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 Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    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.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.