Turkmen Demands are Key to Protecting Syria’s Territorial Integrity
Oytun Orhan ORSAM Middle East Specialist
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
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.