For Alevis in Dersim, the springs are as important to visit as Mecca is to Muslims (though there’s no religious obligation to do so). In fact, according to anthropologist Dilşa Deniz, the story of Munzur the miracle-working shepherd was created to counter Sunni pressure on Alevis to make Haj. When the agha who has just returned from his pilgrimage tells the crowd of people that Munzur is the one who deserves to have his hand kissed, the story is really saying that the springs are even holier than Mecca. In this way, it validates the Alevis’ disregard for the Haj, while elevating their own ziyarets to Mecca-like status. “It says, ‘Our Haj is here,’” Deniz says.
Many ziyarets are imbued with the stories of local saints and miraculous happenings. One, called Belhasan, is the highest point on a mountainside that rises behind Ovacik. To the south, the entire upper basin of the Munzur Valley unfurls, far, far below; to the north, jagged limestone ridges recede into the rugged heart of the Munzur range. It’s said that, long ago, a shepherd named Belhasan spent summers in the high meadows with his flocks. His brother, on the other hand, left the Munzur Valley to move to the city of Erzincan, where he worked as a shoemaker. After years of separation, Belhasan thought of his brother, and missed him greatly. He’d had no news from him in ages, and wondered if he was still alive and well.
“I must go and visit him,” Belhasan said to himself, and began musing about what kind of gift he should bring to his brother. He wanted to give him something special, which would remind him of home. Perhaps some wild artichokes? Meh. Perhaps some wild herbs? Nah. Then it hit him. Since Erzincan was at a much lower elevation than Munzur, it never snowed there. Surely, his brother had to be longing to see snow, and to touch it once again.