Alevi houses marked with red paint sparks fear among residents

A number of Alevi residences were marked with red paint in Turkey’s northwestern Yalova province, bringing back memories of violence against the community in the past after their houses were similarly marked, Turkish media reported.

The incident took place in the Bağlarbaşı neighborhood, where unknown individuals defaced the walls of the five houses with red spray paint. An investigation was launched by the police to find the perpetrators after the families reported the marks on their houses.

Speaking to the pro-Alevi Pirha news website victims of the vandalism said this was the first time they had experienced such an incident in that neighborhood.

Hasan Arduç, whose house was marked, said there were only five Alevi households, all of whose houses were vandalized. “Only our houses were marked,” he said. “I have lived in the same neighborhood for 40 years, and this has never happened before.”

Incorporating Shiite, Sufi, Sunni and local traditions, Alevism is a strain of Islam that emerged in the Middle Ages. Alevis are estimated to constitute between a tenth and a fifth of the Turkish population.

Fikret Demir, the regional president of the Hacı Bektaş Veli Anatolian Culture Association, said such incidents were dangerous because they increased social tension and friction.

He added that many Alevi houses had been marked with red paint over the years but said the incidents were never truly investigated. “Authorities just said that some children must have done it,” he said. “But these things hurt us because we remember previous massacres carried out against Alevis.”

Demir said everyone needed to raise their voices against such acts and that the authorities must fulfill their responsibilities by finding the perpetrators.

Former Yalova deputy and opposition figure Muharrem İnce said on Twitter that “othering” Alevi citizens in such ways was unacceptable. He said such acts of vandalism were the biggest evil because they disrupted peace in the society.

Alevi households were similarly marked with red paint before the Kahramanmaraş Massacre that took place December 19-25, 1978. More than 100 people were killed during the massacre, and hundreds of houses and workplaces belonging to Alevi citizens were burned.

The Kahramanmaraş Massacre is only one among many massacres the Alevis have experienced in Turkish history.

During the Republican era, thousands of Alevis were massacred in Dersim in 1937, and hundreds were killed in pogroms in the cities of Çorum and Yozgat in the 1970s. Thirty-four Alevi intellectuals died in a 1992 fire inside the Madımak Hotel in Sivas. In other incidents, such as in İstanbul’s predominantly Alevi Gazi neighborhood in 1995, Alevis were targeted by people armed with automatic weapons. Many believe the incidents were masterminded by groups inside the state for political purposes.

Many Alevi leaders worry that the Alevi population is still subject to discrimination as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government has been increasingly imposing its own version of Islam on society. Back in 2012, Erdoğan said Alevi places of worship, cemevis, where not place for worship but for cultural activities.

Indeed, cemevis, are still not officially recognized by Turkey, and they are occasionally  vandalized, with curses and other insulting words put on the walls.

According to Ali Kenanoğlu, a deputy from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), a left-wing party with majority Kurdish support, 36 publicly known hate crime incidents have targeted Alevis in Turkey within the last eight years.

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