Turkey's Alawite elders embark on religious journey

The journey is organized by the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TURSAB) under the auspices of the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism

The journey is organized by the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TURSAB) under the auspices of the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism

ISTANBUL - A group of 100 Alawite elders embarked Monday on a religious journey to Najaf and Karbala, Iraqi cities revered by Shi'a muslims, and an Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina in Saudia Arabia as part of a reconciliation project between Turkey's Sunni and Alawite communities.

This project is the first of many embracing other associations, structures, federations, and communities, says Turkish Minister of Culture and Tourism Omer Celik on Monday. Celik describes the project as "aiming for reconciliation between Turkey's Sunni and Alawite communities."

Celik told an AA correspondent that the project was run by the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism to protect and develop all cultural identities which are a part of Turkey's historical and social heritage. The project was organized by the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TURSAB) under the auspices of the Cultural Ministry.

"For a long time, those (cultural) identities which are a natural part of Turkey have been kept under pressure. The democratization process along with the developments in the last decade have freed them," Celik said.

Celik said their goal is to preserve all cultural identities, put an end to policies of rejection, denial and assimilation, and create opportunities for such identities to develop.

"No matter how many peace agreements and you sign at governmental level, or make negotiations, you cannot establish peace on the basis of identities," Celik said.

"If you fail to form regional alliances where different identities can communicate with each other on a pluralist and participatory platform, none of the systems or mechanisms set by governments can work," he added.

Celik said that this project demonstrates Turkey's support for all identities without any prejudice, and he believes that this will also be good for the region.

The group will first visit the Iraqi province of Najaf where the fourth Khalif of Islam, Imam Ali, the cousin of the Prophet Muhammad and the first Imam (according to Shi'a faith), is buried.

The Najaf shrine is the third holiest site for some of the estimated 200 million followers of the Shi'a branch of Islam. They will then visit Karbala, where Imam Ali's son, Imam Hussein, was killed together with his 72 followers.

The group will then head to Saudi Arabia's holy cities: Mecca and Medina.

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