When the Arab Spring leapt into Syria in March 2011, it caused social dynamics that had been covered up for a long time to really start emerging. One of these dynamics concerns the Syrian Turkmen, a group that is especially significant for Turkey, as they are a related society. Syrian Turkmen are trying to distinguish themselves these days as a group that will be an influential actor in whatever new political structures emerge in Syria. But the fact that they have not been organized for years and years, and that they live separated and broken off from Turkey, means that they face the risks of not only losing their language, but their identity as well.
There are around 1.5 million Turkmen who speak a Turkic language living in Syria today, and about 2 million more who have forgotten their native tongue. When one considers the heterogeneous character of Syria’s social fabric, these numbers are quite significant, especially when you think about their potential effect on national politics. The Turkmen who have forgotten their original language live quite aware of their identities, but have also embraced and become one with the language and culture of the region in which they live. Those Turkmen who tend to live in smaller social groups have largely become Arab, culturally speaking. Most Syrian Turkmen are members of the Sunni Hanefi sect. There are very few who are Alevi. Linguistically, the language spoken by Syrian Turkmen is very close to Turkey’s Turkish.
Most Syrian Turkmen live in Lazkiye (these are the Bayır-Bucak Turkmen), Humus, Hama, Halepo and outside of Damascus. There are also the Golan Turkmen, who used to live in and around Kuneytra. Because of the Israeli invasion, this group had to spread all over the country. There are also very limited numbers of Syrian Turkmen living in and around Tartus, Rakka, Idlib and Dera.
Though there have been fluctuations from time to time, in general, there has never really been any consistent sense of political nationalism among the Syrian Turkmen. There is, on the other hand, a reactionary and cultural sense of nationalism among them. The strict structure of the Syrian system has generally prevented any politicization of Turkmen movements. Despite this, this most recent uprisings in Syria have also seen a rising Turkmen nationalist movement. They appear to be not only trying to obtain their own rights, but also discover where their identities lie within the framework of Syria, as well as prove their very existence to the rest of society.
The national uprising in Syria provides an important opportunity for Syrian Turkmen.
If the move towards a revolution in Syria turns out to be successful, a civil democratic system may emerge. In such an atmosphere, the greatest expectation of Syrian Turkmen is to be counted in a new constitution as one of the important groups making up Syrian society. In addition to this, other expectations include things like political and constitutional reforms, a transition to a multi-party system, the inclusion of Turkmen in the process of producing a new constitution and recognition of Turkmen as an official language in regions where there are heavy Turkmen populations.
Turkmen are present in some of the opposition movements in Syria these days. Since March 2011 there have been many Turkmen who have lost their lives in the clashes that have marked all of Syria. There are also hundreds of Turkmen who have either disappeared or been arrested. The Turkmen do expect that Turkey will help bring the world’s attention to not only Syria, but their community within Syria. As such, they do want to see support expressed for the protection of their identity and rights within the framework of any new state system that we see emerge in Syria.