Syrian Alawites and Turkish Alevis closer than I thought

5 Aug

From The New York Times:As Syrian War Roils, Sectarian Unrest Seeps Into Turkey”

As Syria’s civil war degenerates into a bloody sectarian showdown between the government’s Alawite-dominated troops and the Sunni Muslim majority, tensions are increasing across the border between Turkey’s Alawite minority and the Sunni Muslim majority here.

Many Turkish Alawites, estimated at 15 million to 20 million strong and one of the biggest minorities in this country, seem to be solidly behind Syria’s embattled strongman, Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey’s government, and many Sunnis, supports the Syrian rebels.

The Alawites fear the sectarian violence spilling across the border. Already, the sweltering, teeming refugee camps along the frontier are fast becoming caldrons of anti-Alawite feelings.

“If any come here, we’re going to kill them,” said Mehmed Aziz, 28, a Syrian refugee at a camp in Ceylanpinar, who drew a finger across his throat.

He and his friends are Sunnis, and they all howled in delight at the thought of exacting revenge against Alawites.

Many Alawites in Turkey, especially in eastern Turkey where Alawites tend to speak Arabic and are closely connected to Alawites in Syria, are suspicious of the bigger geopolitics, and foreign policy analysts say they may have a point. The Turkish government is led by an Islamist-rooted party that is slowly but clearly trying to bring more religion, particularly Sunni Islam, into the public sphere, eschewing decades of purposefully secular rule. Alawites here find it deeply unsettling, and a bit hypocritical, that Turkey has teamed up with Saudi Arabia, one of the most repressive countries in the world, and Qatar, a religious monarchy, both Sunni, to bring democracy to Syria.

The Alawites point to the surge of foreign jihadists streaming into Turkey, en route to fight a holy war on Syria’s battlefields. Many jihadists are fixated on turning Syria, which under the Assad family’s rule has been one of the most secular countries in the Middle East, into a pure Islamist state.


The Alawites here are worried they could become easy targets. Historically, they have been viewed with suspicion across the Middle East by mainstream Muslims and often scorned as infidels. The Alawite sect was born in the ninth century and braids together religious beliefs, including reincarnation, from different faiths.

Many Alawites do not ever go to a mosque; they tend to worship at home or in Alawite temples that have been denied the same state support in Turkey that Sunni mosques get. Many Alawite women do not veil their faces or even cover their heads. The towns they dominate in eastern Turkey, where young women sport tank tops and tight jeans, feel totally different than religious Sunni towns just a few hours away, where it can be difficult even to find a woman in public.

5 Responses to “Syrian Alawites and Turkish Alevis closer than I thought”

  1. Ayk Orman August 16, 2012 at 7:25 pm #

    Correction from New York Times for this article is below. Actually Semi-Correction would be more proper cause the population of Alevis including Alawits in Turkey is hardly 7 million not 15-20 Million. Ayk Orman

    This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

    Correction: August 12, 2012

    An article last Sunday about hostility by Turkey’s Sunni Muslim majority toward the country’s Alawite community, an Islamic minority suspected of allegiance to the Alawite-dominated government of neighboring Syria, conflated two distinct minority groups in Turkey, the Alawites and the Alevis. The Alawites, of Arab ethnicity, are closely related to Syria’s Alawites and are concentrated in Hatay province bordering northern Syria. Their population is believed to be less than 1 million. The Alevis, mostly ethnic Turks, total between 15 million and 20 million and are spread throughout Turkey. While both sects are offshoots of Shiite Islam and are sometimes confused as the same, even by some of their own members, it is not the case that Alawites constitute “one of the biggest minorities” in Turkey.


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