In a recent article in The New Republic, Soner Cagaptay discusses how Syria’s sectarian divisions could exacerbate current divisions in Turkey. Since the Alevis, a minority group in Turkey, identify strongly with Syria’s pro-Assad Alawite minority, any Turkish intervention against Assad could be viewed by the Alevis as Sunni aggression against a fellow minority. Cagaptay explains:
Observers of the growing humanitarian crisis in Syria are increasingly worried that the conflict will turn into sectarian struggle, and with good reason: The Assad regime has enjoyed overwhelming support among Syria’s minority Alawite population while the country’s Sunni majority is leading the anti-Assad rebellion. But the conflict poses another risk. It may stir sectarian tensions in Turkey, which could, in turn, complicate any international intervention against Assad’s regime.
The major sticking point is the Alevis, a syncretic and highly secularized Muslim offshoot based in Turkey that has often defined itself as a minority group persecuted by the country’s Sunni majority. Should the conflict in Syria turn Sunni on Alawite, Turkish Alevis may find themselves empathizing with the minority Alawites in Syria and, by extension, with the Assad regime. More than that: They could actively oppose any intervention organized by their own government.
Some of this is rooted in contemporary Turkish politics. Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has moved away from its hardline Islamist roots and made inroads across most sectors of Turkish society, has, thus far, failed to win much support from the Alevis, who constitute 10 to 15 percent of Turkey’s 75 million citizens. Unlike the AKP, the Alevis tend to align with the secularist views of Turkey’s founder, Kemal Ataturk, favoring a strict separation of religion and politics. And sectarian conflict in the 1970s, including attacks by Sunnis on Alevi communities, has left behind a legacy of distrust between Alevis and Sunnis.
Read the full article here.