The Alevis Dilemma – Turkey’s Erdogan sets a religious minority on a collision course with Erdogan’s Turkey

A significant religious minority in Turkey, the Alevis, have become increasingly subject to President Erdogan’s populist ire, as they find themselves on a collision course with the Islamification and ‘Turkification’ of Turkey.

When I visited Antalya, Turkey, in the late 1990s, I was surprised by the amount of Syrian Arabic I heard on the streets. Antalya, the eighth-most populous city in Turkey, was suffused with a cascade of Syrian tourists at the time, coming across the border to enjoy the beautiful countryside of the Orontes River and Nur mountains. As I sat in the shade, looking at the young Syrian Arabs enjoying themselves on their first vacation abroad, I began to reminisce about one of my earliest trips to the area.

It was the late 1960s, and I had just entered Anatolia, Southeast Turkey, by way of Syria, driving an old jeepster loaned to me by the U.S. military mission in Turkey. At the time I was studying at the American University of Beirut as a military Foreign Area Specialist (today generally referred to as a Foreign Area Officer). As such, whenever I was not studying, the U.S. Government furnished me with enough funds to travel and see as much of the Arab world as possible.

While traveling through Turkey, I went through several villages that appeared to host a people mismatched with the villages around them. Many of the women did not wear a Muslim headdress. Many wore Western clothing. Later, when visiting the American general consul, I asked about them. I could not recall the name of the village, but I explained, “these people, they appear a bit different.” “Indeed,” the consul responded. “They are Alevis, hated by the Sunnis.”

I suppose one could say that Alevis are sort of like the Buddhists of the Muslim community, a peaceful, but second class, minority. I had never heard of this group of people before, the Alevis, but I made a mental note to learn as much as I could about them. Since that day, this somewhat esoteric topic has been a keen interest of mine, one that has led me to worry on their behalf. Their present-day situation appears grim; the Alevis have found themselves at odds with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

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The Alevis Dilemma – Turkey’s Erdogan sets a religious minority on a collision course with Erdogan’s Turkey


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