Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is seen during a press conference in Ankara in December 2013. File picture: Burhan Ozbilici

Istanbul -

Already beset by a raft of corruption allegations, Turkey's prime minister now faces charges of insulting the minority Alevi community in the latest revelations to emerge from a widening phone-tapping scandal.

Among the taped conversations leaked to the press over the past week, one involves Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan asking his then-justice minister Sadullah Ergin to pressure a court into convicting media mogul Aydin Dogan, a long-time foe.

When explaining why the court has not reached the desired ruling, an exasperated Ergin is heard saying “the judge is an Alevi” - which has been interpreted by the community as an insult.

Erdogan confirmed the authenticity of the tape on Wednesday, claiming it was “natural” to discuss an ongoing court case with his justice minister, but he made no mention of the apparent slight against the Alevis.

The tape follows the publication last month in local daily Taraf of internal government documents that appeared to show anti-Alevi discrimination in the recruitment process for civil servants.

The document showed Alevi candidates marked in red, allegedly barring them from the selection process.

The Alevi community - which follows a moderate form of Islam and makes up around a quarter of Turkey's 76 million citizens - have reacted with outrage to the recent revelations.

“The government has opened a new front in the war it wages against the Alevis,” Ali Balkiz, the founder of the Alevi-Bektashi Foundation, told AFP.

“They have already purged most of the Alevis from the civil service, the army and the judiciary, and it is clear that they are profiling the ones that are left, stripping us of our right to live.”

This week's leaked tape is proof of “outright discrimination”, said Alevi writer Cafer Solgun.

“It shows that Alevis are not wanted in any sphere of public life. It shows that the ongoing pattern of state-sponsored discrimination and prejudice against Alevis has not changed a bit during Erdogan's term,” he told AFP.

The tape was the latest in a series of leaks made public last week that allegedly showed Erdogan - already embroiled in a major corruption investigation against several key allies - hiding large sums of money and meddling in trade deals, court cases and even the election of a football coach.

The Turkish strongman has dismissed most of them as “vile” and “immoral” fakes put together by rivals.

Alevis are a moderate Islamic sect who revere Imam Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed. Theirs is a Turkish version of Alawism, prominent in neighbouring Syria.

Unlike the Sunnis, who make up the majority of the population, they do not fast during the holy month of Ramadaan, alcohol is not forbidden and men and women gather in houses of prayer called “cemevi” instead of mosques.

Alevis have been strong supporters of Turkey's secular system, even though their religion is not formally recognised and they frequently complain of official discrimination.

They were angered by a package of social reforms last October that offered new freedoms to the Kurdish minority but failed to address Alevi demands for the recognition of their places of worship.

They were further disappointed by the government's decision to name a new bridge over the Bosphorus after Ottoman sultan Yavuz Sultan Selim, who is accused of massacring 40 000 Alevis in the 16th century.

Adding to the complex nature of the controversy, Ergin, a member of Erdogan's Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), is running for mayor in the southern province of Hatay, a predominantly Alevi city.

“Alevis have always championed freedom. Therefore they will not be voting for the AKP, which is against all kinds of freedoms,” Balkiz said.

“But (the AKP) will also lose Sunni votes, because Sunnis are happy to live together with Alevis, contrary to what Erdogan believes,” he said.

The local polls on March 30 are seen as a key test of popularity for the AKP, whose image has been tarnished by the now-stalled corruption investigation and mass street protests last summer.

An official report cited by the local media in November claimed that 78 percent of those who took part in the June protests were Alevi, although observers say the number was inflated.

Six of the eight protesters killed during the protests were of Alevi origin. - Sapa-AFP