Alawites escape jihadists in Syria, take shelter in Turkey

Alawites escape jihadists in Syria, take shelter in Turkey

ISTANBUL/ Hürriyet
Alawites escape jihadists in Syria, take shelter in Turkey

More than 200 Syrians from the streets have been brought to cemevis. At least 3,000 escaped from an Alawite neighborhood in Aleppo, according to accounts. Hürriyet photos, Levent ARSLAN

In increasing number of Syrian Alawites, who fled from Aleppo to Turkey’s southeastern province of Gaziantep two months ago, have come to Istanbul in search of a safe haven.

Hundreds are now living in the parks and streets, mainly in the Kumkapı, Fatih and Şirinevler districts of the city. In the last week alone, Alevi associations, led by the Haci Bektas Veli Foundation in Istanbul, have taken more than 200 Syrians from the parks and streets and brought them to cemevis (Alevi worship houses) in order to provide them with shelter.

According to the accounts of these refugees, at least 3,000 escaped from an Alawite neighborhood in Aleppo two months ago, after being targeted by an al-Qaeda-linked jihadist group battling the Syrian regime, Jabhat al-Nusra. “The rebels attacked us in Aleppo. We had to run away. They were not Syrians, they were jihadists coming from other countries. Some of them come with the aim of jihad, and some of them come for money,” said Hasan (not his real name), who fled to Istanbul with his family.

‘Frightening rumors’

Witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity and asked for neither the name of the cemevi where they are being looked after, nor their names, be written.

They said they were afraid to stay in the refugee camps located in the border areas of Turkey with the other Syrians who had fled al-Assad’s forces. Although none have stayed in these refugee camps, they are frightened by the rumors they heard.

“The Turkish government wanted to take us to the refugee camp in Kilis but we resisted, we didn’t go. More than half of the Syrians in the camps are supporters of the opposition forces. They force people to go into Syria to fight against the regime. We also heard from our relatives who stayed in these camps that they were threatened with death, and that some women had been raped in the camps,” Hasan said.

“We know what has been going on in the camps. We heard women were being raped there, the supporters of the opposition forces dominate the camps,” said Hasan’s sister-in-law.

She fled Aleppo along with her five children. “We took three boys and two girls and ran away. We were sleeping in the fields in Gaziantep first, and then we came to Istanbul and started to sleep in parks.

Our children were begging for money on the streets. That was the only way for us to buy bread,” she said. Another refugee, Ahmed, said al-Nusra militants had kidnapped some Alawite children and were demanding ransom money.

“The rebels took control of the neighborhood where we used to live and they forced us to leave our apartments. The al-Nusra militants kidnapped some of the Alawite families’ children and demanded ransom money,” he said. Ahmed also said they were searching for jobs from the Turkish government.

“We only need a job to be able to buy bread to our children, we don’t want anything else,” he said.

The cemevi where the Syrian Alawites are taking shelter was attacked by two armed men two days after the interview.

Zeynel Odabaş, one of the board members of the Alevi associations in Istanbul, said the Turkish government should provide the necessary humanitarian conditions for all the Syrian refugees who have fled the war-torn country. “These people needed to be sheltered in a different refugee camp from the others. They think they don’t have any life security in the camps near the border,” she said.