Attacks on 4 Alevi institutions in Turkish capital ‘organized and planned,’ lawyer says

Attacks targeting four Alevi houses of worship (cemevis) and associations in the Turkish capital of Ankara on Saturday were “organized and planned beforehand,” Turkish Minute reported, citing a lawyer representing the institutions.

According to Hüsniye Şimşek, the Türkmen Alevi Bektaşi Foundation’s headquarters in Çankaya was targeted around 1:30 p.m. and the Şah-ı Merdan cultural association in Mamak around 2:30 p.m., while the Ana Fatma Cemevi and the Gökçebel Village Association – both also in Mamak – were attacked simultaneously around 3:40 p.m.

A woman sustained injuries from a knife at the Türkmen Alevi Bektaşi Foundation, local media reports said over the weekend, while plastic chairs were thrown at members of the Şah-ı Merdan cultural association.

Although the police detained a suspect identified only by the initials A.O.K., accusing him of all the attacks in Ankara, others believe the incidents weren’t perpetrated by the same person.

“The person caught on camera at the Ana Fatma Cemevi doesn’t fit the description of the [perpetrator of the attack on] the Türkmen Alevi Bektaşi Foundation, where the first attack took place. … The perpetrator of the first attack was said to be in his 20s, while the person who attacked the other institutions was [said to be] in his 30s,” Şimşek said, adding that they thought the incidents were “organized and planned beforehand.”

Ana Fatma Cemevi President Mustafa Karabudak also said they thought the attacks were organized, underlining that there has to be someone who hired the attacker since there’s no logic to one person perpetrating all the attacks.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Ankara deputy Gamze Taşcıer, who visited the Alevi associations and was briefed on the events, said there wasn’t a long time between the attacks, adding that if the attacks were carried out by the same person, the questions of how and by whom this person was provided transportation should be answered.

“Nearly 10 hours elapsed between the first attack and the time he [the attacker] was caught. There is negligence here, but it’s the Interior Ministry that should investigate it,” Taşcıer also said.

According to a 2020 report published by the Freedom of Belief Initiative, which listed data obtained from work monitoring religion or belief-based hate crimes that were committed in Turkey that year, Alevis were targeted in more than half of them.

Alevis, who are estimated to account for 16.5 percent of Turkey’s population of 83 million, are the second-largest Islamic sect in Turkey, with Sunni Hanafi Islam the largest.

There are long-standing tensions between the Alevi and Sunni communities in Turkey. During the Turkish republican era, hundreds of Alevis were killed in pogroms, which many now believe were masterminded by groups inside the state, in the cities of Çorum, Yozgat and Kahramanmaraş in the 1970s.

Thirty-four Alevi intellectuals died in a fire in 1992 at the Madımak Hotel in Sivas. In other incidents, such as in İstanbul’s predominantly Alevi Gazi neighborhood in 1995, Alevis were targeted by individuals armed with machine guns.

Turkey has long denied Alevi demands for state recognition, and cemevis are not officially recognized by the state as houses of worship, hence given no financial assistance.

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