The New York Times reports from Antakya, a Turkish town close to the Syrian border, that one of Turkey’s minority populations supports the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. “As Syria’s civil war degenerates into a bloody sectarian showdown between the government’s Alawite-dominated troops and the Sunni Muslim majority,” the Times writes, “tensions are increasing across the border between Turkey’s Alawite minority and the Sunni Muslim majority here.”
It’s true that the Alawite minority fears the fall of Bashar—and so does Turkey’s much larger Alevi community, yet another minority population. Perhaps there are almost a million Alawites in Antakya itself, but Turkey’s Alawite population is nowhere near the estimated 15 to 20 million that the Times claims. It seems that the paper of record has confused the Alawites with the Alevis, a sect made up of between 10 to 20 million Turks.
As Soner Cagaptay, a fellow at the the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, explained in an article earlier this year:
Despite semantically similar names—both Alawites and Alevis derive their names from their reverence for Ali, a close relative of the Muslim prophet Mohammed—Alevis and Alawites represent different strains of Islam…. Surprisingly, this misconception even exists among the Turkish Alevis. It is not unlikely to meet Alevis who, due to their lack of religious education because of their deep secularization in the twentieth century, assume that Alawite is just another name for Alevi.
The Times has made the same error.