Thus the shepherd became known as a saint, and the milk he spilled became the sacred river that bears his name, which still flows today. 


“We know it didn’t really happen like that, scientifically speaking, but that doesn’t make the river any less important to us,” says Hayri Dede, a respected leader of the Alevi religion – a mystical faith with strong shamanistic and Zoroastrian roots, a complicated relationship to Islam, and an intimate and sacred connection to the natural world.

Alevis emphasize inner spirituality over outward displays of devotion; tolerance for people of all races and religions is preached and practiced; and music and dance are essential features of their ceremonies. With holy sites scattered all around Munzur, the valley is the spiritual heartland of the Alevi people, says Hayri Dede. And he desperately hopes it remains so.

“If the dams are built,” he says ruefully, “it will all be under water.”

At left, Hasan Hayri Sanlı - better known as Hayri Dede - plays a bağlama, an instrument often used in Alevi ceremonies. A 'dede' - also called a 'pir' - is an Alevi religious leader.


From the foot of the Munzur Mountains, the Munzur River wends its way across a grassy basin, framed to the north by a skyscraping, dog-toothed massif and to the south by a labyrinth of burly hills. At the eastern end of the basin, the river funnels into a canyon, its clear, cold waters pumping through a rocky corridor cut here and there by smaller tributaries. About 60 miles later, after passing the provincial capital, Tunceli, and the Uzunçayır Dam, the Munzur meanders into a massive reservoir on the Euphrates River system.