Turkey's prime minister on Tuesday promised to protect the country's largest religious minority after 25 houses mostly belonging to Alevi Muslims were vandalized, raising fears for their safety.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan said an investigation was launched into the vandalism in the southeastern city of Adiyaman. Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin earlier said children were believed to be behind the marking of the houses with red paint.
The incident has stoked fears of violence in Adiyaman since Alevi houses were similarly marked before the killing of more than 100 Alevis in neighboring Kahramanmaras province in 1978. Alevi houses were also marked in the same way before clashes in the central Anatolian city of Corum in 1980.
The country's Alevi Muslims, who incorporate shamanistic traditions and do away with many customary Islamic practices, including the separation of men and women in prayer, have long faced discrimination in Turkey. They are considered heretics by many Sunni and Shia traditionalists.
"We are not the government of a certain belief or ethnic group, we are the government of all 75 million citizens," Erdogan told a meeting of his ruling party in the Parliament. "We are the guarantor of the rights and security of all people without any discrimination."
The tensions come ahead of a trial next week during which a court is expected to make a decision whether a statute of limitations has expired for some suspects, who allegedly torched a hotel in 1993 that left 37 people dead, including many Alevis.
"The incident has seriously worried us," said Devlet Bahceli, head of an opposition party. "It has aggravated our fears about an imminent chaos based on ethnicity."