Politics

Syria and Turkey: A Historical Comparative

The transformation and development in Europe, Anatolia and the Middle East after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire is nothing short from one of the greatest historical modifications in human society. With the fall of the Ottoman Empire, many heterodox and syncretistic religions of the Near East and Anatolia who had long experienced persecution that isolated them into an impoverished environment, found themselves tasting relative freedom and independence for the first time. For centuries, the Ottomans had poor relations with the Shi’i sects and both met with antagonism and ultimately violence, most notable with the conflict between the empire and the Safavids. Heterodox groups were never granted the status of millet that consequently left them unprotected and were often required to pay high taxes.

The region of Latakia is mostly inhabited by Alawis, yet because of the difficulty penetrating the mountains, the Ottomans could only mobilise authority in the region in the 1850’s where they introduced Sunni landlords and a mutasallim (district governor).[i] Like the Alevis, the Alawis have deep-seeded antagonism towards the Sunni elite and view them as the main oppressor. “The Ottomans and their Syrian walis repeated tried to impose their authority in and collect revenue from the Alawi and Druze areas.”[ii] Adding to this authority, numerous and violent fatwas were made against these heterodox communities in the region. “The Sunni ulema provided the religious legitimization for the persecutions. This in a fetva from 1548 the famous Seyhulislam Ebussuud Effendi declared the Qizilbaş [Alevi] heretics, the murder of whom being permissible by Islamic law.”[iii]

As Daniel Pipes clearly shows, Islamic intellectuals and theologians such as Hamza ibn Ali, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, Ahmad ibn Taymiya and Shaykh Ibrahim al-Maghribi freely spoke about the divine necessity to kill or confiscate property from the Alawi people.[iv] It is for this reason the Alawi community fled into the isolated mountainous regions for the next several centuries. Abject poverty and the fear of violence changed the structure of their communal psyche that enveloped an attitude of leaning toward exclusivity, establishing intense internal division and tribal allegiances. As it is crucial to under the history in order to understand the present situation in Syria and Turkey, I will compare the Alawites of Syria with the Alevis of Turkey following the fall of the Ottoman Empire, explaining the differences between the struggle for power and how the Alawi experienced a sudden change of social and political fortune that sharply contrasts with the Alevis of Turkey.

Syria

The Latakia province has been the geographical position of the Alawi community since the beginning of the 10th or 11th century.[v] Their escape into the mountainous region did not end persecution nor change their lesser social class/position amongst the Sunni majority, but for a time merely lay dormant. “A fatwa was issued in the fourteenth century by a distinguished Sunni Muslim scholar, Ibn Taymiyya, stating that they [Alawi] were greater infidels than Jews, Christians and many idolaters and that waging war against them should please Allah.”[vi] Because the mountains in the Latakia region were isolated and difficult to travel through together with a lack of water resources and difficulty tending the land, the Alawi people have always been poor. As a result, they became servants to the Sunni elite and were treated with ignominy and contempt.

There are no social links between the Alevi and the Alawi, the latter viewing all Turks whether Alevi or Sunni as offspring of the Ottoman regime. This is only justified with the Turkish-Israeli alliance and the occupation of the Golan Heights by Israel, as well as the Alexandretta/Hatay controversy.[vii] Like the Alevi, the door fr modernisation was opened after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. Syria ambitiously developed transport, communication and roads that made urbanisation and information accessible. Syria is predominately rural; the success rate for implementing or expanding and finally assimilating the rural into urban life has been far more successful in Turkey. This could be because funding in Turkey was spread unanimously throughout the region, while in Syria priority was given mainly to the Latakia region.[viii]The 1950’s and 1960’s found the expansion of education dramatically increase. “The number of state schools grew from 658 in 1948 to 3,804 in 1964… foreign and private schools went down from 40 per cent of all schools in 1945 to 19 per cent in 1951, and almost nil in 1967.”[ix] Education allowed the Alawi to mobilise and prompted an increased desire to participate in political life, for reasons twofold: the fear of Islamist accession to power and the introduction by France for minorities to play a role in political decision-making.

Itamar Rabinovich discusses six important phases between the years 1918-1945 that defined the status of minorities in Syria.[x] Between 1918-1920, the presence of the Hashemite Emir Faysal, who sought power in the Syrian region, declared himself to be the King of Syria until the French presence and ultimate occupation that quickly put an end to his authority. In August 1920, the French established Greater Lebanon and by doing so enabled the Alawi and Druze to create their own semi-autonomous states. By 1925, Greater Lebanon was abandoned and Syria was once again re-established, although the Alawi and Druze states remained (until 1936). By 1936, a treaty was developed – though not ratified – that granted Syrian independence and incorporated the Alawi and Druze states into the whole territory (only fully implemented in 1944 – 1945). In 1941, the presence of the Vicky French came to an end when British authority took control with the support of the Free French troops; by 1943, the first elections were held.

France maintained that methods and strategies needed to be implemented in order to prevent the growing threat of theocracy. Edmond Rabbath wrote Unite Syrienne et Devenir Arabe and claimed that the Alawi and other heterodox communities are no different to Muslims, but merely ‘lag behind.’[xi] As a sharp contrast to Turkey, minorities in Syria were included in political life from the beginning of independence and the presence of the French opened the door to a new social consciousness for the Alawi community. Rabinovich claims that the unique relationship between the Alawites and the French are particularly important because Latakia contained a sizeable population of Christian and Bedouin communities.[xii] France also required assistance in an increasingly frustrated Syria and therefore provided Alawis with autonomy in order to receive unanimous support.

“[T]he state of Latakia was set up on 1 July 1922. They also gained legal autonomy; a 1922 decision to end Sunni control of court cases involving Alawis transferred these cases to Alawi jurists. The Alawi state enjoyed low taxation and a sizeable French subsidy… In return, Alawis helped maintain French rule.”[xiii]

When France provided the Alawites their own independent state, it established a political and social consciousness for the Alawites and consequently increased their participation in the social and political arena. “The ferment and the quest for social advancement at least for their offspring prompted numerous Alawi families to invest in education or to have a son enlisted in the French troupes speciales.”[xiv] Nevertheless, the change from French to British authority in 1941 created several issues that originally appeared detrimental for the Alawites. Afraid of deteriorating their political relationship with Emir Faysal, the British became suspicious of Alawis and instead supported Sunni nationalism and the sunnification of the heterodox communities. With the growing presence of Sunni domination, the Alawis revolted under the leadership of Sulayman al-Murshid, an elected Alawi leader who became a national figure. The rebellion was crushed and Murshid executed in 1946 with the support of British High Commissioner Edward Spears. It was at this stage that power in Syria was inherited by Sunnis, only increasing Alawi resistance for fear of repression and violence by the Sunni elite. It was only when the Druze revolt of 1954 was crushed that the Alawi became disillusioned by the political situation, but it nevertheless reflects the rise of Alawi consciousness and participation in national and political rebellion.[xv] Consequently, the ihkwan al-Muslimin or the Muslim Brotherhood were gradually developing a strong social and political ideology, leading the Alawites to strongly question the direction of their fate.

The most important change in Syria developed after the intentional collapse of leading Sunni landlords and the distribution of land ownership. However, “[t]he Alawis could not change this [poverty] situation by outing a few people as in Hama: a basic social and political revolution was required in their society.”[xvi] The Alawi needed more than merely eliminating the Sunni elite, particularly if regional politics played a predominate role in Surian political culture that could have left the Latakia region open to danger. Thus, Michel ‘Aflaq and Salah al-Din al-Baytar founded the Ba’th party during WW2 and by 1947 began to heavily recruit youths in high school. Although Turkey was much more successful with their coercive population politics and family planning that attempted to distribute communities and push for social fragmentation, there was no direct impact against the traditional social units in Syria and regional loyalty remained strong. “This gave the Ba’th party a regional, minoritarian, rural imprint that impeded its growth as an effective nationwide organisation.”[xvii] Syrian political culture contains a unique blend of traditional, regional, social and economic mechanisms. The development of the nation as a whole has not yet saturated supranational methods of political decision making or sub national administrative divisions and many citizens continue to call themselves ‘Arabs’ rather than ‘Syrians’. According to Michael H. Van Dusen, many continue to identify with local and parochial loyalties. “In Syria, the legacy of the past, the decentralized cell structure of political parties, the role of local politicians in ideological recruitment, political commitments based on high school allegiances – all have tended to perpetuate a sub-national network of political loyalties in the independence era.”[xviii]

The politicisation process began to enlarge following the early years of independence when an explosion of ideological stances with various alternatives became available. The process of modernisation did not directly affect self-sufficient and agricultural lifestyles, which maintained its uniformity and gradually developed into larger agro-cities. An agro-city is a large economic unit where the city centre is the central position for the wider agricultural towns or villages surrounding it and provides both security and health services for the population while growing in economic prominence.[xix] At the same time, specific ethnic populations reside in specific agro-cities, and it is for this reason that political culture and attitudes often revolve around regional interests rather than national. It is also the primary reason for intra-regional tension. Although national rhetoric is continuously reiterated, particularly in relation to Israel, Palestine and pan-Arabism, local loyalties are dominantly applied and national parties are still unable to penetrate intra-regional interests. It is the nature of agro-city politics that reduce the possibility for expanded support.[xx] Yet, the power of the Ba’th party came predominate became of their political stance towards the peasantry and the alleviation of poverty, something many in Syria can sympathise with.

According to Pipes, several factors played a role with Alawi ascension into power, particularly with their growing presence in the army.[xxi] The first is that the military continued to uphold the attitude of employing minorities since the Sunni majority viewed a career at Homs (Military Academy) as degrading. Secondly, while Sunni rule became dominant, they were both afraid and at the same time ignored the power of the military and avoided the provision of large funding. Finally, because of their economic situation, the Alawis could not pay the fee to avoid sending their children to the army, while at the same time found that a career at Homs an excellent opportunity for a steady income. “Alawi power resulted from an unplanned by sectarian transformation of public life in Syria.”[xxii] Minorities were originally placed in the lower ranks of the military, however this actually benefited their ascension since, “[s]enior officers engaged in innumerable military coup d’état between 1949 and 1963, each change of government was accompanied by ruinous power struggles among the Sunnis, leading to resignations and the depletion of Sunni ranks.”[xxiii] To add to this, because of the growing instability and distrust, kinship bonds became the favoured approach and thus advantageous for the Alawis whose power became increasingly visible. Thus, with the growing instability, the Ba’th party moved into an aggressive coup d’état in 1963 that finally swept them into power.

Salah Jadid controlled all military appointments in 1963 and he removed hundreds f officers and replaced them with Alawites.[xxiv] Although the Alawi community only make 12% of the population, they nevertheless gradually absorbed enough power to control the nation. In 1966, a neo-Ba’th movement organised a coup by a predominately Alawite administration until this was finally followed by the final coup in 1970 by Hafiz al-Asad against Salah Jadid. According to Pipes, Jadid lost his reign of power because – unlike Asad – Jadid supported the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) against the Jordanian government and was ultimately defeated. As noted by Tord Olsson, members of the al-Asad family play a chief role in political and military life in Syria.[xxv] This process began at independence and with the decline of the Sunni elite and land re-distribution after 1958, the structure of power dramatically changed. As social modernisation processes began to develop, education and career options became the primary objective for the Alawi community. Hafiz al-Asad became the president and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, his brother Rifat became commander of the defense unit surrounding Damascus, yet another brother Jamil became the leading member of the defence and who was later transferred to Geneva, while his cousin ‘Adnan was Commander of the Struggle unit. This has yet to change, as his son Bashar al-Asad is the current president of Syria who assumed office in 2000.

In order to maintain political power, the Alawi have sought to repress Sunni dominance – particularly in the military – by providing leading roles to Alawi and mediocre roles spread out throughout the country to Sunni. These changes in political dominance did not proceed without aggression. “They [Alawi] were given high representation (21.4%) in the military structure of the Regional Commands of the Ba’th, but the outlying traditional Sunni towns of Aleppo and Hama had no representation at all. These were the two main areas where major Sunni opposition to Alawi hegemony was strong and violent.”[xxvi] This has only made Islamist movements stronger that have shaken political stability. However, it cannot be denied that unlike Jadid, al-Asad attempted to reduce this tension by increasing his presence amongst the Sunni and positioning Sunni Commanders into leading positions.

Turkey

Turkey experienced a complex transformation from a historical and religious sovereignty by the Ottoman caliphate with multi-ethnic diversity and extensive territorial power into the nation-state that it is today. The Young Turks sough to eliminate the Ottoman and Islamic caliphate system, which they believed to be outdated and a thorn to modern progress. The Ottoman decline became highly visible during the reign of Sultan Adbulhamid II, where totalitarian enforcement and pan-Islamic propaganda dramatically increased until he was finally deposed by the Allies during World War One. In 1920, the Treaty of Sevres was signed and the Ottoman Empire partitioned, which provided the Young Turks a perfect opportunity to implement their dream for an independent national identity.

Ziya Gökalp is a leading figure who influence the modernist ambitions of the Young Turks (Committee of Union and Progress) and their nationalist plight to eliminate religion in political life. Gökalp wrote about the challenge and transformation of millet (nation), ümmet (religion) and muasirlaşma (modernisation) when developing a modern civilisation.[xxvii] By attempting to elucidate the difference between culture and civilisation, Gökalp became a prominent figure of Turkish nationalism and a supporter of political secularization, which sought to reduce the power of religious ideology and clericalism in political and social decision-making. Only when religion is separated from the State can modernity truly develop, but this does not imply the complete eradication of religion nor was Gökalp a supporter of individualism.

“Gökalp believed that the egoistic and utilitarian individualist ideals found in some western societies should never be the basis for building altruistic, tolerant, and public-oriented social norms in Turkey. Accordingly, individualism was a bankrupt social and political philosophy and a “threat to equilibrium and harmony of society but also to the individual himself.”[xxviii]

Similarly, Louis Dumont claimed that ‘equality’ and ‘individualism’ is an idea of an ideal but in no way natural like the hierarchy or caste system, particularly in India. “This individualistic tendency, which became established, generalized and popularized from the eighteenth century to the age of romanticism and beyond, was in fact accompanied by… organic solidarity.”[xxix] This “purblind provincialism” or the ideology of individualism has instead made the understanding of natural nomalism even more difficult.

Nevertheless, Gökalp’s triptych involved explicating the relationship modernism has with being a Turk and a Muslim. Is there an inherent challenge between Islam and modernity, or do the gates of ijtihad need to be re-opened in order for Islamic reform to take place, allowing modernity to flourish? Gökalp reject the şeriat or Islamic jurisprudence because he believed it to be inadequate and rigid to the ever-changing processes of modern society and claimed that şeyh-ül-Islam (Islamic officials and religious courts) and the medrese (religious schools) need to be transferred to the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Education respectively. The Republican People’s Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi) remained the only single party to rule until Turkey transitioned to the multi-party system in 1946. The fall of Nazi Germany and their fascist regime had the greatest impact for this political modification and it was generally acknowledged that in order to accomplish a modern society, Turkey required less totalitarian restrictions. Consequently, Islamic political groups found an opportunity to voice their concerns and sough for religious influence to help shape social and political life. Thus synergy between maintaining political secularism and democracy vis-à-vis Islam has become an important issue when discussing Turkish laicist politics. As a bridge between the East and the West, Turkey has attempted to set the example by removing religious influence in political life, but this has only been possible through the constitutional court, several military coup d’état and even capital punishment. By 1950, the Democratic Party (Demokrat Partisi) swept into power under the leadership of Adnan Menderes marking the first political change since 1923. The main reason for this transformation was rural frustration at the economic conditions and political antagonism toward Islam. The Demokrat Partisi relaxed on harsh demands against religion and introduced major economic and social changes. Although serious economic policies in rural Turkey were initiated by the Demokrat Partisi, paradoxically it was because the Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi consciously kept village life intact that the modernisation process was propelled. For instance, migrants who had left the village to seek employment in an urban environment could easily return to their village or their family could send food and other resources to help them manage, had they experienced poverty or failed to integrate.[xxx] If the collectivist approach had been implemented earlier and villages pushed to assimilate into the modernization process from the beginning, it could be argued that the development Turkey experienced would not have been accomplished successfully.

“That the Kemalists left the villages’ social structure intact did not stem from an incapability to disturb their lives (they were undisputed masters of the land and of the armed forces) but was a deliberate, self-conscious action… the Republican People’s Party and their predecessors had a very clearly worked out rural policy, which was based on development through rural communities’ existing social life, and was not intent on destroying it.”[xxxi]

This, however, appears to contradict the situation in Dersim and other rural areas where direct policies were created during the sing-party administration who attempted to absorb communities into the Turkish nationalist ideal. The Village Law (Law no. 442) began as early as 1924 that sought to disperse villages to help the process of modernisation.[xxxii] Mandatory regulations and measures for small villages with a population of up to 2000 were coerced in order to push changes, particularly with education and hygiene. The Village Law had an ideological character that gave little consideration to the actual social and economic situation, and although the process of development included building roads and investing in schools, many communities were forced to leave their village upon instigation by the Turkish government in order to drive the assimilation process. When the Democratic Party took power and the Village Inventory (Köy Envanter Etudleri) became fully established, “[b]etween 1962 and 1968, showed that four decades after the Village Law took effect, there were mosques in 79 percent of villages, but only 55 percent had a school, 43 percent had grocery store, 32 percent had a meeting room for the community council and 30 percent had a water pipe (these were all mandatory requirements).”[xxxiii]

The standard model for a rural (Sunni) village is a mosque in the centre of a village with houses built around it, and with the increase of mosques in Alevi villages following the implementation of the Village Law, concerns about the decline of secular ambitions and an increase of Sunni domination were raised. Alevi intellectuals often claim that their tradition naturally supports modernism and Kemalism.[xxxiv] The Young Turks idealized the Alevis as ‘true Turks’, preserving national Turkish culture and religion against foreign (Arabic) influences,” though they ignored that many Alevi themselves were not in fact ethnically Turkish.[xxxv] Mustapha Kemal became the long-awaited Mahdi for the Alevis who completed the task the Qizilbaş had expected the Safavids to complete during the early sixteenth century. Cemalettin Efendi (from Çelebi) who was revered by the greater majority of the Alevis in Anatolia as the direct descendant of Haci Bektaş claimed to support Atatürk after meeting with him; he later became the second deputy of Atatürk, while other Alevi tribal leaders particularly from the Dersim region rose to leading positions.[xxxvi] Those areas influenced by Cemalettin (for instance Sivas and Tokat) still continue narratives that are noticeably Kemalist.[xxxvii] However, some Alevi groups who did not view Cemalettin Efendi as a figure of authority refused to support the Kemalist revolution, such as the Koçkiri tribe (perhaps because of their Kurdish ethnicity). Thus, these postulations about the self-evident unity of Alevilik with Turkish nationalism has been challenged by Hamit Bozarslan who states that continuous reproduction of myths – such as a natural alliance with secularism – are often left unquestioned by researchers.[xxxviii] It is paradoxical to assert that the dynamic structure of Alevism contains eternal qualities, consequently leading to inefficient research and perhaps even false conclusions. The apparent link between Alevism and democracy or equality is thus a false conclusion that must be analysed with a different sociological and historical attitude, since the internal social mechanics of Alevi society contain various levels of hierarchical authority and domination as well as differences in religious attitudes (such as Bektaşi) and ethnic heritage (such as Kurdish).

The Koçkiri and Dersim rebellions are primary examples that contradict the weak notion of an eternal position between Alevism and Kemalism. Dersim is a region located within the Tunceli province (Eastern Turkey) and contains a political history of defiance, particularly against the Ottoman Empire. “Aside from his assimilation policy, what brought Abdulhamid into evil repute among his heterodox subjects were the activities of the Hamidiye Cavalry in the Eastern provinces. Actually established by the Sultan to provide a bulwark against the Russians, the cavalry attacked the Alevi tribes in the region and confiscated their land.”[xxxix] Prior to the formation of the Turkish Republic in 1923, the Kurdistan Teali Cemiyeti formed with the hope of creating an independent Kurdish State and with incitation by Britain, organised the first Koçkiri uprising in 1920. This was followed by the Sheikh Said Piran rebellion in 1925 arranged by a different Kurdish national group, the Azadi. “Said, leader of the 1925 ‘Sheikh Said rebellion’ was a Nakşibeni Sheikh,”[xl] thus Said Piran and his brother Sheik Abdurrahman (who attacked Palu and Malatya in 1927) where Sunni Kurds. Nevertheless, the Ararat Rebellion led by Ihsan Nuri Pasha, who in 1927 claimed independence from turkey until a series of campaigns by the Turkish forces crushed the rebellion and revolt.

While the Grand National Assembly was introduced to stimulate parliamentary and legislative authority during the Turkish War of Independence, discussions about the possibility for an independent administration for the Kurds had been made to reduce the pressure the Turkish National Movement was facing at the time. The Treaty of Lausanne failed to recognise ethno-linguistic groups – such as Alevis, Kurds, Laz and Circessians – although  it identified Jews and Christians as legitimate minorities and while it ended the war and finally established the Turkish Republic, it left Kurdistan as nothing but an imagined concept. This, therefore, led the Turkish government to purport Alevis as belonging to the majority and therefore disqualified from any rights. This consequently furthered violence where in 1937 the Qizilbaş Zaza people led by Seyid Riza rebelled against the Ataturk administration. Seyit Riza is often viewed as a symbol representing the Kurdish plight in Dersim. The distrust between tribes – for instance the Kurmanci – and the growing pressure of violence that later killed his two sons, Riza concluded that the new Turkish authorities were corrupt and consequently rebelled, leading to his eventual execution. In 1937, the government approved of a military operation in Dersim that “resulted in the annihilation of at least 10% of the population[xli] and the Tunceli Law (Tunceli Kanunlari) found thousands of people intentionally dispersed into other villages through the country to reduce the prospect of rebellion.

According to Borzalan, it was not only the Tunceli Law (a law that authorised the deportation of the Dersim population) but also the mass deportation and eventual genocide of Armenians that led to the Dersim rebellion. “They refused to go to war against the Russians during the world war and saved tens of thousands of Armenians from death.”[xlii] Over a decade of peace was suddenly converted to violence after a speech by Mustafa Kemal who pushed for an ‘Internal War of Independence’ against Dersim. It is fair to say that coercive policies in Dersim actually preceded the 1936-1938 rebellion. “A document dating back to January 1930 ordered the assessment of villagers with ‘foreign’ names and ‘foreign’ inhabitants, as well as the dispersion of these ‘foreigners’ over Turkish villages in order to make them Turks… In 1932 a law was passed in Turkish parliament that ordered the deportation and dispersion of Kurds to force their assimilation with ‘Turks’.”[xliii] In 1934, the Settlement Act was created to force an acculturation process particularly in the rural areas of Turkey, but it provided a wide margin of opportunity for authorities to apply coercive means against people by using such ambiguous language like ‘anarchist’ or ‘nomadic gypsy’.

The Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi or the National Action Party (MHP) is a far-right, conservative political group accused of human rights violations against Alevis. Including the Milli Selamet Partisi or the National Salvation Party (MSP) and the MHP youth organisation or ülkücü (idealists), a series of propaganda campaigns and offensive attacks in Sivas in 1978 and Çorum in 1980 led to mass violence and murder.[xliv] Three days in 1978 found 111 dead in the city of Kahramanmaraş after devious political machinations by ultranationalists pushed for the massacre. Such violence against Alevis involved two justifications; their left-wing or Marxist political association and the Kurdish national movement. “If nationalism is formulated in such a system of differences (A: non-A), it tends to destroy heterogeneity. The Other is then seen as the knife on the throat of the Nation.”[xlv] Türk Ameler Birliği (Turkish Workers’Union) became the first active organisation for the Alevis during the 1960’s, until replaced with Turtseverler Birliği (Patriots Union) that is affiliated with the Birlik Partisi (Union Party) in Turkey. Türkiye Komünist Partisi/Markist-Leninist or the Communist Party of Turkey/Markist-Leninist had a strong influence amongst Alevis, particularly in the Dersim region. With an increase of internal division against dedes for exploiting the community and hopelessness amongst the Alevi youth, Markist ideology became a better alternative to both Kemalism and Alevism in order to provide social unity and challenge the domination and nationalism sweeping through Turkey. “The mechanisms of domination that once were sufficient to manage the inter-community based conflicts declined, thus giving birth to massive violence, radical modes of expression and transformation of symbolic values and resources into key elements of mobilisation.”[xlvi] As Islamism began to be visually and socially perceptive, so did the growth of Alevi identity due to particularly to the restrictions that only non-Turkish (such as Kurds or Arabs) or non-Sunni (such as Alevi) were forced to experience. As the power of the left declined, it opportuned a new and modern communalism with the Alevi community.

The Jandarma, or the Turkish National Police, is a paramilitary force working under the Interior Ministry who primarily function in urban areas, particularly south-eastern Turkey. Riddled with corruption, the Jandarma are blamed for violence and torture among other abuses. “’Disappearances’ and extra-judicial executions took hundreds of lives in the 1990’s.”[xlvii] In 1995, the leader of the TKP/ML Party, Hasan Ocak, disappeared and was later found brutally murdered after being tortured. There is evidence that proved he was detained by police before his body was found.[xlviii] International and domestic human rights organisations claim that freedom of expression and human rights have been continuously undermined because of hidden but coercive violence against civilians, particularly Alevis and Kurds, which is clearly domination by the State who promote social cohesion through violence and fear or nationalism through human rights abuses. Organisations such as the TIHV (Türkiye Insan Haklari Vakfi) or the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey and the IHD (Insan Haklari Derneği) have documented both the scale of torture and the violent methods used by the military and police. The obvious use of excessive force resulted from the shift in political and social ideology particularly with the Turkish-Islamic Synthesis (Türk-Islam Sentezi) that developed following the military coup in 1980 that found several politicians, including Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, executed for high treason.

In order to deal with the social and political upheaval and several years of military rule, the Enlightenment Hearths (Aydinlar Ocaklari) were a group of political, business and academic elites who developed the Turkish-Islamic Synthesis as an apparent way to tackle the mounting left-wing activism and by promoting a national religious culture. “After the 1980 coup, where the military took control of power for three years, found military leaders adopted new policies directly inspired by the Türk-Islam Sentezi, which aimed at switching Alevi identity to Sunni identity.”[xlix] It was introduced in the referendum of the new constitution as a form of social cohesion or Unitarian nationalism to tackle the economic and social problems, thus the government decided to manage the social upheaval by inducing further national solidity; to create a national and secular Turkey with Sunni Islam as the predominate religion. Ethnic and religious diversity was reversed to exclusion or assimilation. Legislators immediately began imposing Sunni Islamic religious ideals (sunnification) within predominately Alevi communities, such as building mosques in Alevi villages. This appears contrary to Kemalism that believed the Ottoman Islamic structure to be feudal and backward, where secularisation and modernisation was supposed to gradually diminish Ottoman influence, hence the radical changes in dress code and other legal frameworks. It is for this reason that Alevis have re-created the alliance with Kemalism, claiming that these structural changes are anti-Kemalist and the return to Sunni domination. Kemalism was reconstructed to tackle both the accelerating economic and social change vis-à-vis the rapidly expanding industrialisation process, together with the advancing ultranationalist groups who were attempting to gain public support after the coup d’etat.[l]

It cannot be denied that nationalism has provided the justification for “othering” Alevi and Kurdish groups, yet far-right radicalism in Turkey also became religiously compelled. Ultranationalists like the MHP appealed to Sunni Islamic Orthodoxy as a predominant method of symbolic legitimisation. Turkish nationalists and conservatives began to associate a dialectical synthesis with Islam, and while history can be used  to under the positive and negative aspects of the process of historical development, when linked with nationalism, can also be used as a hegemonic tool. For instance, a mob of Islamists (and authorities) were incited to violence in Sivas following Friday prayers and set fire to the Madimak Hotel where the Alevi Pir Sultan Abdal Kültür association arranged a cultural festival. Police and security forces deliberately did nothing to protect the 37 people who died in the fire. The same could easily be said for the violent reaction by police to contain a protest in Gazi (Gaziosmanpaşa) after the drive-by shootings at Doğu Coffeehouse in a predominately Alevi neighbourhood in Istanbul, where police randomly shot into the crowd and killed 15 people. “This conflict was highlighted in January 2005, when Alevis in Ankara applied for permit to build a cemevi. The Diyanet responded that the cem house was unnecessary, because they could worship at a mosque instead. In May 2006, the Diyanet President rejected offering financial support for cemevis on the grounds that the DIB lacked funds for “supporting mystical worship.”[li] The Department of Religious Affairs in Turkey now has one of the highest budgets (approx. $US1Billion).

Conclusion

Turkey has undergone a massive transformation and in the process has developed a national ideology with a strong emphasis on modernisation. Ziya Gölkalp became the leading figure who influence the ambitions of the Young Turks (Committee of Union and Profess) and their nationalist plight to eliminate religion in political and social life, in particular Mustapha Kemal Atatürk (Father of the Turks). After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey was declared a Republic on October 29, 1923 under the leadership of Atatürk who sought to reform the country and create a modern nation-state. Consequently, many dervish orders were closed and assimilation policies were implemented throughout Turkey. Alevis and other minority groups experienced discrimination and violence that has consequently opened dialogue on the politics of recognition. The complex internal dynamics of Turkey society has led the Alevis to declare that they do not want a minority status, but seek only to be recognised as having a legitmate religion. Thus, they are faced with the requirement to scriptualise their oral tradition and consequently effectuate a theological doctrine. By codifying their oral tradition, they will not only transform Alevism into a systematic set of beliefs – something they in principle are not – but will condense their traditional methods of religious association, which developed over hundreds of years.

The Fertile Crescent has been the centre for many powerful and exclusive civilisations, while also home to the Alevi (Turkey), Alawi (Syrian), Druze (Lebanon), Ahl-q Haqq (Iran) and Yazidi (Iraq) that worship a unique form of Islam with a blend of Pagan, Zoroastrian, Buddhist and Christian influences. With increased migration into Europe and Turkey’s potential accession into the European Union, questions about the status of minorities have been raised. In 1992, Alevi intellectuals wrote a manifesto asking for political legitimacy by the Diyanet Işleri Başkanligi (Directorate of Religious Affairs), yet they remain officially unrecognised the by government.[lii] Accordingly, suspicion is only increasing and these doubts are justified by the 2007 election results. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) received the majority vote while the Republican People’s Party (CHP) – the centre-left Kemalist party – came second on the national polls. Nevetherless, a close third was the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the ultra-nationalist party accused of neo-fascism with just over five million votes, nearly three million more than in 2002. That is five million votes too much.

Although the Alevis have remained under the control of the Sunni majority in Turkey, the Alawi of Syria have transformed from a persecuted and impoverished minority to a leading political and military power. Former power-relations began to dissolve particularly in the urban context that transformed Syria into a new political force. Unlike Turkey, who sought to repress minorities in Syria were encouraged to participate politically in order to reduce the strength of the growing Islamist position. “The French had encouraged minority recruitment as a means to counter the nationalist tendencies of the Arab-Sunni majority and to secure the alliance of the minority communities.”[i] Union with Egypt interrupted state politics that eventually paved the way for the Ba’th party to sweep into power, and though only a minority group statistically at 12% of the Syrian population, the Alawi held most of the majority posts and were represented only second to the majority Sunni population in the government.

[i] Itamar Rabonvich, “The Compact Minorities and the Syrian State, 1918-1945” Journal of Contemporary History 14:4 (Oct 1979) 703
[ii] Ibid., 694
[iii] Paul J White and Joost Jongerden, Turkey’s Alevi Enigma: A Comprehensive Overview, (Boston: Brill, 2003) 55
[iv] Daniel Pipes, “The Alawi Capture of Power in Syria” Middle Eastern Studies 25:4 (Oct 1989) pp 434-435
[v] Elisabeth Ozdalga, Tord Olsson and Catharina Raudvere, Alevi Identity: Cultural, Religious and Social Perspectives (Stockholm: Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul, 1998) 167. The Alawites were persecuted from the beginning of the Mamluks which consequently forced them into the mountainous regions of Latakia.
[vi] Ibid., 152
[vii] Ibid., 165. Alexandretta/Hatay were incorporated into Turkey in 1939 after the French made a compromise with the Turkish government. The region has a sizeable portion of Alawites.
[viii] Mahmud A. Faksh, “The Alawi Community of Syria: A New Dminant Political Force” Middle Eastern Studies 20:2 (April 1984) 133-153. Although Latakia received most of the funding and improved more than any other region, it is claimed that Latakia was given priority because of its impoverished and rural situation rather than it being predominately Alawi. Whether this is true or not remains unknown.
[ix] Ibid., 140
[x] Rabanovich, op. cit., pp 695-696
[xi] Ibid., 699
[xii] Ibid., 703
[xiii] Daniel Pipes. “The Alawi Capture of Power in Syria” Middle Eastern Studies 25:4 (Oct 1989) 429-450
[xiv] Rabinovich, op. cit., pp 695-696
[xv] Faksh, op.cit., 139. This was also followed by the Druze rebellion in 1954; the Druze or Ahl- al-Tawid are populated mostly in Syria and follow Ismaili Shi’i Islam, but are not like the Alawi as they are officially recognised as Muslims.
[xvi] Michael H. Van Dusen, “Political Integration and Regionalism in Syria,” Middle East Journal 26:2 (Spring 1972) 132
[xvii] Faksh, op. cit., 141
[xviii] Dusen, op. cit., 135
[xix] Ibid., 124
[xx] Ibid., 129
[xxi] Pipes, op. cit., 440
[xxii] Ibid., 430
[xxiii] Ibid., 441
[xxiv] Olsson, Ozdalga and Raudvere, op. cit., 161
[xxv] Ibid., 167
[xxvi] Faksh, op. cit., 145
[xxvii] Andrew Davison, Secularism and Revivalism in Turkey: A Hermeneutic Reconsideration (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998) 92
[xxviii] Ibid., 97
[xxix] Alan Mcfarlane, “Louis Dumont and the Origins of Individualism” Cambridge Anthropology 16:1 (1993) 3
[xxx] David Shankland, The Turkish Republic at Seventy-Five Years. (Cambridgeshire: The Eothen Press, 1999) 60
[xxxi] Ibid., 58
[xxxii] Erhand Franz, Population Policy in Turkey: Family Planning and Migration between 1960 and 1992 (Hamburg: Deutsches Orient-Instit, 1994) 221
[xxxiii] Ibid., 222
[xxxiv] Olsson, Ozdalga and Raudvere, op. cit., 107
[xxxv] White and Jongerden, op. cit., 57
[xxxvi] Ibid., 59. “The entire order was governed by Celebi, who resided in the mother-monastery (pir-evi) Haci Bektas, constructed over the saint’s tomb (between Kirsehir and Kayseri).”
[xxxvii] Ibid., 60
[xxxviii] Ibid., 3
[xxxix] Ibid., 56
[xl] Ibid., 26
[xli] Ibid., 66
[xlii] Ibid., 10
[xliii] Ibid., 77-78
[xliv] Ibid., 83
[xlv] Ibid., 84
[xlvi] Ibid., 14. Abdullah Ocalan is a prominent figure in the Kurdish domain who in 1974 established the PKK under Marxist ideology.
[xlvii] Ibid., 71
[xlviii] Ibid., 86
[xlix] Olsson, Ozdalga and Raudvere, op. cit., 80
[l] Ibid., 7
[li] David Shankland, op. cit., 65
[lii] Olsson, Ozdalga and Raudvere, Op. Cit., 127

One thought on “Syria and Turkey: A Historical Comparative

  1. Pingback: Dangerous Liaisons in Syria: Is it a Civil War or a Proxy War? | Summa Amare

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