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Why Are Turkish Alawites Being Victims to Radicalism?

Alwaght- Recently, Turkish media reported that Alawite minority’s homes in Yalova province in northwestern Turkey have been marked “X” with red paint. Such racist moves against this minority are not unprecedented, and they in the past have been subjected to such threatening actions.

This has been a source of great fear among Alawite leaders and civil activists, as in the past whenever this happened, the families came under attacks and killings. For example, on December 19-25, 1978, a similar incident took place, in which more than 100 Alawites were massacred and hundreds of homes and workplaces were torched.

Following recent incidents, the Turkish attorney general ordered an investigation into the case. Omar Celik, a spokesman for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), described the incident as a conspiracy for “provocations.”

The argument now is that the recent threats have their roots in the foreign policy of the country and in the future can gain traction. In other words, the Alawites will be subjected to threats and even violence by the religious radicals that are outcome of Ankara’s foreign policy in recent years that led to rise of radical forces in the region.

The plights the Turkish Alawites sustained

Merging from Shiite, Sunni, Sufi, local, and ethnic traditions, Alwawism emerged in the Middle Ages. It is estimated that a large part of the Turkish population, about 12 to 16 percent, are Alawites, but the census does not include the question about being or not being Alawite and therefore the actual number remains unclear. The majority of them live in the Kurdish regions and eastern Turkey, and most of them live in Dersim province.

The Alawites have been discriminated against and oppressed since the establishment of the new Turkish Republic in 1924. In 1937, for example, thousands of them were massacred and displaced as a result of the uprising of their religious leader, Sayyid Reza. In the 1970s, hundreds were massacred in the cities of Corum and Yozgat. In 1992, 34 Alawite scholars died at the Madimak Hotel in Sivas city. Also, in 1995, a group of Alawites were attacked in Istanbul.

This trend continued into the new millennium, and especially in the years after 2002, Turkish government, upholding Sunni faith as an official faith, sought to attract or proselytize them. For example, mosques have been built next to their worship houses, called Jamkhanah. In fact, their worship houses have not yet been officially recognized by the Turkish government, and in many cases, insults containing obscene words are written on their walls. For example, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2012 said that the Jamkhanahs are not a place of worship, but of cultural activities. This has led the Alawite community’s leaders to feel discriminated against by the government and society.

Also, in the past years, Alawite families have come under extremist attacks in Turkey. According to Ali Kenanoglu, the deputy leader of the Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), there have been 36 heinous crimes against the Alawites in the past eight years.

Supporting radicalism in the region and reflections on Turkish internal atmosphere

The Alawites have been staunch opponents of the AKP, led by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, over the past years. A clear sign of this opposition was the Gezi Park anti-government protests in 2013, during which the Alawites led the rallies. Their role was so bold that almost 80 percent of the protesters arrested were Alawites, said the Milliyet newspaper, citing a report by Turkish security and intelligence officials.

But in analyzing the new wave of the antipathy to the Alawite community in Turkey, one must undoubtedly refer to the country’s policies in the region over the past few years. Following the popular uprisings in the Arab world in 2011, the Turkish government pursued a policy of supporting extremists in order to strengthen the Muslim Brotherhood in the region. Ankara quickly began supporting militants and terrorists by announcing a policy of maximum opposition to the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Reports and documents disclosed Ankara’s cooperation with the ISIS terrorist organization in Syria.

Meanwhile, there have been leaks about the Turkish logistical, health, financial, and human sources support to the radical militias fighting the central government in Syria. The same forces were sent to fight in Libya as well as Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The noteworthy point here is the military body and political leadership of these groups with the Turkish government. In some cases, new members of them are recruited and trained in Turkey.

Without any doubt, Turkish government’s policies to provide support and cooperate with takfiri movements to advance geopolitical goals in Syria and Libya and the Nagorno-Karabakh war have been an important issue that now have their reflections on Turkey’s interior. Ankara’s policies to strengthen takfiri movements have now led to strengthening of the ability to organize, recruit, and even financially support members among extremists in Turkey who are strongly opposed to the Alawites and to any moderate interpretation of Islam.

This comes while a large number of Turkey’s Muslims are already antipathetic to the Alawite community. But Ankara’s regional policies even promote this vast dissent. Therefore, it is expected that the waves of antipathy and even armed sabotage against Alawites and their worship places would increase in the near future.


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