News / Middle East

Alawites Fear Future as Syrian Conflict Intensifies

Henry Ridgwell
ANTAKYA, Turkey — Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and many within his powerful inner circle are Alawites, who make up about 12 percent of the Syrian population. Alawite militia gangs known as shabiha have often been blamed for carrying out the worst atrocities in anti-government areas. Many Alawites in Syria and neighboring Turkey say they are not party to that violence, however, and are not loyal to Assad.

Inside a Cem house, an Alawite place of worship, in the Turkish city of Gaziantep close to Syria. The rituals, music and dance are alien to most other Muslim worshippers - as is the huge canvas picturing the twelve Holy Imams.

Alawites here feel their religion is little understood, and the conflict in Syria is making it worse.

The leader or 'Dede' of the Cem house, Huseyin Keskin, said the Turkish government has taken sides against the Alawites.

"It is obvious who the Turkish government supports in Syria. They are 'itching the scratch,' they are making the problem worse in Syria," he said.

Keskin complains that as a minority, Alawites suffer in Turkey.

"The government sees us as different from themselves. They never take care of any of our problems," he said.

Such sentiments echo the fears of Alawites in Syria. If Assad falls - himself an Alawite - many minorities, including Christians and Druze, have voiced fears of Sunni dominance.

Opposition members say the Syrian government has depicted the uprising as a radical Sunni insurgency that Alawites must confront.

The Turkish city of Antakya near the border has a similar ethnic mosaic. In the bazaar, the Syrian crisis dominates conversation.

Spice seller Servet Duzgun said Turkey has made the situation worse in Syria.

"I myself am an Alawite," he said, "but I don't think the most important thing should be whether you are Sunni or Alawite, it should be about human values."

There is one thing that unites many of the shopkeepers in this ancient bazaar; the dramatic falloff in business since the conflict began.

Antakya used to be a shopping destination for Syrians, but now few make the trip.

Thaer Abboud did make that journey. An Alawite, Abboud nevertheless had been a pro-democracy activist for many years before the uprising.

"Especially when you are Alawi [Alawite], you are so dangerous for them. You have to be punished twice," he said.

Abboud said he was jailed and tortured for several months last year before escaping to Turkey and leaving many family members behind.

"The whole body of the revolution is a civil one. There is Christians, there is Alawite, there is Druze, there is Sunni," he said. "You can kill a person in body, you can kill thousands, but you cannot kill an ideology. They are trying in vain to kill this ideology of revolution."

Abboud said the Syrian revolution is not about religion or race. He said it is about overthrowing a dictator - and he believes he will soon return to a free Syria.

You May Like

Video Positive Messaging Helps Revamp Ethiopia's Image

In country once connected with war, poverty, famine, headlines now focus on fast-growing economy, diplomatic reputation More

Russian Activist Thinks Kremlin Ordered Nemtsov's Death

Alexei Navalny says comments of Russian liberals who think government wasn't involved are 'nonsense.' More

Video Land Disputes Rise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Godwin from: Nigeria
July 20, 2012 2:29 PM
All Alawites should change their nationality, skin color and language. There are many tribes that are white also in that region, like Israelis and Palestinians, they change into one of these and be free to worship, but I bet Iran will not allow it - they will send their nuclear bomb after you if you become Israeli. Please ask Ahmadinejad what he thinks

by: juninho
July 20, 2012 9:12 AM
Mr. Ridgwell-- you got it completely wrong... You interviewed the ALEVIS in Antakya, not Alawites. The latter are a secretive sect that would never allow an outsider into their house of worship. Alevis on the other hand worship in Cem houses and are open to outsiders.

Both sects are heterodox and venerate the Imam Ali, so hence the similarity in name and sympathy for each other...

Here are the two sects spelled out:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alevi
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alawi

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Imagei
X
Marthe van der Wolf
March 03, 2015 9:03 PM
Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More