Are Turkish Alevis Being Pulled Into The Syrian Conflict?

A New York Times piece discusses rising tensions in Turkey, where a family of Alevi Kurds living near Antakya were attacked by a mob of their Sunni neighbors and chased out of town after the family asked the pre-dawn Ramazan drummer not to drum in front of their house. The article tries to link this incident to Turkish Alevi support for Assad. It doesn’t give sources for its generalizations about how widespread support is for Assad among Turkish Alevis, or for anti-Alevi feeling (the family was also Kurdish), so I’m not convinced. Still, Syrian sectarian hatred is bound to spill over the borders, along with the refugees and the awful tales of massacres in the media. Here’s the full article. An excerpt:

…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…

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 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….

4 Responses to “Are Turkish Alevis Being Pulled Into The Syrian Conflict?”

  1. This is going to have to be the third time I write a letter to the editor—this time for mixing up Alevis and Alawites. How did this get printed?

  2. I totally agree. I was surprised as well. Considering the other unfounded generalizations, it’s a problematic article.

  3. The Jeffrey Gettleman mashup of Alawites and Alevis is nothing new or, frankly, unexpected by me, since I worked in daily journalism (San Francisco Chronicle) for 10 years and know the habits of the New York Times very, very well. They printed a so-called correction of the article but all it did was provide accurate numbers for Alevis vs. Alawites in Turkey. The article comes somewhat soon after an attempt by Erdogan to equate Alawites and Alevis, presumably because both are Shia — but a dirty, low gambit in any event.

    Please see:

    http://www.islamicpluralism.org/2084/alawites-in-syria-and-alevis-in-turkey-crucial

    http://www.islamicpluralism.org/2009/erdogan-iran-syrian-alawites-and-turkish-alevis

    The confusion of Alawites with Alevis has been somewhat aggravated by academic literature classing them both as ghulat or extreme Shias, or placing them in the same category because of consumption of alcohol, inconsistent Alevi belief in reincarnation, and possible borrowings from Christianity, though I suspect the reincarnation element is of Buddhist origin in the Alevi case. But these similarities do not make them the same. Their essential beliefs, especially regarding women (which in the Alawite case are anti-female), the divinity of Imam Ali, and their relationship to the outer world, are completely distinct.

  4. As an aside (and this is in reference to Stephen Schwartz’s comment above), how could Alevism have been influenced by Buddhism?

    I’ve heard Alevism explained as the pure original Islam, indigenous Anatolian paganism, tribal Turkish shamanism, Zoroastrianism, underground Christianity (either gnostic, Armenian, or Orthodox), 12er Shi’ism, Bektashi Sufism, and humanistic universalism. I have always assumed the reality to lie somewhere among these possibilities, but now I wonder if I am being too narrow-minded.

    Incidentally, I have also heard the Druze religion (of all things) theorized to be related to Hinduism–apparently because some Druze got ahold of ISKCON literature and discovered that it taught reincarnation. (Hooray for globalization!)

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