By Soner Cagaptay, Special to CNN
Soner Cagaptay is a Beyer Family fellow at The Washington Institute and author of 'Turkey Rising: The 21st Century's First Muslim Power.' You can follow him @sonercagaptay. The views expressed are his own.
Today’s attack against the U.S. Embassy in Ankara suggests Turkey’s radical leftist Marxist groups, as small as they might be, could be mobilizing against America.
Turkey’s political landscape continues to bear the vestiges of violent leftist movements from the 1970s, laden with deep-rooted Cold War-style anti-Americanism. These small but active movements have rallied against the deployment of U.S. and NATO Patriot missiles in southern Turkey, and are believed to have been behind a January 21 protest aimed at Patriot teams arriving in the port of Iskenderun.
Although such groups operate at the political margin, they could have an outsized impact. Iranian and Russian media have covered these incidents extensively, no doubt in order to feed into anti-NATO sentiment and to increase the political costs for Ankara supporting the Syrian opposition. Indeed, small Turkish Marxist groups could even emerge as nodes of broader opposition to Ankara’s effective policy of working to help oust the al-Assad regime.
But there is also a sectarian dimension at play. The al-Assad regime is supported by Syria’s minority Alawite sect of Islam. Turkey, meanwhile, is home to hundreds of thousands of Alawites. Some Turkish citizens of Alawite origin are unabashedly pro-al-Assad, and they have also been disproportionately represented among Turkey’s radical leftist movements, including the Revolutionary Peoples Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), the radical terrorist group that Turkish police believe was behind today’s attacks against the U.S. Embassy.
But there is an even greater risk: Turkey is home to another traditionally leftist and historically (in the Cold War context) Marxist-leaning branch of Islam, the Alevis, with followers believed to number around 10 million people.
The Alevis and Alawites are different groups, despite phonetically similar names (both Alawites and Alevis derive their names from their reverence for Ali, a close relative of the Muslim prophet Mohammed, but they represent different and distinct strains of Islam).
Still, Ankara’s Syria policy could rally the Alevis behind a hard leftist agenda, one opposed to the United States. Like the Alawites, the Alevis are disproportionately represented in Turkey’s Marxist groups, including DHKP-C.
It is clear that further NATO and U.S. deployments in Turkey could mobilize the Alawites and Alevis to adopt a more visceral anti-American position, representing another area of spillover into Turkey from the Syria conflict.
Communism is dead, but part of Turkey’s radical left could be rising from its ashes.