“Syrian Turkmen may come into serious difficulties in either case,” Tarık Sulo Cevizci, deputy chairman of the Syria Democratic Turkmen Movement, has said. The representatives of Syrian Turkmen were received for the first time at the ministerial level in Turkey on Tuesday, when Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu met with members of the Syria Democratic Turkmen Movement.
Should the present regime remain in power in Syria, Turkmen would be targeted on two counts by the regime. Turkmen are at the forefront of the resistance, given the considerable Turkmen population in places such as Aleppo, Homs and Damascus, where severe clashes have taken place. And with Turkey’s anti-Assad stance, Turkmen are viewed as unreliable by those in power, whose anger may focus on Turkmen. “Turkmen are seen as an extension of Turkey, and they would be made to pay the price,” Cevizci told Sunday’s Zaman.
A scenario in which Syria would be broken up following the fall of the Assad regime is not at all favored by Turkmen, as the population is not so densely concentrated as to have an absolute majority in any one part of the country but is rather spread throughout Syria. In the breakup scenario, three new states may come into being: a Kurdistan region along the Turkish-Syrian border, referred to by Kurds as Western Kurdistan; a Nusayri state, for which Latakia would be the center, along the Mediterranean coast of Syria; and a Sunni Muslim state in the remaining part of the country. The first two states potentially represent a major threat to Turkmen communities.
Should the Kurds move to set up a state in the north of the country, Turkmen living in that region would feel themselves under threat. “The project of Western Kurdistan has caused much anxiety to Turkmen,” Cevizci noted, adding that at most only 50 percent of the population along Syria’s border region with Turkey is of Kurdish origin, with Turkmen making up 30 percent and Arabs estimated to have a share of 20 percent of the population of the region, while the area from Aleppo to Rakkaq to the Turkish border is a Turkmen basin. “There are nearly 290 Turkmen villages in this region,” Cevizci remarked.
Ziyad Hasan, spokesperson of the Syria Democratic Turkmen Movement, confirmed the anxiety of Syrian Turkmen on the Turkish-Syrian border regarding the Western Kurdistan project of the Kurdish Democratic Union (PYD) -- an offshoot of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Hasan stated to Sunday’s Zaman, “Turkmen in the region are afraid of having to migrate, being massacred or assimilated [should the project be realized].” Cevizci’s outlook is equally gloomy. “Should a Kurdish state be established in this part of Syria, it would be the beginning of the end for Turkmen.”
The theoretical Nusayri state along the Mediterranean coast of Syria poses similar threats to Turkmen. In the region surrounding Latakia, the third most concentrated area of Turkmen habitation after Aleppo and Homs, Turkmen areas have been under bombardment in the recent past, together with Turkmen areas of Hamah. “The Syrian regime, in an effort to reserve the area for Nusayris as part of a worst-case scenario, has been trying to force Turkmen out of the area,” Hasan maintained. In the area stretching from the north of Lebanon to Turkey’s Hatay province, there are nearly a hundred Turkmen villages, and the region has a Turkmen population of 150,000 to 200,000.
The total population of Turkmen in Syria is estimated to be around 3 to 3.5 million, of whom around 1 to 1.5 million are able to speak Turkish. The nearly 2 million Turkmen remaining, though aware of their Turkish origin, do not speak Turkish any longer but Arabic. “It’s because after the Ottoman Empire lost Syria, Turkmen here were not allowed to conduct any cultural activities in Turkish, let alone learn their language at school,” Hasan noted.
In fighting against the Assad regime, Turkmen want to have their say on the future of Syria. But as Turkmen were not organized when the Syrian National Council (SNC) was founded, they are not currently represented in that body and consider the council flawed due to the resistance of Arab insurgents to the inclusion of Turkmen. On the other hand, Turkmen were represented in a committee of 21 representatives that met last week in Egypt to discuss the way forward for Syria. “So Turkmen are now in an equivalent position with other insurgent groups,” Cevizci commented. Hasan expressed hope that the council would soon move to include Turkmen.
About three months ago, the Turkmen community in Syria, organized under the Syria Democratic Turkmen Movement, established several armed Turkmen brigades, putting the community in a better position to fight against the Assad regime and to defend the areas they live in.
Humanitarian aid to be distributed by opposition
In the meeting on Tuesday with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, members of the Syria Democratic Turkmen Movement suggested that humanitarian aid to Syria be distributed through organizations such as theirs. “The proposal has been positively received by Turkish officials,” said Hasan, spokesperson of the movement. Insurgent organizations, after receiving humanitarian aid at customs points between Syria and Turkey, would then be responsible for distributing it among those in need.
“In this way, it may be possible to prevent the probable mass migration from Aleppo to Turkey,” Cevizci remarked. Seeking refuge from the clashes, 250,000 people, about 100,000 of them Turkmen, have already left Aleppo for surrounding villages, with Aleppo, a city of more than 3 million residents, experiencing major shortages of staple products such as food, baby food, gasoline and diesel fuel, as well as medicine. Diesel fuel is 15 to 20 times more expensive than it used to be, and there are long queues for bread in the city. “When their stock of food runs out, they will turn to Turkey,” Cevizci noted, communicating the urgency of providing humanitarian aid to the Syrian people.