Monday, September 30, 2013

How the Syrian War Is Stoking Sectarian Tensions in Turkey
 “We are against war,” Karasu said. “The people here, they know that the government is using Hatay to attack Syria, to stoke tensions between Sunnis and Alevis.” As evidence, he pointed to the May 2013 car bombings in Reyhanli, a nearby town, in which over 50 people were killed. Erdoğan’s Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) had attributed the attack to Syrian intelligence agents, but Karasu had other ideas. “We know the AKP was behind the bombing in Reyhanli, when they killed our Sunni brothers,” he said. “Why? To pin the blame on the Alevis, to stoke violence between us and our Sunni brothers.”“We’re afraid of tensions with Sunnis,” Khatifa Çapar, an older woman clad in a pink headscarf, told me on the way back from the funeral. “If there’s war with Syria, Hatay will be the first to get hit, the first to explode.”
Çapar and others appeared to retain a soft spot for the Syrian regime. “Bashar doesn’t kill people, they are the ones killing people, the jihadists,” she said. A young man, Mehmet Dağ, chimed in. “Before the war, everyone was living comfortably in Syria. Then the Americans came, along with the Turks, with their so-called Middle East democracy projects, and made war,” he said. “I used to go to Syria all the time. The kind of democracy they had there, you could hardly find in most other places.In Armutlu, evidence that Turkey’s role in Syria was fueling a new wave of Alawite resentment towards Erdoğan’s government was everywhere. On my way back from Atakan’s funeral, and en route to a protest that would end with yet more clashes with police, tear gas, burning barricades and even reports of gunshots, I stopped at a teahouse on the edge of the neighborhood.One of the local men, on recognizing a foreigner, asked me where I was from. Poland, I answered. “You look Al Qaeda,” he said, deadpan. (The cargo pants must have been a clear giveaway.) “That’s because I’m Polish Al Qaeda,” I explained, winking. “I see,” he said. I looked for some trace of a smile on his face. There was none.“Leave while you can,” a younger man sitting next to him yelled. “War’s coming.” At least he, to judge by a good-natured grin and a subsequent invitation to tea, appeared to be joking.But only to some extent. The man, Aytaç Bağcı, a sports instructor, was convinced that the U.S. would attack Syria at any moment, and that this would play right into Erdoğan’s hands. “Every day they’re sending Islamist terrorists across the border,” he said, referring to reports that extremist groups were transiting Turkey en route to Syria. He and his friends had had enough of seeing bearded foreigners on the streets of Antakya, Bağcı said. “Wherever they go, people die,” he said. The chemical weapons attack in Ghouta, he was persuaded, had been staged by the rebels, not Syrian regime forces, in order to goad the U.S. into military action against Assad.Erdoğan, he believed, wanted to “Sunnify” both Syria and Turkey. “They want political Islam here, and they want political Islam there, too,” he said Alevis, he said, wanted the government to stop sticking its nose into their private lives. “We want a secular country.”

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