Contentious Turkish mosque project stirs sectarian Sunni-Alevi unrest
Billed as a symbol of peace between two faiths, a new place of worship has turned a poor suburb of Ankara into a battleground and exposed wider sectarian tensions within Turkey.
The project’s blueprint envisages a Sunni mosque rising side by side with a new cemevi, or assembly house, to be used by Alevis, Turkey’s biggest religious minority.
But with its concrete foundations barely set, Alevis suspect an attempt to assimilate their community into the Sunni Muslim majority and youths from the minority are battling riot police nightly.
In response, Ankara’s mayor has dismissed the protesters as Assad’s “soldiers” in an uncomfortable reminder of the largely sectarian civil war raging in neighbouring Syria.
Making up about 15-20 percent of Turkey’s 76 million people, Alevis draw from Shi’a, Sufi and Anatolian folk traditions, practising distinct rituals which can put them at odds with their Sunni counterparts, many of whom accuse them of heresy.
Residents in Tuzlucayir, the poor and mainly Alevi suburb on the outskirts of Ankara, are determined to halt the project.
“We will not stop protesting until the construction stops,” said Candas Turkyilmaz, a 29-year-old labourer from Tuzlucayir, pointing to construction workers busying around the site by day while riot police keep close watch from the hill above.
“Nobody knew what they were building at first. We thought it was just another mosque, but when we found out we started to protest. You cannot have a cemevi next to a mosque, our beliefs are different,” said Turkyilmaz.