Istanbul — The 80,000 inhabitants of Corum (pronounced Chroom) in north-central Turkey are counting their casualties and worrying about further violence. Uneasy silence has prevailed in the divided town since the July 4 riots. Thousands of Turkish troops have been sent in from neighboring garrisons following disturbances that caused the death of 18 people.
This is the official figure so far, but the fatalities eventually may be much higher.
Corum is divided by barricades into sections inhabited by two Muslim sects -- the Sunnis, who number about 50,000, and the Alevites (or Shiites) who form the rest of the population. Amid growing hostility and tension provoked by political and secretarian militants on both sides, entire quarters have been turned into armed fortresses.
Right-wing militants are mainly supported by the Sunnis, while leftist militants are popular with the Alevites.
Throughout history members of the two sects have lived in peace and harmony in Corum as in neighboring towns. But recently, hatred and tension have split the two Muslim sects.
The right-wing militants usually are members of supporters of the National Action Party led by ex-colonel Alparslan Turkes.This is an ultranationalist movement, strongly opposed to the left, which tries to organize the youth against what it sees as a real communist threat in Turkey.
The left-wing militants encompass Marxist labor leaders, teachers, and students, as well as some clandestine revolutionary groups. They also include dissident Kurdish separatists.
In December 1978 provocations by ideological and secretarian militants caused more than 100 dead in the town of Kahramanmaras. The riots at Corum are the most serious and alarming disturbance since then.
The violence started when young militants spread rumors that a mosque was attacked and set afire by "communists." They urged people to "go and save the mosque from destruction." Shortly, a large crowd, many of them armed, gathered and marched toward the mosque.
The mob went out of control, destroyed cars, shops and property, and set fire to several buildings. Fire engines and police cars were prevented from reaching the scene. It was only after troop reinforcements from neighboring areas reached the town that a curfew was imposed and relative calm restored.