A two-day festival held annually to commemorate Alevi figure Hacı Bektaş, a 13th century mystic whose thoughts have been very influential among Alevi believers, was launched in the Hacıbektaş town of Nevşehir on Friday.
The town of Hacıbektaş is home to the shrine of Hacı Bektaş Veli, or simply Hacı Vektaş, a medieval figure who is believed to have arrived here from Khorasan. He established the influential Bektaşi order of dervishes, whose beliefs have much in common with those of the Alevis. The town is a popular pilgrimage site for modern-day Bektaşis and Alevis, particularly between Aug. 16 and 18, when the annual festival is held.
President Abdullah Gül, who is currently in Central Asia on an official visit, released a message to celebrate the life of Hacı Bektaş. Gül said in his message: “Continuing the legacy of valuable figures such as Hacı Bektaş Veli whose messages of humanity and love and brotherhood have contributed to the building of peace is an onus that falls upon the entire world and future generations.”
The president said the culture of peace, tolerance and brotherhood which has prevailed in Anatolia over centuries matured thanks to thinkers such as Hacı Bektaş, Yunus Emre or Mevlana Celalledin Rumi. He called Hacı Bektaş Veli, “a man of heart who survived for centuries with his universal teachings with love and respect” and congratulated the organizers of the festival.
The festival was not without incident, as there was a protest followed by an assault on Bekir Bozdağ, the deputy prime minister. Audience members booed Bozdağ during a speech he made during the festival and a small group of men tried to punch him after he completed his speech, but the attack was averted by his bodyguards.
Alevi and Bektaşi communities say they face discrimination, and accuse the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government of continuing with this alleged discrimination. Most recently, President Gül announced plans of the government to name a new bridge in İstanbul after Ottoman Sultan Yavuz Sultan Selim, a figure which Alevis say massacred as many as 40,000 Alevis during his wars with the Safavid Shah Ismail in the 16th century.
Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu also attended the events. Turkey's Alevis traditionally vote for the CHP, seeing it as a party that will guard secularism and Alevi lifestyles.
Among the demands sought by various Alevi organizations is the abolishment of the country's Religious Affairs Directorate, which only caters to Sunni believers, and the abolishment of compulsory religion classes in the school system, as well as converting the building of what was formerly known as Madımak Hotel in Sivas -- which is currently a cultural center -- into a museum in honor of the victims of a pogrom against Alevis staying at the hotel in 1993.