...for a project between my university and the University of Rome (Tor Vergata) on Post-Secularism.
Hajji Bektash Veli Museum and the Implicit Post-Secularism of Museumisation Processes in Republican Turkey
Using the binary of religion and secularism ‘as a lighter’ in the sense emplyed by Knott in her work ‘Locating Religion’ (2005) I similarly propose to look at public ritual and religiosity (ın a Turkish context) to shed some light on the issue of the ephemeral and debated issue of post-secularism through a lense that is at the same time abstract/discursive and grounded in a spatial analysis informed by the work of Henri Lefebvre (1991) that holds the tension of the ‘realandimagined’ (Soja 1996) in mind and the play between those who constuct, perceive and live space. The approach here is towards an appreciation of the inevtaible mutual implication and therefore imbrication of secularism and religion as inseparable, which is in itself a post-secular insight.
The shrine/museum of Hajji Bektash Veli in Central Anatolia is a particular theatre for the outplaying of secular, religious, post-secular and perhaps proto-secular discourses via spatial action, memorialisaton and, most importantly, museumisation. This location has a particularly long and interesting history in Anatolia that lends itself to a very particular unique encounter with modernity and secularism, a seemingly proto-secular discourse that makes its emergence into a post-secular Turkey both problematic and fruitfully ambiguous.
The Bektashi tradition bases itself on the teachings of Hajji Bektash (himself a student of one of the most pivotal teachers in Central Asian and Turkish Sufism, Ahmet Yesevi) and his succesors, who served an important role in the Ottoman state as the spiritual leadership of the Jannissary corps, itself a key martial movement in Ottoman history. In the modern city of Hacı Bektaş, the population patronising the shrine cum museum is largely made of the sister body of believers known as Alevis who, while sharing a great deal in common with the Bektashi order, are in fact historically connected to the eastern Anatolian groups known in different historical periods as’ Kizilbash’ or ‘Turcoman’ communities. By contrast, these groups had an adversarial relationship with the Ottoman state and, via their own Shia identity, at times identified with the rival Persian empire. In the republican period, what remained of the Bektashi order since the suppression of the Janissaries in the 19th century went further under ground. However, Alevi identity came to tie itself closely to the secular republican values of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, even giving his image a significant place next to the portraits of Alevism’s key figures such as the family of the Prophet Muhammed, often displayed ın Alevi places of worship.
Like the more internationally known tomb of Mevlana Jelaludin Rumi in Konya, Hajji Bektash is officially a museum in which spatial compromise is negotiated between its historical ’monastic’ roots and veneration by local Alevis, with its museum status and the influx of tourists and others seeking historical value in an apparently sacred environment. Where, one could ask, can one see the post-secular and the allegedly proto-secular at play in the polyphony of spacial action and discourse, particularly considering that, according to museum staff, there is a renewed interest in the site amongst ‘religious’ people in Turkey and an apparently sustained interest from the Alevi community, historically, despite the closing of the shrine in 1925 as an active dervish lodge and its very late reopening in 1964 as a museumised shrine and dervish lodge complex. İn the interim, according to official museum sources (http://www.hbektasveli.gazi.edu.tr/site/ingilizce/hbektasing.htm) the lodge was used as an Agricultural school, while the important contents of the building were stored in the Ankara citadel and the Ankara Ethnography Museum until its reopening almost 4 ( increasingly post-secular?) decades later, with yet another set of restorations as recently as 2008-2010.
After some initial field work experiences, I am struck by the analytical potential of the site as one of the lesser known museumised religious spaces in Turkey. It is post-secular in the sense that, despite its overt religiosity, it has slowly returned from the ashes of several decades of official total secularisation (to whatever degree such a thing is possible) to re-emerge as a more ritually relevant site, albeit under the auspices of of a state-approved museumisation/heritage project, one that draws on a discourse of the proto-secular and humanist classical Turkish sources, displaying them both objectively and intellectually alongsıde the Universal Declaration of human Rights.
Main Questions, Query Points
The first line of inquiry is undertaken to see (a) ın what way Hajji Bektash museum is a physical, rıtual, narrative and discursive part of a postsecular social wave. Simultaneously, while addressing this it behooves us to ask whether(b) this is a largely elite issue between the forces of secularism and religion at a more official level (the recent restoration took place as part of a national renovation of Islamic heritage sites under the current religiously inclined AK Party) while perhaps little has changed for the Alevi and Bektashi third parties that have held this site in reverence for centuries and continue to do so. This, of course, raising questions about subaltern voice and agency. Finally, it is noteworthy that the official bodies in charge of the site consistently point out, both in person and in the discourse used within the signage of the site, that modern Kemalist values are a contemporary version and fulfillment, if you will, of the 13th century teachings of Hajji Bektash himself which, encapsulated in his 10 principals, encouraged what seem to be Enlightenment and Modernist values such as the equality and education of women and the importance of reason and science as a counterbalance to religiosity. On this basis and that of the Bektashi principals of work and equality, he has been described as a proto-secularist and a proto-socialist by residents of the village and a champion of a sort of secularist Islam by museum officials. It is therefore useful to query (c)the ways in which Secularism and Post-Secularism both lay claim to tradition as a way to legitimise performance and ownership at Hajji Bektash, a site associated with an alternative Islam, by many, for eight centuries.