vendredi 21 septembre 2012

Syrian Turkmen Look to Turkey for Political Leverage

05/09/2012 03:25:00 By EMIKO JOZUKA

A young Turkmen refugee looks out onto Yayladag from a rented home. Photo by Emiko Jozuka/Rudaw.

ANTAKYA, Turkey -- Up until last month, Syrian Turkmen living in villages close to the Turkish border had largely managed to bypass the civil war raging in other parts of Syria.  But ever since a series of regime attacks against their villages prompted an exodus of terrified villagers into Yayladag in Antakya, they have taken on a more active role in the Syrian opposition.
In his friend's rented apartment, Muhammed Khaznadar, a displaced Turkmen teacher, ended a phone call with his brother in Syria who explained the precarious situation back home.  

Tonight everything’s calm over in his village. Yesterday they [regime forces] fired 9 missiles though,” adds Khaznadar with a wry smile.  “You never know when and where the bombardments will fall, that’s why most people fled into Turkey.”  

As he spoke, a fellow Syrian Turkmen, Sadettin Molla bustled in.  There's no doubt that Molla is a busy man.  His phone seldom stays silent, and as chief co-ordinator at newly established Bairbucak Turkmen Society in Yayladag, he acts as a sort of uncle to the thousands of Turkmen refugees who live both in and out of refugee camps in the town.

"It’s not easy for these people to leave their villages and belongings behind, but it's definitely better to live here [in Yayladag] than there [Syria].  We're really grateful for Turkey's support, but our biggest worry is how long this situation will last and how long we'll all be able to keep living like this," explained Molla.

While Molla may have qualms about the future, he is sure that the only future back in Syria is one without President Bashar Al-Assad's regime. 

But the answer to when exactly the Syrian Turkmen became a major opposition movement is varied.  Political activists at the nearby Syrian Turkmen Bloc in Yayladag stated that they and other Turkmen had participated in peaceful demonstrations from the beginning of the uprising. 
Molla pointed out that last month's bombardments against Turkmen villages were a direct government response against villagers who were helping Syrian army defectors cross the border.  According to Khaznadar, the threat against their villages and forced migration was a key factor that pushed them towards the opposition.
Numbering between 500,000 and 1.5 million in Syria, some of the Turkmen populations scattered around Syria have managed to preserve their native Turkic language in the face of decades of Arabisation.
Their language and culture has placed them in a better position than their Arab counterparts when it comes to forging relations with the local Turkish community in Yayladag.
A sense of shared Ottoman history means that Syrian Turkmen associate themselves closely to their hosts and Turkey.  Although they harbour warm feelings towards Turkey and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, they still retain a strong Syrian identity and hope to return to Syria as soon as the conflict is over.

Speaking on the Turkmen identity, Khaznadar said: "My people are the Turks, but my country is Syria. I'm not an Arab, I'm a Turk that's from Syria."

Despite an attachment to their Turkic identity and culture, in their struggle for a democratic Syria, the Turkmen population staunchly rejects any idea of forming an independent Turkmen state and call for a united post-Assad Syria.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's meeting in August with both Iraqi and Syrian Turkmen reveals the interest that Turkey is taking in minority Turkmen groups. The ultra-nationalist MHP has taken a particular interest in forging ties with the Syrian Turkmen.
In Iraq, Turkey helped to establish the Iraqi Turkmen Front in the 1990s and supports Turkmen rights in the oil rich, ethnically mixed Kurdish, Turkmen and Arab city of Kirkuk.  As in Iraq, the Syrian Turkmen hold counterclaims to mixed Kurdish areas in Syria

Turkmen concerns parallel those of Turkey, especially the ambitions of the Syrian Kurds and the PKK's Syrian offshoot, the PYD, who have established control over parts of north and northwest Syria where some Turkmen live. As a result, Ankara views the Syrian Turkmen as a potentially useful ally in Syria.

According to Dr. Muhammed Sheik Molla of the Syrian Turkmen Bloc in Yayladag, the Turkmen will play an important role in post-Assad Syria. Bringing an end to Assad's regime is a top priority for Syrian Turkmen.  And in recent weeks, two armed Turkmen brigades have started operating under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army. 
Syrian Turkmen place importance on the birth of a more democratic and united Syria before their own individual cultural rights, but they lament their lack of representation in the Syrian National Council.

Sheik Molla explained that they had hoped for some Turkish government leverage, yet so far, Turkey had not helped them push for a representative in SNC.

"Due to our Turkmen identity and Turkish roots, we wanted a level of support from Turkey.  We're working to put our representative into the Syrian National Council, but it hasn't happened yet.  At the SNC a lot of western countries and their allies pushed for their own candidates, but Turkey hasn't directly given us such support," explained Sheik Molla.
"Turkey looks at the whole of Syria with the same eyes, and it wants us to push for a representative with our own efforts and means.  Turkey doesn't want to be seen as favouring Turks," continued Sheik Molla.

Sheik Molla added that for the Turkmen the door to the world runs through Turkey, and that the Turkmen could form a useful bridge for Turkey in Syria as well.

"Turkmen know Arabic and the Arab culture.  At the same time, they possess Turkish culture and count themselves as Turks.  Syria is a key country in the Middle East and we'll provide the connection to it for Turkey."

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