There are 1.5 million Turkmens who speak Turkish and 2 million others who cannot in Syria.
The Syrian Turkmens live in Latakia, Homs, Hama, Aleppo and Damascus. In addition, there are also the Golan Turkmens dispersed in different parts of the country due to the Israeli occupation. There are relatively fewer Turkmens living in the Tartus, Rakka, Idlib and Dera provinces.
Up until recently, only a few people were aware of the existence of Syrian Turkmens in Turkey. The Turkmens are dispersed across a vast area in Syria; however, there was no interest in paying attention to the Syrian Turkmens because the relations with Damascus were already strained. For this reason, the Syrian Turkmens were left behind and ignored in Ankara. Due to the impact of the Arab Spring, Bashar al-Assad’s administration included the Syrian Turkmens in the tense relations with Turkey. He saw the Turkmens as an extension of Turkey. This led the Turkmens to move towards the sides of the opposition groups, and to adopt a highly politicized discourse and take active part in the armed struggle.
The greatest success of the Syrian Turkmens is seen in the field of military. The Turkmen commanders lead units of resistance within the Free Syrian Army. In addition, they have acquired serious achievements in the political sphere. The Syrian Turkmens have 16 representatives within the National Council and two in the Syrian National Council General Secretariat. The Turkmens also have three representatives within the Syrian National Coalition, an opposition group formed in Doha. Halit Hoca, a Turkmen who serves as a representative of the Syrian National Coalition in Turkey, is another example; Ziyad Hassan from Aleppo represents the Syrian Turkmen Democratic Movement and Hussein Abdullah from Rakka represents the Syrian Turkmen People.
The greatest problem of the Syrian Turkmens is their failure to unite and act in an organized manner. In order to address this problem, they held a meeting in İstanbul on Dec 15. The İstanbul meeting was historic because the Syrian Turkmens were united in this meeting. Secondly, Turkey extended its support to the meeting and announced that it would lend its full support to their struggle. The İstanbul meeting was hosted by the Foreign Ministry and sponsored by the office of the prime minister. Parliament speaker Cemil Çiçek and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu attended the meeting. President Gül’s advisor Erşat Hürmüzlü also participated on behalf of the president and read his message at the meeting. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has received the Syrian Turkmens in Istanbul on the day of the meeting.
Representatives from predominantly Turkmen areas including Damascus, Aleppo, Golan, Hama, Homs, Latakia, Idlib, Rakka and Tartus have also attended the Istanbul meeting to speak about the problems that the Turkmens had encountered in Syria. In addition, the Syrian Turkmens have expressed their problems in military affairs. Subsequently, the Syrian Turkmens have discussed political movements.
The Syrian Turkmen Democratic Movement led by Abdulkerim Aga and the Syrian Turkmen Group led by Yusuf Molla are the most important Syrian Turkmen initiatives in Syria. At the İstanbul meeting, the leaders of the Syrian Turkmen Democratic Movement decided to unite with the Syrian Turkmen Group. However, the two groups have not fully integrated. Those who prefer staying within the Syrian Turkmen Democratic Movement have declared that they would carry out their activities in the current setting.
The greatest expectations of the Syrian Turkmens is the realization of political and constitutional reforms after Assad, participation of the Turkmens in the creation of a new constitution, recognition of the Turkmen people as the main constituent in the Syrian constitution and the use of the Turkish language as the official language in the predominantly Turkmen areas.