A new era is starting in Syria with the meetings in Geneva and Vienna in 2016. Every actor in Syria is reviewing its position and renewing its strategies for these talks. One of the most important actors in Syria is the Turkmen community, which is one of the historical groups in the region.
As one of the oldest communities in Syria, Turkmens have maintained their lives in the region since the seventh century. The Turkmens are spread throughout a wide area in Syria in the regions of Aleppo, Latakia-Idlib (Bayırbucak), Homs, Hama, Tartus, Raqqa, Dera, Damascus and Golan. Today, Syrian Turkmens have been fighting on every front to protect their territories and identity.
The Turkmens' struggle started in 2011 after a riot against the state terror of Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime. The Assad regime has bombed Turkmen settlements on the border of Lebanon and in Aleppo and the Latakia-Idlib area several times since 2011, and, as a result of these attacks, tens of thousands of Turkmens have lost their lives. According to statements from Turkmens in Syria, there are thousands who are either lost or have been detained for questioning.
Today, the Turkmen struggle against attacks by the DAESH terror organization, the Democratic Union Party's (PYD) armed People's Protection Units (YPG), the Assad regime and its allies. Even though it is not reflected in global public opinion, Turkmens have long been fighting bravely against DAESH to protect their territory. The Turkmen Sultan Murat Brigade, as part of the network of the Free Syrian Army, has long been fighting intensely against DAESH militants. Taking advantage of the division of Turkmen powers that fight DAESH, the YPG force the Turkmen civilians to migrate and kill those who resist in the regions it has occupied. Turkmens have been trying to resist attacks from Russia, Hezbollah and the Assad regime, which is supported by sectarian militias backed by Iran. Russian airstrikes have caused great loss of life in the Turkmen civilian population. At the moment, Russia's armed attacks against Turkmens in the region are clearly crimes against humanity.
Turkmens have existed in Syria apart from the Syrian people for centuries. There are approximately 1.5 million Turkmens that speak Turkmen in Syria. The number of Turkmens in Syria is approximately 3.5 million, including those who have forgotten Turkmen. The existence of the Turkmens is verified by both the archives of the Ottoman Empire and the archives of the French Mandate Government. Syrian Turkmens have long been exposed to human rights violations and massacres and are not granted their cultural rights. It is high time for the international public to react to this situation.
Today, the Turkmens demand sitting at the table as a separate entity and defending their rights. They now struggle with all kinds of terror with all their strength. However, international preparations regarding the new political process do not involve the Turkmens among the participants. The Turkmens need to be able to sit down at the table as a separate entity for a healthy solution. All the steps to be taken in Syria for a comprehensive solution will have long-term achievements depending on the durability of the legal status to be attributed to all parties in the country. At this point, the indigenous people/national minority status that was gained by Crimean Tatars as a constitutional right in Ukraine in 2014 could also be a valid solution for the Syrian Turkmens.
Throughout Syria and the Middle East, Turkmens are a modern, Western, democratic and secular community. In the event that the international society provides support, Turkmens could play an important role in establishing a democratic and secular order both in the Middle East and in Syria. If Syrian Turkmens become powerful, they would defeat the salafi, takfirist and jihadist organizations in both the armed and intellectual struggle, which will consequently protect Europe from both the refugee flow, and these salafi, takfirist and jihadist terror organizations.
*Research associate in the department of international relations at Atatürk University.