Tag Archives: Alevis

Turkish Alevis and Syrian (or Lebanese…or Turkish?) Alawites — a Twitter exchange

13 Sep

I recently stumbled on a tweet on my account that I had somehow missed from August 2012 about an article from the Times around that time (As Syria War Roils, Unrest Among Sects Hits TurkeyAugust 4, 2012   The post — mine — was called: Syrian Alawites and Turkish Alevis closer than I thought”  (August 5th, 2012 on the Jadde)

I’ll just paste the Tweet exchange all here even if it’s kind of messy-looking:

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.

Syria, the end of Assad, and Alawites

27 Jul

The New York Times recently published a piece in its “Opinionator” blog section by Frank Jacobs, ” A Syrian Stalemate,” which makes the very interesting, but highly improbable, if not probably completely implausible, suggestion that one answer to the Syrian civil war is for Assad to retreat to his Alawite mountain homeland on the Mediterranean coast and form an independent statelet there:

Ah, a Lebanon, you mean?  What an unparalleled success story that was — let’s try that again.  At least he accepts the comparison.  Oh, and I see his got a little Hawran homeland for Druze too.

The breath-taking stupidity of this argument is not all that stupid really as it is completely a-historical and uninformed.  The victorious Free Syrian Army — whose victory this layman thinks is only a matter of when, not if — will never accept the secession or loss of the last piece of Syria’s coastline (Lebanon; then Alexandretta), and the only thing something like that might lead to is an exponential escalation of violence and a massacre of Alawites, not to mention other minorities, of a scale that’ll take us back to the ugliest events of the early twentieth century.

But if that’s ancient history for any of us, let’s just go back to the 90s and Yugoslavia.  Aside from the cynical geopolitical interests that were the catalyst for that nightmare (you know; I never thought I’d catch myself saying what I had previously considered a dumb cliche, like that the current Eurozone crisis is the third time in less than a century that Germany has destroyed Europe — Germany and Draghi — but actually this may be the fourth time; Yugoslavia was the third), there were two basic populist “reasons” that explained the support in the West given to the unnecessary, vicious dissection of that country: a confused muddle of remnant eighteenth-and-nineteenth century romantic ideas about the “self-determination of peoples” mixed up with the whole deluded late twentieth-century ideology which we’ll just put under the umbrella of “multiculturalism” for now.  “Why don’t Bosnians deserve their own country (the former)?”, Upper West Side Sontagians cried and wrang their hands, and “Why can’t everyone in that most fascinating, multicultural part of Europe get along (the latter)?”

Cutting places up into little countries doesn’t work; there’ll always be some bunch that want their own littler country.  Hopefully, nobody will ever, ever take this proposal seriously, though Jacobs says that there’s an actual escape plan for just that in Assad vaults somewhere.

But this is the point that Jacobs gets around to that I found almost as upsetting:

“Although officially a Shiite sect, with reputed syncretist elements borrowed from Christianity and other confessions, persecution by mainstream Islam as heretical has made Alawis wary of declaring their innermost beliefs. Ironically, decades of dominance may have further weakened the communal identity; Assad père et fils have always striven to narrow the perceived difference between Alawism and mainstream Islam as a way of legitimizing their regime. This enforced “Sunnification” may have effectively erased much of the theological differences with other Syrians.”

My Muslim inclinations are generally Shi’ia — forgive me the presumption of having any Muslim inclinations at all, obviously.  But I love the blood and the mystery; the Persian lack of, or better, resistance to, Arab image-phobia; ta’ziyeh; the Christ-like martyrdom of Hussein and the Virgin-like laments of Zeynep; Asure is my favorite holiday; and generally I think faith should be about passion and emotion and sacrifice and not moralism or the Law.  So anything that chips away at the monolith of any of our Great Abrahamic Religions of Peace, I’m for.

Like I’ve said before here and here.   The Donmeh-like “Sunnification” of Alawites in Syria; Alevis in Turkey, whom centuries of violence and Sunni persecution (centuries? like until the late twentieth…) have made such staunch secularists that one doesn’t even know what they practice anymore if anything; it’d be a shame to lose such fascinating, heterodox groups and their rites and cosmologies out of indifference or because hiding has had to become such second-nature for them.

And also like I said before, I don’t know how “officially a Shiite sect” either consider themselves.  In the Syrian case, at least, Iran could just be cynically using the Alawites as a Levantine power-base and vice-versa.

As for the Bektashis, who were once a Sufi order, they got tired of the Turkish Republic’s hospitality and moved their headquarters to Tirane at some point and recently, I think the 1990s, declared themselves a branch of Islam separate from both Sunnism and Shi’ism.


Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Things I didn’t know…

25 May

…till Syria got me asking: that there are Alawites in Lebanon too; that Hezbollah supports the Asad regime even though (I would’ve previously thought) they’re Alawite; that Alawites and Anatolian Alevis aren’t as consciously related as lots of people think, though they’re similar in many concepts and rites and are probably both a product — or remnant — of inherently heterodox frontier zones between Byzantine-Arab-Turkic-Iranian spiritual worlds, before the lines hardened; that the relationship of both to “mainstream” Shi’ism varies in intensity and in the degree to which they’re accepted by that mainstream as part of the fold (Alawites, as in the Asad-Hezbollah relation, more than Anatolian Alevis, who are kind of a world of their own); that Iran’s support of Hezbollah is part of a relationship that’s neither new nor one-way — that, in fact, Shi’ia clerics and theologians from southern Lebanon/Jabal Amil (including the Sadr clan) were instrumental in establishing Shi’ism as Safavid Iran’s state creed in the sixteenth century; that that happened in a kind of simultaneous, binary process, as such things tend to, with Ottoman Turkey becoming more orthodoxly Sunni…and more.

This is a cool, very informative book, though sometimes so personal and emotional and out-there-Persian that it becomes confusing as straight history or sociology:

Shi’ism: A Religion of Protest, Hamid Dabashi: http://www.amazon.com/Shiism-Religion-Protest-Hamid-Dabashi/dp/0674049454/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1337903598&sr=1-1

and Distant Relations: Iran and Lebanon in the Last 500 Years, H.E. Chehabi: http://www.amazon.com/Distant-Relations-Iran-Lebanon-Years/dp/1845112555/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1337903763&sr=1-1

Otherwise not good though…not Syria, not another spillover into Lebanon or its again becoming the catch-basin of Levantine conflict. None of it…

Men in a Beirut suburb burned tires and blocked roads after fellow Lebanese Shiites were abducted in the Syrian city of Aleppo. (Anwar Amro/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)



Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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