News

    Turkey's Alawite Community Worried About Syria Conflict

    Supporters of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad hold up national flags and a Russian flag as they attend a rally at Umayyad square in Damascus, Syria, March 15, 2012.
    Supporters of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad hold up national flags and a Russian flag as they attend a rally at Umayyad square in Damascus, Syria, March 15, 2012.
    Dorian Jones

    While the Turkish government is among those at the forefront of condemning Syria's brutal crackdown on dissent, the country's large Alawite minority, known as Alevis in Turkey, has a different perspective.

    At a meeting of Alevis in central Istanbul, Ali Kenanoglu, speaks about the situation in Syria and criticizes the Turkish prime minister's strong support for the Syrian opposition.

    Kenanoglu is the head of the Hubyar Sultan Alevi cultural society in Istanbul. He says the prime minister's support may play well among the mainly Sunni supporters of the ruling AK party, but it is creating growing unease among Alevis in Turkey.

    He says the attitude of the prime minister and government is really worrying many Alevis. He says the Syrian opposition is not about democracy. Kenanoglu says some of the groups fighting the Syrian government invoke fears among Alevis of persecution they suffered in the past from Sunni leaders.  

    Last month, Turkish Alevis rallied close to the Syrian border in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. That was a step too far for most Alevis in Turkey, says Kamil Aykanat, head of the Haci Bektas Culture Foundation, another Alevi group based in Istanbul.

    But Aykanat says while there are some religious and cultural differences between Syrian Alawites and their Turkish cousins, they share a common identity.

    He says his people are Anatolian Alevis and those in Syria are Arab Alevis. But he says wherever you go in the world, if you use the word Alevi or Alawite, you are connected by a brotherhood.

    There are no official figures for the Alevi population in Turkey, as their religious beliefs are not recognized by the state. But it is believed that they make up as much as a quarter of the Turkish population.

    Many Turkish Alevis are deeply suspicious of the Sunni roots of the ruling AK party, according to political commentator Soli Ozel of the Turkish Newspaper Haberturk. He says those suspicions are getting worse with the government increasingly perceived by Alevis to be taking a pro-Sunni stance towards Syria.

    "In a region where the lines and swords are drawn along sectarian lines, I really don't know how Turkey can actually keep itself above the fray. And what kind of impact this might have on Turkey's own Sunni Alevi divide remains to be seen. But that creates some tension in my view," Ozel said.

    Alevis do not pray in mosques, and men and women worship together. They are viewed with suspicion, if not outright hostility, by many in Turkey's Sunni majority.

    Turkish Alevis have been the victims of persecution and widespread killings. The most recent, in 1993, took place when dozens of Alevis attending a cultural festival died when their hotel was set on fire by a pro-Islamic mob.

    Culture foundation head Aykanat says there is growing concern that if the current crisis in Syria descends into a Sunni-Alawite conflict, it may spill over into Turkey.

    But he says Alevis in Turkey will be organized and have solidarity if their situation deteriorates. He says they are aware of what happened to their ancestors in the past.  

    At an Istanbul Alevi place of worship, there is unease about the events in Syria. One man says, however, he is confident Sunnis and Alevis share a common Turkish identity that transcends their differences.   

    He says if it becomes a Sunni-Alawite confrontation in Syria, then he would be very worried, as it could come to Turkey. But he says Turkish people have changed, and there is more common sense between Sunnis and Alevis, so he hopes it will not come to that.

    But with the Turkish media broadcasting horrific pictures out of Syria, and with many channels describing the violence in sectarian terms, there are fears that tensions from the Syrian crisis could rise in Turkey.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora