Turkmen demands are key to protecting Syria’s territorial integrity

Turkmen demands are key to protecting Syria’s territorial integrity

Syrian refugees fleeing to Hatay receive aid sent by Turkey. (PHOTO sunday’s zaman)

March 24, 2013, Sunday/ 13:54:00

One of the consequences of the single party regime that has lasted for more than four decades in Syria is that no social or ideological groups in the country have had an opportunity to organize.

 The authority gap caused by the events that emerged in Syria in March 2011 made it possible for the aforesaid groups, which had been excluded from the power domain, to organize in a short period of time. One of these groups was the Syrian Turkmen.

Since they were unable to organize under the President Bashar al-Assad regime, they lacked a tradition of political opposition, a situation that changed due to the relatively recent upheaval in Syria.

Starting in March 2012, the Syria Turkmen Bloc and the Syrian Democratic Turkmen Movement began engaging in political activities on behalf of Syrian Turkmen. Those two groups differ with regard to areas of influence, ideology and Turkmen troops they are affiliated with. The Syrian Turkmen Platform, which originated in Turkey, also started to conduct activities as a non-political party initiative to take on the leadership of the Syrian Turkmen movement. Thus, there are three different “groups/political parties/power groups that are trying to assume the leadership of and to become the representative of Syrian Turkmen.

The Syria Turkmen Bloc was created as a result of efforts of Syrian Turkmen living in Turkey. The bloc is a Latakia-based movement, and it is mostly influential and active in Bayır-Bucak; the majority of its administrative body is composed of people from this area. Yusuf Molla, who has been living in Turkey for many years, has led the movement.

The bloc thinks the biggest problem of the Syrian Turkmen is that they don’t reside in a single area. They believe that a post-Assad regional federation is not possible and that Syria must be ruled according to a citizenship-based approach. The slogan of the bloc is “One Syria!” and it is working for Turkmen to have political, social, economic and cultural rights in the new Syria, living as equal Syrian citizens without any discrimination. The bloc is against the splitting up of Syria. They demand a civilized, democratic state where the central authority is protected, but local authority is reinforced. However, they want to limit the strengthening of local authority to prevent a federal system.

The bloc has a close relationship with the Turkmen soldiers in Bayır-Bucak. Some 12 Turkmen soldiers, who are active in Latakia province, are close to the Brigade of Turkmen Mountain, an umbrella organization of the aforesaid troops. In military terms, the bloc is not active in Aleppo. They can only send humanitarian aid to Aleppo. However, they strive to be active in military terms in Aleppo.

The Syria Democratic Turkmen Movement was created following the start of the uprising when Syrian Turkmen felt they needed to organize and unite. Syrian Turkmen in Turkey have also supported this group. The movement has a results-oriented approach: It carries out activities in the field. Due to its renewed administrative structure, the movement has started to a great extent to come to the fore as an Aleppo-based movement. It carries out almost all political, civilian and military activities in Aleppo.

Since the very beginning, the movement has focused its attention on establishing diplomatic relationships with Turkey and the Syrian opposition, besides establishing direct relations with the Syrian regime.  Within this framework, through the efforts of the Movement, 16 Turkmen representatives were chosen to the Syrian National Council. The movement’s perspective on solving the problems of Syrian Turkmen is as follows: They believe that  since Syrian Turkmen are dispersed all across the country this can be a major danger for them. Therefore, their primary objective is to maintain the unity and territorial integrity of Syria by establishing a new system based on citizenship in a new Syria. They also ask that free elections be held under the supervision of world bodies, that a new constitution in line with globally accepted standards is prepared and that all groups constituting Syrian society be provided with cultural, political and citizenship rights.

The relationship between the Movement and Turkmen soldiers is limited to Aleppo. Ali Basher, coordinator of Turkmen Brigades in Aleppo, states that they act in unison with the movement.

The Syrian Turkmen Platform was founded in 2012. The first meeting had 42 participants, and a five-person committee was formed. The first goal was to create public awareness of Syrian Turkmen around the world. It emerged as a civilian initiative. There are Syrian Turkmen within the Platform initiative that climbed the ladder of success in business and trade while living in Turkey.

The objective of this initiative is to form a delegate assembly to be elected in Syria, and for this assembly to designate a committee to speak for and represent Syrian Turkmen. What is wanted is for the aforesaid two Turkmen parties to join in a supra-political parties structure to take part in this initiative. Thus, the first meeting of the Syrian Turkmen Platform was hosted by the Turkish Foreign Ministry in İstanbul on Dec. 15, 2012, with the support of the Prime Ministry.

The platform seeks the creation of a Turkmen Assembly. It is projected to bring 350 delegates from Syria. After the election of those delegates, a nine-person committee will be formed to be the decision-making body for Syrian Turkmen. The Platform considers it to be a joint supra-parties initiative, not as a third alternative political party to the Syria Turkmen Bloc and Democratic Turkmen Movement. This decision-making body will represent Syrian Turkmen in every platform and will conduct all negotiations on behalf of Syrian Turkmen.

The Syrian Turkmen population is of a key importance not only for Turkey, but also for the democratic future of Syria. If a future Syrian regime wants to build a country where all ethnic and sectarian groups within its borders can live in peace together, then it must recognize the presence of Turkmen and provide an environment for Turkmen to be equally represented in the political field with other communities. Syrian Turkmen, who have courageously stood against authoritarian practices since the very beginning of the democratic demonstrations in Syria, are as committed as any other community to maintaining the territorial integrity of the country, and thus, the Syrian opposition should enable Turkmen to come into their own. It is critically important for both Syria and the region that Turkmen, who have suffered from the oppression of the Assad regime and human rights violations, equally take part in political and social life in the country in a new Syria with Sunni Arabs, Arab Alawites, Christians, Kurds, Druse and Shiites.

*Oytun Orhan is a Middle East specialist at the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM).

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