is a recent debate in the discipline of anthropology. Carter defines the concept as “a way of making the seen disappear in plain sight,” and delineates three modalities: that invisibility is “orchestrated by the state,” that it is “concerned with bodies and discourse associated with embodiment, sexuality, gender, race and other classification and the media’s attention,” and that it is related to “scholarly inquiry” (2010: 13). Rather than considering invisibility in binary opposition to visibility, I consider this as a tripartite issue in the case of Alevis. Alevism became invisible in the republican-secular socio- political context, which should not be considered a homogenous political process. Alevism acquired a degree of visibility at particular historical moments during which social transformations and political crisis restructure the social context. However, Alevis were not in a position to manage this visibility because of their political disadvantages; instead their dilemma was intensified. I therefore consider their invisibility to be in tense relation to their hypervisibility, whereby Alevism became stigmatized beyond their control.