Turkey’s Arab Alawis Show Support for Lebanon’s Jabal Mohsen Victims

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The Abu Omran café in Jabal Mohsen in ruins following a double suicide bombing on January 11, 2014 in Tripoli, Lebanon. Al-Akhbar/Marwan Tahtah

By: Rana Harbi

Published Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Arab Alawis took to the streets of the Turkish capital of Ankara on Monday in solidarity with the victims of Saturday’s double suicide bombing in the Lebanese city of Tripoli.

“If you remain silent over the massacre you will become an accomplice,” read one of the banners the demonstrators raised as they gathered on one of the capital’s cold streets to condemn the twin suicide bombing that hit a popular cafe in Tripoli’s Jabal Mohsen neighborhood, claiming the lives of nine.

Marchers in Ankara, Turkey on January 12, 2015 hold a banner, which reads “if you remain silent over the massacre you will become an accomplice,” in a rally in solidarity with victims of a deadly bombing in Lebanon's Tripoli.Marchers in Ankara, Turkey on January 12, 2015 hold a banner, which reads “if you remain silent over the massacre you will become an accomplice,” in a rally in solidarity with victims of a deadly bombing in Lebanon's Tripoli.

Al-Qaeda's Syria branch, al-Nusra Front, claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack in the majority Alawi neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen, raising fears that the Turkey-backed militant group, which has been seeking to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the past four years, will start targeting Alawis outside Syrian territories.

In a statement, read in both Arabic and Turkish, the Arab Alawi Youth Council (AAYC), a solidarity network Arab Alawis created across Turkey following the Syria crisis, slammed the attack on Jabal Mohsen as “terrorist,” warning of the “dangers of the takfiri imperialist mentality on the people of the region.”

Speaking in Arabic in front of the crowd, which included representatives of Turkish and Kurdish Alawi communities as well as Turkish leftist groups, Pırıl Kurtdere, a member of the AAYC, blamed the rise of “terrorism” on countries that have helped in the creation and expansion of extremist groups in Syria and Iraq.

“We condemn the cowardly attack carried out by extremists, as well as the countries that have supported, armed and sponsored the Nusra Front and other takfiri movements,” he said, adding that this extremist mentality will leave the region in ruins.

Similarly, Kurtdere fellow AAYC member, Mahmut Durkal, who spoke in Turkish, asserted Turkey’s Arab Alawis’ unwavering support of “the brave people of Jabal Mohsen,” criticizing the silence of the international community towards the barbaric killing of civilians in Lebanon.

Marchers in Ankara, Turkey on January 12, 2015.Marchers in Ankara, Turkey on January 12, 2015.

Following the Syrian crisis, the Arab Alawi community in Turkey struggled to both preserve ties with Syria’s and Lebanon’s Alawis due to their religious and linguistic bonds, while also maintaining national boundaries.

Alawis, located in the eastern Mediterranean region, became divided into Syrian and Turkish Alawis when the borders of the modern Middle East were drawn up by colonial powers in 1939, making Hatay, the Turkish name of the Liwa Iskanderun province, a part of southern Turkey. In 2004, the Syrian government gave up on territorial claims, officially recognizing Hatay as a Turkish province and angering a lot of Arab Alawis who still refer to it as the Arab Liwa Iskanderun.

“We have been living in harmony with people from different religions, races and sect for years, but today we feel threatened,” Hasan Sivri, a journalist for the Near East News Agency and an outspoken activist from the Hatay district of Antioch, told Al-Akhbar English. “Our history of tolerance has resisted any sectarian threat in the past and will continue to do so. We are not afraid of each other, we are afraid of foreigners.”

The porous nature of the 900 km borders between Hatay and Syria has led to a sense of vulnerability and insecurity in southern communities.

“We have seen frightened refugees flow into Turkey on one hand, and foreign jihadists, especially Tunisians and Libyans, money and ammunitions flow into Syria’s Idlib, Latakia and Aleppo on the other hand,” Sivri said. “These jihadists have invaded our villages like cancer and it is only normal to feel threatened especially when we see them on the news executing our fellow Syrians.”

According to Sivri, the Turkish government has allowed foreigners to use Turkish territory as a base to fight from by adopting an open-border policy that has endangered Turkey in general and the Arab community in Turkey in particular. The dire effects of the free movement of militants in the streets was revealed on May 11, 2013, when a car bomb killed 53 people in Reyhanli, a town and district of Hatay Province.

According to Sivri, the four-year crisis in Syria has revived bonds between Syria and Hatay, as well as Hatay and other Arab countries.

“Seeing our coreligionists and even family members being massacred is what pushed us to take the streets,” Sivri asserted. “Our sense of solidarity has been mistaken time and again with sympathy for Assad. That is not the case. The Turkish government and [Turkish President Recep Tayipp] Erdogan portray our movement as ‘pro-Assad’ or as a sectarian movement when in reality it isn’t.”

Jabal Mohsen’s attack came few days after attacks on the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine known for its controversial depictions of the Prophet Mohammad, and a kosher supermarket saw 17 killed.

Though hundreds of thousands rallied in support of France, even in Lebanon, very little sympathy has been shown to the Jabal Mohsen massacre.

“Why isn’t marching for Paris considered ‘sectarian’ but marching for Jabal Mohsen is?” Sivri asked. “Paying tribute to victims of Islamist militant attacks in Syria and Lebanon shouldn’t be seen from a sectarian and certainly not from a pro-Assad lens.”

The Arab Alawis took the streets in protest of bloodshed in Syria and what they called “Turkey’s sectarian foreign policy” on multiple occasions in the past three years.

The stance in support of Jabal Mohsen came after protests erupted in Hatay, Mersin, Istanbul and other Turkish cities following the massacre perpetrated by extremists in the Alawi village of Maan near Syria’s Hama in February 2014, and also the massacre in Syria’s Latakia in 2013.

“We have struggled for years to find a place in Turkey’s political landscape as most political factions are based on either ethnic, Kurds and Turks, or religious and even sectarian grounds,” Sivri said. “Due to the need to unify our stand regarding regional as well as local issues, and unable to do so by joining other sides, the AAYC came into place.”

On a local level, the AAYC has three fundamental demands: the right to an Arabic language education, the reversion of town names to their original appellation in the historically Arab Iskanderun province, and official recognition as a minority community.

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