— The Erimtan Angle —

The Iranian propaganda broadcaster announces that a ‘convoy of Turkish forces backed by several helicopters has entered the Syrian town of Jarablos in a Kurdish area. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had warned in late July that Ankara could strike the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) armed group inside Syria. He also stated that the strike is “not even a matter of discussion, it is a given”’.[1]

 At the same time, the New York Times’ Jeffrey Gettleman reports: “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 [Alevi, in Turkish] 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 cauldrons of anti-Alawite feelings”.[2]  In Turkey, tensions between the Sunni majority and the Alevi minority have been simmering for decades, if not centuries when taking account of the pre-Republican Ottoman period. Illustrating the current tensions, Gettleman relates recent events: “1 a.m. last Sunday [, 30 July], in the farming town of Surgu, about six hours away from [Antakya], a mob formed at the Evli family’s door. The ill will had been brewing for days, ever since the Evli family chased away a drummer who had been trying to rouse people to a predawn Ramadan feast. The Evlis are Alawite, a historically persecuted minority sect of Islam, and also the sect of Syria’s embattled leaders, and many Alawites do not follow Islamic traditions like fasting for Ramadan. The mob began to hurl insults. Then rocks. “Death to Alawites!” they shouted. “We’re going to burn you all down!” Then someone fired a gun. “They were there to kill us,” said Servet Evli, who was hiding in his bedroom with his pregnant wife and terrified daughter, both so afraid that they urinated through their clothes”.[3]

The Alevi (Alawite) community in Turkey is periodically subjected to acts of violence and regular discrimination. The current unrest in neighbouring Syria, pitting Sunni Syrians against the Alawite regime and other Syrian minorities, is but a perfect pretext for the Sunni majority in Turkey to vent their anger and frustration. Over the past year, Turkey’s PM Tayyip Erdoğan has done his best to demonise Assad in his speeches and other public appearances, a message broadcast into innumerable Turkish living rooms by the state-run TRT. Turkey’s complicity in managing the violence in Syria has been argued for by some, and confirmed by others, notably the CIA. Are there any links between Turkey’s Alevis and Syria’s Alawites???  The Bridgeport, Conn gas station attendant Turhan Sat, a Turkish Alevi on vacation in Turkey’s Samandağ, close to the Syrian border, says it all: “We’re more moderate . . . [but] We’re all with Assad”. And Selahattin Eroğlu, a local shop owner chimes in: “People here love Assad”, attested by the numerous carpets with depiction of Assad he’s selling every day.[4]  Songül Canpolat, the director of an Alevi foundation in Turkey stated recently that “The idea that Turkish Alawites should be eliminated is gaining ground”.[5]

Meanwhile, Syria’s only ally in the region has also been heard making threatening noises of late. On 7 August, Iran’s Armed Forces Chief Gen. Hassan Firuzabadi declared: “Turkey will be next in line for violence after Syria if it continues to work on behalf of Western interests . . . Ankara is toeing the Western line in the region, like Saudi Arabia and Qatar. They are therefore accountable for the bloodshed in the ArabRepublic [of Syria]”, adding, “If those nations carry on this way, they should realize that Turkey is the next in line”.[6]  These fighting words were spoken against the backdrop of ‘Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi[‘s] visit Turkey on Tuesday [, 7 August] for previously unscheduled talks expected to focus on Syria and a group of Iranians seized by rebels there, an Iranian diplomat in Ankara said. Meanwhile, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Saeed Jalili, arrived in Syria for talks with President Bashar al-Assad and other officials, Iranian state television IRIB said. Iran has stood by its ally Syria despite the growing international pressure on Assad, while Turkey has been among the Syrian president’s fiercest critics, demanding that he stand down to defuse a 17-month uprising against his rule. A Turkish Foreign Ministry official confirmed Salehi’s visit, saying it included talks on regional issues with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’, as reported by the news agency PTI.[7]

[1] “Convoy of Turkish military forces enters Syrian town of Jarablos” Press TV (07 August 2012). http://www.presstv.ir/detail/254925.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter.

[2] Jeffrey Gettleman, “As Syria War Roils, Unrest Among Sects Hits Turkey-1” The New York Times (04 August 2012). http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/05/world/middleeast/turkish-alawites-fear-spillover-of-violence-from-syria.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1.

[3] Jeffrey Gettleman, “As Syria War Roils, Unrest Among Sects Hits Turkey-1”.

[5] Jeffrey Gettleman, “As Syria War Roils, Unrest Among Sects Hits Turkey-2”.

[6] “Iran threatens US, Turkey after Israel with spreading Syrian conflict” DEBKAfile (07 August 2012). http://news.feedzilla.com/en_us/stories/238921536?count=20&q=%22iran%22&client_source=feedzilla_search&order=relevance&format=rss&sb=1.

[7] “Iran to discuss hostages in Syria with Turkey” PTI (07 August 2012). http://www.firstpost.com/world/iran-to-discuss-hostages-in-syria-with-turkey-408971.html.


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