From early on, the Hatay-Region located in southeastern Turkey near the Syrian border, has been known for its multi-ethnic and multi-religious variety. The majority of the 1.5 million citizens of Hatay are either of Alawi origin, a so-called heterodox Islamic group, or Turkish Sunni Muslims. Moreover, the region is inhabited by Turkmen, Arab Sunni Muslims, various Christian groups (Rum-Orthodox, Syrian-Orthodox, and Armenian Catholics), Jews, Bahai and others. Given this ethnic/religious plurality, Hatay and its cultural centre Antakya, the former city of Antiochia, have often been portrayed as a stronghold of multiculturalism where different ethnic and religious groups not only live peacefully together, but mutually participate in their religious rituals on a regular basis. 1 Thus, it is maintained that the major sacred sites, such as churches, mosques, ziyārāt, etc. are used at an interreligious basis and in a harmonious way. 2 During my research in Hatay it became evident, however, that although some sacred sites are indeed visited by members of different religious affiliations, such as the Khiḍr-ziyāra in Samandağ, St. Peter's Church in Antakya, the Nabi Musa-Tree in Hidrbey, and the Sheikh Hassan al-Hakim-ziyāra in Harbiye, the various religious groups actually do not interact at the shrines. Officially and as a result of Ataturk's reforms, interreligious conflicts and disputes do not play a prominent role in Hatay since religion has been relocated to the private domain and subordinated to the secular discourse of the Turkish Nation State. As a result, religious differences are not articulated in schools, at work, markets, or other public places. However, behind the surface of this public image of secularism and individual religious equality, there is a domain where interreligious conflicts come more openly to the fore. It is exactly the practice of the ziyāra 3, the act of visiting a sacred site, that regularly gives cause to disputes on religious identity.

In Hatay I came across the phenomenon that Alawi, Christians and Sunni Muslims from this region all claimed that they mutually frequented these ziyārāt. This “cohabitation”, however, did not take place in a spirit of harmony. On the contrary, competition among these different religious groups for these sites is quite evident. This is particularly true for the Alawi ziyārāt, the most widely distributed religious sites in the Hatay region. Currently they witness a “construction boom”, which in the past decade has led to a proliferation of the number of ziyārāt. 4 Especially, the more ancient Alawi ziyārāt” are targeted by members of other religious groups by contesting their genuine Alawi identity and attributing to them a Christian or Sunni Muslim origin.

Drawing on my own research data, I shall first discuss the three major categories of Alawi ziyārāt in Hatay and give a brief outline of their meaning in Alawi cosmology. Then, I shall present some cases where Alawi sacred places are contested and being usurped by other religious groups and discuss the underlying motives of the religious actors involved. Finally, I shall contextualize these cases within a broader theoretical and comparative perspective about the nature of “ambiguous sanctuaries” 5.

Some Historical and Demographic Determinants

  1. Top of page
  2. Some Historical and Demographic Determinants
  3. Alawi Cosmology: a Brief Outline
  4. Alawi Ziyāra Tradition
  5. Epitomizing Differential Religious Identities
  6. The Ziyārāt as Contested “Lieux de Mémoire”

From the 10th century onwards the Alawi are living in the so-called Jebel al-Ansariye Mountains, a region spreading over the present-day nation states of Syria, Turkey and Lebanon. In Turkey where the Alawi are also referred to as Arap Alevileri or Nusayriler their major area of settlement is the province of Hatay. From the 19th century onwards, the Alawi have also been living in the province of Çukurova, and since the 1960s and the 1990s they are present as migrants in various European countries as well as in the Arab Gulf States. According to official statistics, they account for 10–13% of the total population of Syria 6, whereas Lebanon hardly has more than 9000 Alawi, 7 and according to Turkish estimate, Alawi number between 700,000 to 1 million people in Turkey. 8

In the following I shall stick to the general term Alawi, though it would be more accurate to use the term “Turkish Alawi” when referring to the Alawi of Hatay, in order to differentiate them from their co-religionists in Syria. After their former common territory had been split up as a consequence of the Turkish annexation of the Sanjak of Alexandretta in 1938–39, there was very little room for cultural and political interaction between the Syrian and the Turkish Alawi. As a result there emerged two culturally different groups. The history of the annexation of the region of Hatay, the former Sanjak of Alexandretta, to the young Turkish nation state under Ataturk is not only important for understanding of contemporary Turkish Alawi identity, but also for understanding grasp the relations between the Alawi and the other religious groups in this region. Since the 1920s the culturally and religiously diverse Sanjak of Alexandretta where Muslims, Christians, Alawi, Jews, and other religious groups were living together, had been under the rule of the French. However, in 1936 Ataturk intervened at the League of Nations in order to claim Hatay as part of the new Turkish state, 9 arguing that this region was settled by “ethnic Turk societies” who would have to fear for their lives in the case of an Arab annexation. 10 France, already involved in a military conflict with the Arab nationalists in Syria and fearing a two-front war, decided to agree to the annexation of Hatay to Turkey. 11

Since its annexation, the Hatay region has been subject to a politics of “Turkification” and “Sunnitization” giving rise to an exodus of various Christian groups and other religious minorities. 12 The Armenian Christians of Hatay had already been expelled from their native areas two decades earlier, culminating in the dramatic events that Werfel described in The Fourty days of Musa Dagh. 13 In the wake of the Turkish annexation of the Hatay region, Christians, Arab Sunni Muslims and more than 70,000 Alawi fled to Syria and Lebanon. In total, more than 140,000 people, roughly two thirds of the gross population of Hatay left the region forever and subsequently lost all rights to their land. 14 Therefore, many parts of the area north of Antakya as well as the fertile valley on the shore of the river Orontes, south of the capital once owned by the Christian and Sunni Arabs and other displaced groups became suddenly available to other segments of the local population. As a result of diaspora and resettlements the demographic landscape of Hatay thus changed dramatically, bringing forward new opportunities to acquire abandoned farm land, from which the Alawi eventually benefited.

In earlier times most of the Alawi had been compelled to make their living as farm hands on the fields owned by Arab Christian and Sunni Muslim landlords, formerly constituting the ruling elite, the Agas, of Hatay. When the landlords left for Syria or Lebanon the Alawi peasants bought up the land. Today nearly all the fertile lands in the valley are owned by Alawi who make up the second largest population group after the Turkish Sunni Muslims in Hatay. As will become evident, these historical developments are essential for the understanding of the interreligious conflicts about the original “ownership” of the sacred sites.

Alawi Cosmology: a Brief Outline

  1. Top of page
  2. Some Historical and Demographic Determinants
  3. Alawi Cosmology: a Brief Outline
  4. Alawi Ziyāra Tradition
  5. Epitomizing Differential Religious Identities
  6. The Ziyārāt as Contested “Lieux de Mémoire”

The Alawi have their origins in esoteric groups manifesting themselves in Iraq since the 9th century, where the founder of the Alawi religion and companion of the 11th Imam, Ibn Nuṣayr, heralded his doctrines. 15 While there is an on-going discussion in Islamic studies whether the Alawi belong to the Sevener, Elevener or Twelver Shi'ites, 16 the Turkish Alawi from the Hatay and Çukurova regions strongly affirm that they belong to the “Twelver” group. The Alawi religion must be considered as a syncretistic system of ideas and practices, 17 incorporating Islamic, Christian and Jewish influences alongside Persian, Indian and Greek philosophical traditions. One of the key concepts of the Alawi religion is the idea of a cyclical manifestation of God's revelation, resulting from the fall of the Light Souls (nūranī) and beginning with Adam and finding its closure with Alī, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet. These cyclical revelations were closely connected to teachings about the reincarnation and transmigration of souls, the latter being essential for the understanding of Alawi ideas and practices surrounding the ziyāra. The reincarnation and transmigration of souls are interpreted by the Alawi in reference to their myth of origin, recorded in the Umm al-Kitāb 18, according to which in the beginning only Light Souls (nūranī) existed together with God. However, after the Light Souls began to consider themselves equal to God, they were punished for their vanity and expelled from the seven paradises onto the earth, there being forced to materialise in human bodies (aqmiṣa = shrouds/shells/shirts). Eventually, God took pity with the fallen Light Souls and sent them Alī with His revelation. Thus the Light Souls were given the possibility to ascend once more to the seven paradises and return to God, on condition that they understood God's true nature, the ma῾nā (“meaning”). To achieve this end, they were granted several consecutive lives, which they had to spend incarnated in different human bodies. Should they, however, during one of these lives, oppose God's commandments again, they would be reborn in the body of an animal, or, even worse, in lifeless matter.

In Alawi religious practice, the mythical fall and potential resurgence of Light Souls is related with two different modalities of rebirth, the cyclical reincarnation, and the transmigration of souls. 19 The reincarnation, raj῾a, entails the return of the same immortal Light Soul (rūḥ) of unchanging rank. 20 This mode of rebirth applies solely to the Prophets and to the Alawi sheikhs (see Figure 1), from the past and the present.


Figure 1. Guardian-Sheikh of the Khiḍr-ziyāra in Samandağ. This position is inherited from one generation to the other

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Their Light Souls are reincarnated in unchanged form, thus guaranteeing the continuous presence of the saints and the sacred on earth, rendered visible by the shrines of Prophets (such as Mūsā, Yūnīs, Miqdād, etc.) in the Hatay region.

The second form of rebirth, the transmigration of souls referred to as tanāsukh in Alawi religious texts, is based on the idea that an immortal Light Soul drifts from one body and one life to another, thereby potentially increasing the chance of ascending toward a higher spiritual and social rank in the next life, on the condition that their respective hosts have led impeccable and God-fearing lives. As a result of such on-going transmigrations the Light Souls may eventually be released from being condemned to live on earth by understanding the true meanings of the world. In the course of the ascendance, the Light Soul will completely shed the physical shell (“shrouds” — aqmiṣa) and be transferred to the Light World again. To humans it will then be visible as a star in the sky, where the Light Soul passes through further transformative stages so as to finally return to its original state as a free floating nūranī (“Light Soul”). 21 These ideas about the reincarnation and transmigration of Light Souls are at heart of the religious ideas and ritual practices relating to the Alawi ziyāra shrines.

Alawi Ziyāra Tradition

  1. Top of page
  2. Some Historical and Demographic Determinants
  3. Alawi Cosmology: a Brief Outline
  4. Alawi Ziyāra Tradition
  5. Epitomizing Differential Religious Identities
  6. The Ziyārāt as Contested “Lieux de Mémoire”

The practice of venerating local saints and the visiting of ziyāra shrines is a phenomenon well known from the Middle East and the Islamic world at large. Much has been written about the architecture of such shrines and the concept of baraka, the beneficial force which is usually believed to emanate from such sacred places. 22 In early Islam the practice of visiting gravesites (ziyārat al-qubūr) was considered lawful and even recommended, as it is evident from different reports in the ḥadīth, before it was finally prohibited by the Prophet due to the exaggerated importance attributed to it. 23 The admissibility of the practice of ziyāra was extensively discussed in early works of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) and in the great collections of the ḥadīth. 24 The rules of ziyāra-conduct were “prescriptive as well as proscriptive 25 and consisted of specific guidelines of proper conduct (adāb al-ziyāra) to which a Muslim should adhere. 26 However, even if the Alawi heed most of these guidelines, they also deviate from the normative rules of conduct at pilgrimage sites due to the general discrepancy between what Muslims should do according to normative Islamic rules and how they act in reality. 27 Moreover, and more importantly, the Alawi practice of ziyāra is based on a very specific idea about the soul which necessarily entails a different way of conceptualization the ziyāra saints and ziyāra shrines.

The Alawi ziyāra rituals include the kissing of the tomb, lightning of candles and essences, rubbing one's body with oil, reciting the Fātiḥa, and attaching pieces of cloth (cut from rolls of fabrics deposed on the tombs) either to trees in front of the site or to a person's limbs. The last practice aims at healing a person or at shielding against the evil eye or jinns. These ritual practices can be observed at all Alawi ziyārāt, and they do not differ much from Christian and local Sunni pilgrimage practices. However, some codes of conduct distinguish particularly the Christians from the Alawi and Sunnis. The Rum-Orthodox-Christians and Armenians in Hatay have no special dress code when entering a sacred site, nor do they maintain taboos related to menstruation, whereas both Alawi and Sunni women would never enter any sacred place during their menses or without a veil. Such differences can cause conflicts when members of different religious groups meet and interact at “ambiguous sanctuaries”, as will become evident in the case discussed below. Firstly, however, it is necessary to take a closer look at the different categories of the Alawi ziyārāt, and then to identify the type of sacred site is most subject to interreligious contestation and usurpation.

The Alawi differentiate between three types of ziyārāt, namely, the Khiḍr-ziyārāt, nabī-ziyārāt, and shaykh-ziyārāt. While the first two categories are related to the idea of reincarnation of Lights Souls, the Shaykh- ziyārāt are usually connected with the transmigration of souls, particularly those of gifted/spiritually advanced human beings. 28 Each of these ziyārāt is named after the respective Prophet, saint or shaykh to whom the shrine is dedicated.

In terms of spiritual potency the Khiḍr-ziyārāt are regarded as the most powerful. Particularly, the Khiḍr-ziyāra in Samandağ (see Figure 2) needs to be mentioned in this context, because among the Alawi it has acquired the status of a pilgrimage site equal to Mecca.


Figure 2. The Khiḍr-ziyāra located at the beach of Samandağ; some Alawi people believe that it is cleaned by the waves of the sea every night

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Up to the present the annual pilgrimage to the Khiḍr-ziyāra 29 in Samandağ (performed on the 14th of July), where according to tradition, Khiḍr, Moses, and other Prophets once met, 30 is considered by the Alawi as a major ritual event, especially since the site is believed to emanate a specific category of spiritual power, designated as khayr. 31

The spiritual powers of the Khiḍr-ziyārāt in general and the Samandağ-ziyāra in particular, 32 are attributed to the nature of the prophet Khiḍr as one of the emanations of God on Earth, so that supplications to Khiḍr will be channelled directly to God. The Alawi consider Khiḍr to be a bāṭin epiphany of Alī, who is permanently traveling between the earth and the domain of the Light World. In the course of his wanderings, Khiḍr is believed to have generated numerous holy sites, since — as the legend goes — wherever his feet touched the ground, small oases and springs emerged. Therefore, Khiḍr-ziyārāt can be easily recognized, for their sacred core usually consists of an extraordinary site within the natural landscape (a tree, spring, rock, etc., see Figure 3 ), which nowadays are often being enshrined. 33


Figure 3. White-painted rock as the center of the Khiḍr-ziyāra in Samandağ. Formerly, this rock was considered the actual ziyāra, today the whole qubba construction is called ziyāra by the Alawi

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The next group of shrines is formed by the anbiyā', referring to Prophets or saints such as nabī al-Miqdād 34 or nabī Yūnis. These Prophet/saint-shrines are, for the most part, also characterised by natural phenomena which are out of the ordinary. For instance, the two Miqdād-ziyārāt that are located at different sites in the Hatay region are distinguished by the conspicuous shapes of the large trees growing inside the ziyāra or in the vicinity of the ziyāra. 35

In contrast to the anbiyā'-ziyārāt and Khiḍr-ziyārāt the shaykh-ziyārāt are distinguished by the fact that they are the gravesites of former sheikhs, usually enclosing “holy” remains in a qubba, a domed mausoleum. Cenotaphs may be venerated in the same way by the Alawi. After the death of a sheikh who is expected to be transformed into a saint, his ziyāra announces itself by the presence of nūr, a light shining at night from the sky onto his tomb. This is deemed an unmistakable sign that the grave is a ziyāra and therefore must be enclosed by a qubba. The light that shines from the sky onto the grave is believed to be nothing else than the sheikh's “Light Soul” that has been released from the earthly cycle of rebirth, henceforth wandering between the Earthly World and the Light World.

All shaykh-ziyārāt are conceived as transmitters of the pleas, which human beings send to God. For the Alawi a shaykh-ziyāra's relative power is dependent on the degree of closeness pertaining between God and the sheikh while the latter was still alive. The closer the contact, the stronger the protection the ziyārā will obtain from Him. My informants often explained that the degree of closeness between the ziyārā and God is constituted by the amount of the bāṭin knowledge acquired by the respective sheikh and, above all, by the extraordinary moral “purity” (nḍīf) displayed during his earthly existence. Moreover, the shaykh-ziyārāt differ from the anbiyā'-ziyārāt and Khiḍr-ziyārāt in that usually they are only of local concern. Thus, they are important to a peculiar village, a town quarter or a localized kinship group. Only a few shaykh-ziyārāt that are thought to be endowed with special healing powers — such as the Shaykh Hassan and Shaykh Yusuf ziyāra in Harbiye — are of translocal importance, drawing Alawi pilgrims from all over Turkey.

It is important to note that the shaykh-ziyārāt are the sacred sites most contested by other religious groups in the Hatay region. Forming a gateway in the Alawi cosmological topography between the earthly and the Light World and being a visible and tangible representation of the very idea of rebirth, it is hardly surprising that the shaykh-ziyārāt have always been considered an offence by the Sunni majority. More recently, however, the local Sunni Muslims' way of struggling with the Alawi sacred sites assumes the form of an appropriation in the material and spiritual sense. Moreover, during the last decade the shaykh-ziyārāt were also increasingly contested by various Christian groups in the region. In the following, I shall present some exemplary cases of interreligious contestation and appropriation involving Alawi, Christians and Sunni Muslims.

Epitomizing Differential Religious Identities

  1. Top of page
  2. Some Historical and Demographic Determinants
  3. Alawi Cosmology: a Brief Outline
  4. Alawi Ziyāra Tradition
  5. Epitomizing Differential Religious Identities
  6. The Ziyārāt as Contested “Lieux de Mémoire”

The first case concerns the ziyāra Kismet yen Ḥakīm which is situated near an Alawi village (Mızraklı) in a part of the Samandağ area where Christian villages predominate. The Alawi consider this ziyāra as one of their genuine sacred sites since it is believed to harbour the tombs of two sheikhs who are famous for their healing powers. According to legend, the two sheikhs actually were brothers and lived together in a house. One of the rooms contained shelves full of medicinal plants and little bottles filled with all kinds of medicine. Due to the sheikhs' extraordinary healing powers their house was continuously visited by sick people in search of relief from their diseases. Once a patient had entered the consulting room, one of the little bottles would start to shake, thereby revealing to the sheikhs the type of medicine which was best suited to cure the illness at stake. Moreover, according to legend, the sheikhs would never accept to be compensated for their services, as they were dervishes and enlightened by God. Building on this legend, in the vicinity of the ziyāra an additional building has been erected where the sick people who are visiting the ziyāra Kismet yen Ḥakīm may stay overnight.

The same site, however, is also claimed by different Christian groups. Each year the local Rum-Orthodox Christians and the Armenian Catholics celebrate carnival at this site which, according to them, is called ziyāra Cosmanus ve Dimyanus, harbouring the tombs of the saints Kosmas and Damian, 36 two early Christian martyrs († around 300) who had been twin brothers and physicians, born in Cilicia, today's Çukurova region in Turkey. 37 It is further reported that they practiced their craft in the seaports of Ayas, Adana, and later in the Roman province of Syria, never accepting payments for their services and thereby attracting many new believers to Christianity. 38 In this perspective, the respective ziyāra emerges as a genuine Christian site, an argument which — as the local Christians further state — is more plausible than the Alawi's claim given the fact that the Christians had settled in Hatay long before the Alawi. Furthermore, as some Christian informants stated, the Alawi stories about the healing powers of the two sheikhs were nothing else than corrupted versions of the Christian tradition about the two saints.

Whereas the Christians and the Alawi are aware of their competing claims they usually do not take part in each other's religious ceremonies performed at this sacred site. Exceptions from this rule may involve interreligious misunderstandings. While visiting the annual Christian festival at the ziyāra Cosmanus ve Dimyanus, I was accompanied by an Alawi woman. When she was invited to enter the ziyāra by the Christian hosts, she refused to do so by explaining that she had her menses and was not wearing a veil. The Christian women laughed at her saying that this was no sufficient reason not to enter a ziyāra (see Figure 4). Shocked by the “immoral” behaviour of the Christians, the Alawi woman and her co-villagers discussed for months the “shameful ways” in which the Christians were dishonouring and polluting the ziyāra. The Christians' mocking of the Alawi guest was linked to the religious tensions surrounding the competing claims regarding the ziyāra.


Figure 4. Rum-Orthodox and Armenian Christians worshipping their saints Cosmas and Dimyanus during the festival at the ziyāra Cosmanus ve Dimyanus/ Kismet yen Ḥakīm

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Actually, the contemporary mausoleum sheltering the graves of the two sheikhs/Cosmas and Dimyanus has been erected and is maintained with Alawi money. For the Christians this is already sufficient proof that the ziyāra has been usurped by the Alawi; the more so — as some Christians argue — since there is no longer any Bible to be found inside the sacred site. Indeed, historical data suggest that the valley region surrounding Samandağ until the beginning of the 20th century was a genuine Christian region. As Hartmann noticed at the end of the 19th century that in Mızraklı, the village where the ziyāra is erected, there were the ruins of a church once dedicated to Cosmas and Dimyanus along with a sacred spring. 39 It is thus possible that Mızraklı once was exclusively associated with the Christian religious tradition concerning the two martyrs. Later, however, demographic changes have led to the appropriation of this Christian village by Alawi settlers, a phenomenon that is part of a development which will be further explored in the course of the present article.

A second case relating to conflicting Alawi-Christian interpretations is linked to a ziyāra which is situated a few meters from the Rum-Orthodox church in Samandağ (see Figure 5 ). As in the former case the respective site is claimed by both Christians and Alawi. While the Alawi maintain that the ziyāra contains the tomb of a sheikh called Riḥ who lived in the 19th century, the Christians claim this site as the burial place of a female Christian saint. Whereas the Christians preferably visit this site after their Sunday prayers, the Alawi from Samandağ usually come on Fridays. Interreligious encounters are therefore rare. The Alawi visitors report that this ziyāra is particularly renowned for its power to heal rheumatism, which explains why it is mainly visited by older persons.


Figure 5. The Rum-Orthodox Church in Samandağ

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The Christian priest, whose church is located just across the street of this ziyāra (see Figure 6 ), does not deny the healing power of this sacred place and welcomes all Alawi visitors. He is angered, however, — as he told me — that the Alawi unrightfully have appropriated this place (Al-῾Alawi akhadha al-ziyāra min-nā), which, according to him, was proven by the very fact that the gender of the person buried there was female, whereas the Alawi — as the priest cunningly remarked — only know male ziyāra. 40


Figure 6. View from the entrance of the Rum-Orthodox Church to the ziyāra across the street; the ziyāra has a recent sign indicating the name Shaykh-RiH-ziyāra

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The Alawi in turn point out that Samandağ is mainly inhabited by Alawi, hence it is only logical that this saint is of Alawi origin too. Again, the question of who is buried there and whether the ziyāra is belonging to the Alawi or Christian tradition is a matter of on-going religious dispute.

Such mutual accusations of ziyāra usurpation are not only the issue between Alawi and Christians. At the end of the 1990s, the local government of the city of Belen (Hatay) which is nowadays dominated by Turkish Sunni Muslims tried to remove an 18th century ziyāra — claimed by the Alawi of old — in order to build a highway. The removal of the ziyāra -called Gazi Abdurrahman Paşa-ziyāra by the Turkish Sunni Muslim and Sheikh Muhammad al-Belani by the Alawi, 41 however turned out to be impossible. Earthmoving machinery such as excavators and bulldozers, could not overcome the power radiating from the ziyāra who — as my Alawi informants proudly explained — “did not want to be relocated”. Moreover, every morning when the construction workers and the staff of the civil engineering company returned to work, all their technical equipment had been destroyed. This went on for some weeks with the result that it was not the ziyāra but the highway which had to be relocated. Meanwhile, local Sunni Muslims had declared the ziyāra as their own sacred site, claiming that it was an Islamic saint and war hero from the Ottoman period who was buried there. 42 As in the case of the Christians, this time it were the Alawi who became extremely outraged about this Muslim appropriation of “their” former ziyāra, and openly started to discuss this conflict in public. As a countermeasure, the Belen Sunni Muslims summoned various muftis (Turkish: müftü) to prove the authenticity of the Sunni origin of the respective site. Up to the present, the Alawi comfort themselves about this “theft” by narrating stories how the Sunni Muslims finally had to subordinate themselves to the superior powers of the Alawi Belen ziyāra and were forced to build the highway E91 at another place.

While in the case of the Belen-ziyāra the sanctuary was taken over by Sunni Muslims without altering its architectural shape, other cases of ziyāra-appropriation may proceed in a more radical way. In the village of Karaçay where until the 1990s Sunni Muslims and Alawi still lived together, the Sunni population had usurped an Alawi ziyāra which was located prominently next to the Orontes, in sight of every traveller leaving Antakya for the city of Samandağ. This ziyāra was then transformed into a mosque with a minaret (see Figure 7). However, the Sunni Muslims of Karaçay never had the opportunity to perform prayers in the transformed ziyāra-mosque since they were resettled by the Turkish state in another village which was inhabited exclusively by Sunni people.


Figure 7. Ziyāra with detached new minaret in the vicinity of city of Karaçay

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My Alawi informants were convinced that the Sunni Muslims had hoped to be joined by the Alawi when praying in this mosque, thus enhancing the Alawi's willingness to embrace “true” Islam. Actually, after the resettlement of the Sunni population the ziyāra was never reclaimed by the Alawi as a sacred place. Presently, it is used as a Quran school for Alawi children whose parents also want them to learn the classical Arabic language. From the Alawi perspective, the ziyāra cannot be used as a sacred shrine anymore because the Sunni Muslims had transformed it into a mosque — the place where Ali was killed. However, practising taqiyya (dissimulation) for centuries, the Alawi would never dismantle a minaret or a mosque and thereby showing their differential identity with regard to Sunni Islam. In this case, the Sunni usurpation of the sacred site has led to its desacralization, as far as the Alawi are concerned. Consequently, the former ziyāra had to be abandoned.

These are only a few of the many examples of ziyārāt-contestation and appropriation in the contemporary Hatay region. 43 The cases discussed suggest that in contemporary Hatay various religious and ethnic groups are increasingly competing with each other in terms of the question of autochthony and precedence in the original settling of the land. This interreligious competition manifests itself above all in the contested claims about the original ownership of the sacred sites. The current religious discourses on the ziyārat's authenticity and the mutual accusations of usurpation have to be contextualized within the political and demographic changes that took place in the region, particularly since the times of the annexation of the Hatay region by the Turkish nation state and the concomitant shifts in the relative power and status occupied by the various religious groups.

The Ziyārāt as Contested “Lieux de Mémoire”

  1. Top of page
  2. Some Historical and Demographic Determinants
  3. Alawi Cosmology: a Brief Outline
  4. Alawi Ziyāra Tradition
  5. Epitomizing Differential Religious Identities
  6. The Ziyārāt as Contested “Lieux de Mémoire”

The conflicts surrounding the ziyārāt touch upon the concept of the so-called “ambiguous sanctuaries”, i.e. sacred sites which are claimed and/or frequented by members of different faith. 44 Most of the studies of such “ambiguous sanctuaries” point to the harmonious atmosphere prevailing at these sacred sites, 45 rather than highlighting their contested nature. The latter aspect, however, often has been put forward in the history of pilgrimage research. Already in the beginning of the 20th century, Robert Hertz pointed to the fact that there was no such thing as a unanimous understanding of sacred sites, but that on the contrary one has to expect very diverse meanings and discourses, potentially leading to conflicts among the believers gathering at such shrines. 46 But it was not before the last quarter of the 20th century that scholars actively focussed on the polysemic nature of such shrines, drawing attention to the fact that there are always competing discourses of religious specialists, shrine keepers, and people living next door to the sanctuary, male and female believers, rich and poor, etc. 47 Yet, such studies were primarily dealing with the different agendas and conflicting interpretations of members of the same faith, rather than studying sacred sites claimed by members of different religious groups. The focus of the research of “ambiguous sanctuaries” therefore should be widened by taking into account the phenomenon of interreligious contestation, as Hayden has done in a comparative analysis of religious sites in Yugoslavia, India, and Turkey. He referred to the possible changes and usurpations of religious sites by various religious groups under the terms of “antagonistic tolerance” and “competitive sharing”. He exemplified how such usurpations and competing claims are entangled with changing power relations unfolding among the different religious groups in the course of history. 48

In Hatay, historical developments, particularly from the beginning of the 20th century onwards, also impacted on the intensity and frequency, with which such claims were articulated. The public ideal of a tolerant multi-ethnic and multi-religious society has hidden the fact that some of the local ethno-religious groups have suffered loss and deprivation, their historical memory often being marked by the experience of diaspora and the dispossession of land. The diverse areas of Hatay have been subject to such dramatic changes, particularly from the 1930s onwards. Previously, the various ethno-religious groups were spread all over the Hatay region. Nowadays, they are only concentrated in the valley of Antakya and the Samandağ region, while the northern parts of Hatay (with the exception of Iskenderun) are almost exclusively inhabited by Sunni Muslim Turks. As mentioned earlier, the Arab Christians and Arab Sunni Muslims who over the centuries had settled all over Hatay, were pushed back to some enclaves, the Christians now living in the bigger cities of Hatay and in a few villages. The same holds true for the Arab Sunni Muslims who live either in Antakya or Samandağ. The Alawi, however, have mostly benefited from these historical events, since, as discussed earlier, they occupied most of the land that the Christians and Arab Sunni Muslims had left behind. Therefore, many Christians in Hatay are convinced that the majority of the ziyārāt originally were Christian sites, later being appropriated by Alawi along with the farm land. This is also clearly reflected in the complaint uttered by the Rum-Orthodox priest from Samandağ: Al-῾Alawi akhadha al-ziyāra min-nā. Due to the decline of Christian power in the religious, economic and political spheres the Christians can hardly cope with the fact that the Alawi — historically speaking the most recent settlers in this region and once by far the poorest community suffering formerly from the same discriminations under the Mamluk, Ottoman and Turkish powers as the Christians themselves — 49 today are the beneficiaries of this historical development.

Up to the present — as the Christians mutter in discontent — the Alawi buy up the local land with the money gained as migrant labourers in European countries since the 1960s. Indeed, rich Alawi migrants often sponsor the construction of new ziyārāt on these lands, thereby marking the landscape as a genuine Alawi religious space. 50 The recent proliferation of building Alawi Sheikh-ziyārāt in the Hatay region, however, has to be contextualized within the nexus of the migrants' desire to reconnect with the “lost” homeland by sponsoring religious sites, thereby enhancing their status within the Alawi community. Moreover, the Alawi “ziyāra construction boom” is also connected with the idea of rebirth. By financing the building of a ziyāra, i.e. a place where the living with the help of the saint can send their prayers and pleas to God, the sponsor acquires great religious merit. Localizing a ziyāra on one's own land for the Alawi implies either direct family ties to the saint or at least that one is chosen by the sacred powers since the saint/ziyāra has manifested himself in order to ask for the construction of a new qubba/ziyāra at this very place. By claiming the original ownership of the sacred sites and by building more and more ziyārāt the Alawi actually assume the role of the original inhabitants of Hatay, forcing Arab Christians and Sunnis, as well as other Turkish ethnic groups, such as the Turkmen into the role of “tolerated” minorities. This new self-image of being the dominant ethno-religious group of Hatay is also manifested by raising the Turkish flag, inside or in front of the Alawi ziyārāt, thus displaying one's newly acquired self-confidence and economic power within the framework of the Turkish Nation State (see Figure 8).


Figure 8. Turkish flag in front of an Alawi Khiḍr- and shaykh-ziyāra situated on a mountaintop in a predominantly Sunni settled area east of Samandağ

Download figure to PowerPoint

It is this increasing economic dominance of the Alawi of Hatay which is contested by other religious groups when they deny the Alawi origin of various ziyārāt. The same, also holds true, however, for the Turkish Sunni Muslims who conceive of themselves as the real culturally and religiously dominant group of this region and who lately have begun to usurp “Alawi ziyārāt” and redefine them as genuine Sunni Muslim sacred sites.

These conflicts about the authenticity of the ziyārāt and the mutual accusations of illegitimate appropriation of religious sites are thus a means to articulate interreligious tensions emerging from the gain or loss of relative status and power within the course of history. In a certain way, the ziyārāt thus share some similarities with Nora's “lieux de mémoire” 51 in that they constitute places where the immateriality of the sacred materializes, and where religious and ethnic identities are moulded in the durable and objectified form of collective memory. In the cases discussed in this article however, the “lieux de mémoire” are claimed and contested by different religious groups, thereby constructing competing narratives about historical “truth”.

Given that the various ethnic and religious groups in the Republic of Turkey are increasingly proclaiming their differential identity in the public media, be it in Alevi or Kurdish TV shows, in Alawi or Rum-Orthodox Internet discussion groups, or in newspaper articles written by Turkish Armenian Christians. It remains to be seen whether the struggle for the ziyārāt in Hatay will even become stronger in the near future or whether the articulation of differential religious identities and the concomitant interreligious conflicts will shift to other modes of expression.

  1. 1

    See Liam Murray, “Antakya: A Lesson in Multiculturalism,” Totally behude. Trying to figure out Turkey … online 30.07.2011:; Karin Schweissgut, “Memories of a Lost Armenian Identity: Ayla Kutlu's “Can Kuşu,” in Turkish Literature and Cultural Memory: “Multiculturalism” as a Literary Theme of the 1980, ed. C. Dufft (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2009), 147155, 153; Fulya Doğruel, “Multicultural Ideals of Minorities against Oppressive State Homogenization: A case Study among Arab Alawites, Arab Christians and Armenians in Hatay,” Kolor: Journal of Moving Communities 5,2 (2005): 3148; Fulya Doğruel, “Multiple Identities on the Border: Christian and Muslim Arab Minority Communities in Turkey,” in In-between spaces: Christian and Muslim minorities in transition in Europe and the Middle East, eds. C. Timmerman et al. (Bruxelles/New York: PIE Lang, 2009), 79102.

  2. 2

    Sean SpragueTurkey's Melting Pot: The lively cultures & faiths of HatayCatholic Near East Welfare Association (2011);; The Mosque of Habib-i Neccar (Ḥabīb al-Najjâr) (August 4, 2011);;

  3. 3

    Ziyāra means “visit” in Arabic. In religious contexts it refers to the practice of visiting a tomb or shrine for prayers. Among the Alawi the term ziyāra has three dimensions, as it refers to the sacred site as such, to the person, or more precisely, to the person's soul which is venerated at such a site, and finally to all ritual actions performed while visiting a sacred site.

  4. 4

    Procházka & Procházka identify a comparable construction- and renovation boom of Alawi ziyārāt in the Çukurova region and explain that this development is mainly due to the mere financial reasoning of the Alawi sponsors, i.e. that “[…] these places had been reconstructed only with the idea of making money”, Gisela Procházka & Stephan Procházka, The Plains of Saints and Prophets (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2010), 115116. During my field work in the Hatay and Çukurova region I never came across a newly constructed ziyāra which had been build for economic reasons, particularly since the money spent by the visitors (zakāt) barely suffices to cover the maintenance costs. Procházka & Procházka's utilitarian explanation is thus hardly convincing.

  5. 5

    Frederick Hasluck, “Christianity and Islam under the Sultans,” ed. M. M. Hasluck (Istanbul, The Isis Press, 2000).

  6. 6

    Ismail Engin & Erhard Franz, “Nusairier — die arabischsprachigen ῾Alawī‘,” in: Aleviler/Alewiten Vol. 1, eds. I. Engin & E. Franz (Hamburg: Deutsches Orient-Institut, 2000), 157160, 157.

  7. 7

    Heinz Halm, Die islamische Gnosis. Die Extreme Schia und die ‘Alawiten (Zürich / München: Artimis Publishing, 1982), 383, Note 604.

  8. 8

    Moshe Brawer, Atlas of the Middle East (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1988), 96.

  9. 9

    Michel Gilquin, D'Antioche au Hatay. L'histoire oubliée du Sandjak d'Alexandrette : Nationalisme turc contre nationalisme arabe. La France arbitre? (Paris: L'Harmattan, 2000), 80.

  10. 10

    Dalal Arsuzi-Elamir, Arabischer Nationalismus in Syrien. Zaki al-Arsuzi und die arabisch-nationale Bewegung An der Peripherie Alexandretta/Antakya 1930–1938. (Münster/ London: LitVerlag, 2003), 165.

  11. 11

    For a detailed discussion of the annexation of the Sanjak of Alexandretta into the Turkish nation state, see Yücel Güçlü, The question of the Sanjak of Alexandretta — A study in Turkish-French-Syrian relations (Ankara: Turkish Historical Society Printing House, 2001); M. Gilquin, D'Antioche au Hatay.

  12. 12

    Tamer reports that the migration wave of the Orthodox-Christians lasted until the 1990s and that it was a reaction to the on-going Turkification policy of the Turkish nation state of which the Arab Christians were the major victims, Georges Tamer, “Lasst uns hier ein Dorf gründen, Rum-Orthodoxe Christen aus der Türkei in Deutschland,” in Kern und Rand, ed. Gerdien Jonker (Berlin: Das Arabische Buch, 1999), 1530, 15–16.

  13. 13

    Franz Werfel, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, translated by Geoffrey Dunlop and James Reidel, with a preface by Vartan Gregorian (Boston: David R. Godine, 2012); originally published in 1933 in German. Today the Turkish Sunni Muslims make up for 60% of the Antakya population, while the Alawi make up 33,5%. The Christians (Arab Orthodox and Armenians) nowadays only comprise 0.60% of the city population, c.f. F. Doğruel, Multicultural Ideals of Minorities, 3148, 31–32. In total only 10.000 Rum-Orthodox Christians and around 1000 Armenians are still present in the Hatay region, see G. Tamer, Lasst uns hier ein Dorf gründen, 1530, 16.

  14. 14

    Avedik Sanjan, The Sanjak of Alexandretta (Hatay) — A Study in Franco-Turco-Syrian Relations (Michigan: unpublished Dissertation, 1956), 215.

  15. 15

    Joseph Azzi, Les Noussairites-Alaouites (histoire, doctrine et coutumes) (Clamecy: Editions Publisud, 2002).

  16. 16

    cf. i.a. H. Halm, Die islamische Gnosis, 284ff; Alain Nimier, Les Alawites (Paris: Édition Asfar, 1988).

  17. 17

    For further information on the syncretistic nature of Alawi cosmology, cf. Fuad I. Khuri, “The Alawis of Syria: Religious Ideology and Organization,” in: Syria: Society, Culture, and Policy, eds. R. T. Antoun & D. Quataert (New York: New York University Press, 1991), 5051; see also Yaron Friedman, The Nusayrī-῾Alawīs, An Introduction to the Religion, History and Identity of the Leading Minority in Syria (Leiden: Brill, 2010), 106; Laila Prager, Die Gemeinschaft des Hauses: Religion, Heiratsstrategien und transnationale Identität türkischer Alawi-/Nusairi-Migranten in Deutschland (Münster/ London: LIT Publishing, 2010), 4345.

  18. 18

    Edited by Wladimir Ivanov , “Umm al-Kitāb,” Der Islam 23 (1936): 1132.

  19. 19

    For a detailed discussion about the idea of the transmigration of souls and its socio-cosmic implications for the body in Alawi religious practice, see Laila Prager, “The Mnemonic Body: Cycles of rebirth and the remembrance of former lives in Alawi religion,” in Körper, Sexualität und Medizin in muslimischen Gesellschaften, eds. Patrick Franke , Suzanne Kurz & Claudia Preckel (Bamberg: University of Bamberg Press, forthcoming).

  20. 20

    Cf. Rainer Freitag, Seelenwanderung in der islamischen Häresie (Berlin: Klaus Schwarz, 1985), 30.

  21. 21

    According to Alawi cosmology, if the Light Soul was attached to a person who lived a morally “bad” life, it will be reborn in a lower form of existence, i.e. as a non-Alawi person, as an animal, as a “bloodless” insect, or as lifeless matter from which the soul no longer can escape. In the Kitāb al-Usūs it is further mentioned that Jews are reborn as animals, whereas heretics turn into sacrificial animals, cf. Meir Bar-Asher & Aryeh Kofsky, The Nusayri-Alawi religion: An Enquiry into Theology and Liturgy (Leiden: Brill, 2002), 63ff. A detailed description of the five lower rebirth ranks, i.e. the positions of the “sinners” — naskh, maskh, waskh, faskh, raskh — is given in al-Ḥusayn Ibn Ḥamdān al-Khaṣībī's “al-Risālat al-rāstbāshiyya,” in Silsilat al-turāth al ῾Alawī II, 1582, 64–65.

  22. 22

    See Dionigi Albera, “Pèlerinages mixtes et sanctuaires “ambigus” en Méditerranée,” in Les Pèlerinages au Maghreb et au Moyen-Orient, eds. S. Chiffoleau , A. Madoeuf (Damascus: Ifpo, 2005), 347378; Josef W. Meri, Lonely Wayfarer's Guide to Pilgrimage. ῾Alī ibn Abī Bakr al-Harawī's Kitāb al-Ishārāt ilā Ma῾rifat al-ziyārāt (Princeton: The Darwin Press INC, 2004); Gebhard Fartacek, Pilgerstätten in der syrischen Peripherie: Eine ethnologische Studie zur kognitiven Konstruktion sakraler Plätze und deren Praxisrelevanz (Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2003); Richard C. Martin, “Ziyāra,” in Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim world, ed. R. C. Martin (New York: Thomson Gale, 2004), 533; Nelly van Doorn-Harder, “Ziyāra, in the central Arab lands from 1800 to the present day” in Encyclopedia of Islam, eds. C.E. Bosworth et al. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 529530; 530; for Christian sites in Anatolia, cf. Franz Cumont, Studia Pontica (Bruxelles 1903–10).

  23. 23

    Abdulaziz Sachedina, “Ziyārah,” in Encyclopedia of the Islam (2nd Edition), eds. P.J. Bearman et al. (Leiden: Brill, 1960–2005), 5051, 50; J. W Meri, “Ziyāra, in the central and eastern Arab lands during pre-modern period” in Encyclopedia of Islam, eds. C.E. Bosworth et al. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 524529; 524; for further information about the opposition to ziyāra veneration in Islam, particularly in the Hanbali school, see 525–526.

  24. 24

    For example, see Kitāb al-janā'iz,” in Muslim, ṣaḥīḥ 2:635639; or “Bāb al-ziyāra” of the Kitāb al-manāsik” in Abū Dāwūd, Sunan, 2:218219. Al-Sayyid Sābiq, Fiqh al-sunnah (Beirut, 1977), vol. 477.

  25. 25

    Christopher S. Taylor, In the Vicinity of the Righteous: Ziyāra and the Veneration of Muslim Saints in Late Medieval Egypt (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 79.

  26. 26

    A systematic presentation of the rules governing the correct performance of ziyāra is given in Ibn ′Uthmān, al Muwaffaq Abū al-Qāsim 'Abd al-Raḥmān b. Abī al-ḥaram Makkī. Murshid al-zuwwār ilā qubūr al-abrār. Ed. by Muḥammad Faḥī Abū Bakr (Cairo, 1995), 3281.

  27. 27

    Taylor shows that the ziyāra as a ritual complex should be seen as a conglomerate ranging from authorized practices which were acceptable even for the “most conservative and sober interpretations of Islamic doctrine” to activities which “were clearly suspect” and sometimes even considered as abuses in Islam, C.S. Taylor, In the Vicinity of the Righteous, 79.

  28. 28

    For more details on the sheikh's capacities, such as healing and magical powers (miracles and curses), and astrological knowledge, see L. Prager, Die Gemeinschaft des Hauses, 5253.

  29. 29

    Already in the 1930s Weulersse pointed to the large numbers of pilgrims heading for the Khiḍr-ziyāra in Samandağ , see Jacques Weulersse, Le Pays des Alaouites, Vol. II (Tours: Arrault, 1940).

  30. 30

    According to Alawi tradition, Moses and Khiḍr met at Samandağ. Indeed, this incident is mentioned in the Qur'ān, sūra 18, verses 60–82, without, however, pointing to a specific locality. Throughout the Middle East Khiḍr shrines are venerated by different religious groups; c.f. Yunus Emre, “Khidr, Elwan Çelebi and the Conversion of Sacred Sanctuaries in Anatolia,” The Muslim World, 90 (2000): 309322; Patrick Franke, Begegnung mit Khiḍr. Quellenstudien zum Imaginären im traditionellen Islam. (Beirut: Stuttgart. 2000); for Christians the figure of Khiḍr relates to Saint George, see Christopher Walker, “The Origins of the Cult of Saint George,” Revue des Études Byzantines 35 (1995), 295326.

  31. 31

    The Arab word khayr (“good”, “wellbeing”, “the best”, “advantage”, “God's gift”) plays a central role in the religious and social practices of the Alawi in that it is considered to be a beneficial spiritual power comparable to the concept of baraka. The term khayr describes a differentiated semantic field of socio-religious relationships, in which concepts such as “divine power/salvation,” “acknowledgement,” “honour,” “status,” “giving and taking” are intrinsically intertwined, see L. Prager, Gemeinschaft des Hauses, 60, note 39.

  32. 32

    Other Khiḍr-ziyārāt are located in Antakya, Turfanda, Hıdırbey, and many other locations.

  33. 33

    The superiority of the Khiḍr-shrines is indicated by the prohibition to enter a ziyāra of the two other types after one has visited a Khiḍr-ziyāra. The Alawi explain this taboo arguing that the superior spiritual power of the Khiḍr-ziyāra would contaminate the potency of the hierarchically inferior ziyāra, thus bringing danger to the visitor.

  34. 34

    Miqdād is one of the five “unmatched” in the Alawi cosmological hierarchy, and associated with thunderstorms and lightning, see Sulaymān al-Adani, Kitāb al bākūra al-Sulaymāniyya (Beirut: publishing house unknown, 1864), according to Edward Salisbury, “The Blood of Sulaiman's first ripe fruit, disclosing the mysteries of the Nusairian Religion,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 8 (1866): 227308, 248. This is why the Alawi in the Hatay region still utter “Ya Midād” or “sā ῾ad rūḥni ya Miqdād” (“Help my soul Miqdād”) when they see lightning.

  35. 35

    The tree in the Miqdād-ziyāra of Harbiye is considered by many contemporary Alawi as virtually indestructible, since it has already defied natural catastrophes such as floods and landslides. My informants recounted the following story regarding the Miqdād-ziyāra to the north of Antakya: “In the time of the Ottoman Empire, the “innocent” fled from Ottoman soldiers to the place where the Miqdād-ziyāra is located today. It was nabī Miqdād himself who led them to this holy site in order to protect them. When the Ottoman soldiers arrived, he warned them not to use their weapons. The soldiers did not listen to him, and set about killing the “innocent.” When they raised their arms wielding their swords, Miqdād turned the soldiers into trees. This is why today the Miqdād-ziyāra is surrounded by many trees with strange shapes and unnaturally formed branches — to remind the people that they should obey the words of a nabī”, see L. Prager, Die Gemeinschaft des Hauses, 6162.

  36. 36

    Hans-Günther Griep, “Cosmas und Damian, Schutzheilige der Ärzte und Apotheker aus der Historia medica im Raum Niedersachsen,” Ringelheimer Biologische Umschau 19 (1964): 3784.

  37. 37

    For a description of the Christian mythology about Cosmas and Damian in Turkey and the alleged localization of their tombs in Istanbul and other Turkish places, see Altan Gokalp, Têtes rouges et bouches noires et autre écrits, (Paris: CNRS 2010), 319322.

  38. 38

    Only in some Eastern Churches and in Catholicism the Saints Cosmas and Damian are venerated as saints known as the “Unmercenary Physicians” (Greek: anargyroi, “without money). This classification refers to those who heal purely out of love for God and man, strictly observing the command of Jesus: “Freely have you received, freely give” (Matthew 10: 8).

  39. 39

    Martin Hartmann, “Das Liwa Haleb (Aleppo) und ein Teil des Liwa Dschebel Bereket,” in Zeitschrift der Gesellschaft für Erdkunde zu Berlin, 29 (1894): 142188, 475–550, 512.

  40. 40

    Male Alawi (including the sheikhs) claim that a ziyāra can only be of male gender, as according to Alawi doctrine only male souls are of a prophetic origin as opposed to the satanic origin of the female souls, see H. Halm, Die islamische Gnosis, 300 and L. Prager, Die Gemeinschaft des Hauses, 7072. However, Alawi women claim that female saints do exist. Sometimes Alawi women even travel to Damascus in order to gather at the compound of the tomb of Sayyida Zaynab (Qabr al-sitt; the Shi῾ite shrine near Damascus). This shrine in the suburbs of Damascus has become a major attraction for Shiites, see Sabrina Mervin, “Sayyida Zaynab. Banlieue de Damas ou nouvelle ville sainte chiite?” in Cahier d'études sur la Méditerranée orientale et le monde turco-iranien, 22 (1996): 149162. Unlike the Alawi religious doctrine, in different traditions of Shi῾a and Sunni Islam the visitation of the shrines of female saints is well known and quite common, see A. Sachedina, Ziyārah, 51.

  41. 41

    For more information on Gazi Abdurrahman Paşa and the Belen ziyāra, see:

  42. 42

    On the homepage of the city of Hatay it is explicitly explained that Abdurrahman Paşa is a local historical figure and the founder of Belen:

  43. 43

    Comparable cases are described for the nearby Çukurova region where Alawi and Sunni Muslims compete for Alawi ziyārāt and where Sunni even incorporate such sites into the Sunni mosques, see G. Procházka & S. Procházka, “The Plains of Saints and Prophets,” 155.

  44. 44

    Dionigi Albera and Benoit Fliche, “Les pratiques des musulmans dans les sanctuaires chrétiens: le cas d'Istanbul,” in D. Albera and M. Couroucli (eds.): Religions Traversées: Lieux saints partagés entre chrétiens, musulmans et juifs en Méditerranée (Paris 2009): 141172; F. Hasluck, “Christianity and Islam”; Robert Hayden, “Antagonistic tolerance: competitive sharing of religious sites in South Asia and the Balkans,” Current Anthropology, 43, 2 (2002): 205231, 206.

  45. 45

    See R. C. Martin, “Ziyāra,” 533; D. Albera, “Pèlerinages mixtes,” 347378; G. Fartacek, “Pilgerstätten”.

  46. 46

    Robert Hertz, “Saint Bresse. Étude d'un culture alpestre,” in Mélanges de sociologie religieuse et folklore, ed. Robert Hertz (Paris: Libraire Félix Alcan 1928), 131194.

  47. 47

    Michael Sallnow, Pilgrims of the Andes: Regional Cults in Cusco (Washington: Smithsonian, 1987); John Eade & Michael Sallnow (ed.), Contesting the Sacred. The Anthropology of Christian Pilgrimage (London/ New York: Texas Press, 1991); Glenn Bowman, “Nationalizing the sacred: Shrines and shifting identities in the Israel-occupied territories,” Man 28 (1993): 431460; Simon Coleman, “Do you believe in pilgrimage? Communitas, contestation and beyond,” Anthropological Theory 2,3 (2002), 355368.

  48. 48

    R. Hayden, “Antagonistic tolerance,” 206; Robert Hayden et al., “The Byzantine Mosque at Trilye: A Proccessual Analysis of Dominance, Sharing, Transformation and Tolerance,” History and Anthropology 22,1 (2011): 117.

  49. 49

    For a historical account on Alawi persecutions see i.a. J. Azzi, Les Noussairites-Alaouites; Matti Moosa, Extremist Shiites: The ghulat sects (New York: Syracuse University Press, 1988).

  50. 50

    Remittances from Christians living in Germany only begun to flow in the last decade and are usually invested in the construction of houses in the Samandağ area. During the next years additional money probably will be invested in local churches and the restoration of sacred sites. Although, recently the Turkish president Erdoğan has granted the Rum-Orthodox from Syria the right to return to Hatay and to acquire the Turkish citizenship, he also made clear that no land rights would be returned to Christians, see Ercan Yavuz, Todays Zaman, 8.10.2011, online:

  51. 51

    Pierre Nora, Realms of Memory: The Construction of the French Past. Vol. I: Conflicts and Divisions (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), xv.