Who are the Alevis? This is the question which continues to occupy the minds of many scholars, politicians and members of the Alevi community: Is Alevism a religion in its own right or ‘heterodox’ – within or outside – Islam? (also see Coşan Eke, Chapter 9). Kutlu (2007) depicts Alevism as a religion of a pantheist character with its emphasis on nature, describing it as the religion of the philosophy of existence. Unlike theism – which dates back over 2,600 years – the roots of pantheism can be traced back to ancient times. Although Picton (1905) links its roots from early Indian worshippers to Greek philosophers such as Plato, he treats it essentially as a ‘modern’ religion and mentions Spinoza (1632-1677) as its spiritual leader (on the origins of Alevism, also see Hanoğlu, Chapter 1). For some, Alevism is a path – a way of life – rather than a religion (Çınar, 2006). Others draw on historical accounts relating to the existence of belief systems of Hittites and the Luvis – the peoples of ancient Mesopotamia and Anatolia – hence pointing at parallels between the rituals of early Christians – Armenian, Yezidi and Kurdish. Mehmet Bayrak also claims that Sunni Kurds were Yezidi Christians before embracing Islam about a thousand years ago (Mehmet Bayrak, correspondence with the author). Such communities and those of the Kizilbashis, established well before the Muslim (Arab) conquests of Anatolia and Mesopotamia in the seventh century, suggest that Alevism was not

situated within Islam (Güven 2014b; Beşikçi 2005; Bayrak 2012; Erdoğan 2015), but is a religion in its own right.