Group tries to recruit Hatay Alevis into Assad army

(Photo: Cihan)

September 03, 2012, Monday/ 16:43:00

Local intelligence sources in Hatay, a province in southern Turkey on the border with Syria, say a terrorist organization named the Turkish Peoples' Liberation Party-Front -- The Urgent Ones (THKP-C Acilciler) is trying to actively recruit Arab Alevi youth in Hatay to fight in Assad's army in Syria.

Some neo-nationalist groups in the province of Hatay support the THKP-C Acilciler, whose leader, Mihraç Ural, is a fugitive wanted by law enforcement. Hatay has a population of 500,000 Alevis, and these groups, local intelligence sources say, are trying to politicize the Alevi community. The purpose is to draw Turkey into a sectarian conflict in Hatay, and at the same time force the Turkish government to abandon its current Syrian policy, which is anti-Assad.

Ural, according to reports from the region, has set up an armed group in Syria called the Revolutionary People's Army. Alevi youths who want to fight against opposition forces alongside Assad's army are referred to this organization, intelligence sources claim. Ural is better known for his “revolutionary” side than his Alevi identity.

Security forces blame the provocative rally in Hatay on Sunday, when about 1,000 protesters gathered in a demonstration to show their support for the Assad regime, on Ural. A security official who asked to be unnamed said: “Mirhaç Ural is trying to create confusion by stirring up the city to end Turkey's Syria policy. But he is not effective. Alevis aren't supporting him. The Mukhabarat is using Mihraç Ural, and Syria is protecting him.”

There is an Interpol red notice for Ural. He is currently in Syria and frequently travels to areas near the Turkish border behind the shield of the Assad regime. Intelligence units say he frequently meets Alevi youths on the Syrian border in meetings facilitated by Syrian intelligence, the Mukhabarat. Sources also say that a group of 20-30 neo-nationalists that participated in Sunday's rally were doing so under orders from Ural. Police were extra careful with his group so as to stop them from causing agitation and violence in the demonstration.

The neo-nationalists are using the Syrian conflict to trigger an Alevi-Sunni clash in Hatay. Rumors that Alevis are taking up arms, which are not true according to intelligence sources, are being spread in the province. But the number of people who have rifles in the province has increased from last year's 160 to 172, indicating that no serious surge in the ownership of firearms has taken place.

In addition to the Acilciler group led by Ural, which almost collapsed after a police raid last month, the local offices of the Workers' Party (İP) are actively working in the province for the same goal. The terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has also grown in strength in Hatay, according to police reports. The number of PKK terrorists hiding in the rural areas of Hatay, previously estimated at 20 or 25, has risen to 70 militants. Intelligence units warn that terrorist groups are trying to make a new Hakkari out of Hatay.

Turkish Alevis and Syria's Alawites are different communities, although sometimes the word Alevi is used to refer to both groups. Forty percent of Hatay's population are “Arab Alevis,” who appear to be closer in their faith system to Syrian Alawites.

There have been intelligence reports that a businessman associated with the Assad regime attempted to buy a local newspaper, offering three times its real worth. But the newspaper, leery of the businessman and of his political motivations, refused to sell.

There has been a spillover of violence from Syria to Hatay's Samandağ district. When Syrian refugees, who are Sunni, were placed in a refugee camp in Samandağ, there were disturbances in the district, an area that is 98 percent Alevi. There were rumors in the district that the refugees got into fights in the center of the district and that the number of robberies also went up, although data from the police department do not corroborate this claim.

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