Syria’s Turkmen Join the Fight
By: Marah Mashi
Published Tuesday, August 28, 2012
The forests of al-Farlaq near Latakia are ablaze as Syria’s Turkmen minority have decided to join the revolution 18 months in.
Latakia - Distant flames and smoke are now clearly visible from the villages surrounding al-Farlaq’s forests near Latakia on the Syrian coast. The raging forest fires are nature’s contribution to the tragedy enveloping the country.
Sounds of explosions fill the air. The area has become another site of the unfolding war between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Syrian government forces.
Tension is thick near the village of Umm al-Toyour. Several army checkpoints have been set up and there is conflicting information about FSA checkpoints in the Turkmen village, manned by some of its residents.
Khaled, a young Turkmen, is one of the few people in the village with a high school certificate. He complains about the injustice inflicted on his community under the current regime. He speaks about the condescending attitude of fellow Syrian nationals, whose jokes poke fun at their simple lifestyle.
Khaled believes in the Islamic character of the war. For him, language and ethnicity are not a valid reason to separate him from fellow Syrian Muslims who rose up for freedom, whether in al-Saliba, Homs or Aleppo.
Mariam, a school teacher at a nearby village, disagrees. She refuses to acknowledge that the Turkmen suffer injustice. As a neighbor, she never saw them being treated as lesser citizens. She says they were always treated as brothers and friends.
“Such talk about mocking the Turkmen is nothing but an excuse for the indolence of many Turkmen. It is a sin against coexistence,” she declares emphatically.
“Syrians like telling anecdotes, about the people of Homs for example. But some people wanted to find a justification for Turkmen to take up arms against the state, finding silly excuses,” she adds.
The Turkmen descend from tribes that have historically been allied with the Bani Othman tribe, which established the Ottoman state. They were entrusted with protecting the militarily strategic gorges, which explains why they live in mountains.
Battles are breaking out in different locations in the forests and villages of Latakia, especially in Turkmen areas. The regular army is carrying out what the official media calls “operations to cleanse [the area] of gunmen,” chasing them into their mountain hideouts.
Civilians, meanwhile, are being displaced from Rabia, Qastal Maaf, and the surrounding areas, taking refuge in Turkey.
A small group is heading towards Latakia, which is relatively calm though the Syrian army does occasionally conduct raids on residences, field hospitals, and tunnels that link the different areas.
Inside the city, Turkmen are concentrated in the Ali al-Jammal quarter, side by side with Syrians from different sects. But only the men remain there. Turkmen women slowly evacuated the neighborhood in preparation for the battle to come.
Their neighbors feel unsafe and are spending their nights on alert, largely due to continuous raids on houses in the neighborhoods by Syrian security forces looking for suspects.
The discovery of a tunnel linking the Turkmen quarter with Qnaisis, a hotbed of protests and arms, cast a shadow over the whole city. The battles taking place in the surrounding area are no longer isolated incidents and the relative calm in Latakia is dissipating.
Alaa, a resident of Ali Jammal, is not surprised by the current situation in the neighborhood and the nearby Turkmen villages. He says that the city’s wise men had warned of Turkish influence over the Turkmen community.
He explains that Turkmen had been silent for months, taking care of their livelihood without paying heed to instigators from al-Saliba, al-Sakantouri, and the Palestinian al-Raml camp.
“The Turkish devil is inciting the Turkmen,” Alaa says. He adds that “this proves their allegiance is not to Syria.”
“Turkish speakers are among us. They sometimes use their language to express their private concerns and bonds. But they also use it to insult us. We are not able to understand what they say and sometimes nod with an idiotic smile. But the truth is that their allegiance is only to Turkey,” he proclaims.
The glaring prejudice in Alaa’s statement expresses a widely held opinion among the coastal people, following the recent brutal murder of a local Baath party leader in the Burj Islam village.
The ominous incident may be a prelude to an imminent final confrontation that might prove to be uglier than anyone had imagined.
The suspected Turkish role is corroborated by earlier information in the media about Turkish parties from the opposition who used a legal loophole to force the former government of Tansu Ciller (1993-1996) to allocate hidden expenses in the state budget public.
This revealed that Ciller had bankrolled Turkmen cells to destabilize Syria. In fact, there is evidence of Turkish involvement that goes back to the mid-1980s, with Ankara’s attempt to create an organization similar to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to operate inside Syria.
In mid-February, Turkey established the Turkmen National Bloc, to help facilitate Turkish intervention in Syrian affairs.
Although the Turkish state and the leadership of Justice and Development Party (AKP) do not openly support it, the bloc’s founding conference was sponsored by Mazloum Deir, an Islamist human rights organization which is linked to the ruling party’s inner circles.
This is all rejected by Abdullah, a Turkmen resident of the city. He is not loyal to any foreign side and considers the stories about Turkmen groups training in Turkey as nothing but fabrications. They are nothing but an excuse to bomb the Turkmen people, he says.
Mustafa (pseudonym), who is close to several fighters in the mountains, explains why Turkmen are joining the FSA in large numbers. He says that it is important to form an armed Turkmen brigade to join the Syrian revolution.
He believes that the scorched earth policy adopted by the regular army will fail to bend the will of the Turkmen, who aspire for true political representation in “the future Syria.”
He does not deny that some Turkmen fighters eliminated a number of their enemies suspected of being spies and tools of the regime.
Mustafa, who is an intermediary between the Turkmen in the city and the insurgents in the mountains, mocks those who fuss about al-Farlaq’s forests, explaining that they never expressed such anguish when the Turkmen were being slaughtered and bombed.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.