Syrian Turkmens recently gathered at a major congress held in the Syrian town of Çobanbey. The event, titled "Struggle for Honor and Freedom," which has been organized since 2011, has taken a new dimension. Due to the change in the military equilibrium and internal politics in Syria as well as the current state of balance of the regional powers in the Middle East, Syrian Turkmens have become important actors in the country.
The community and its legitimate representatives, the Syrian Turkmen Assembly, are making great efforts to take part in political negotiations to protect Turkmens interests and secure their future.
The biggest goal of the Syrian Turkmens on regional and global platforms is to ensure Syria's territorial integrity in the framework of the principle; a legal status in the new constitution for the recognition, protection and a guarantee of the existence of Turkmens in Syria. At this stage, the priority must be the attribution of a founding status to the Syrian Turkmens.
Recently, they reported being open to political dialogues with all parties that can contribute to Syria's political stability. The only red line for the Turkmens in Syria, in this sense, is their firm objection to taking part on the same platform as terrorist organizations that threaten the security of Syria and Turkey.
From that point of view, it would be correct not to involve the community in the same platforms with extremist religious or ethnic groups that have undermined Syria's territorial integrity.
Turkmens have declared that they are opposed to any separatist structure or authority. This is a good position given what we have seen in Iraq – the negative consequences of granting autonomous or federal status to certain ethnic or religious groups. This is one of the reasons behind Daesh's emergence in Iraq.
The Turkmens have no federal or regional autonomy claim because for them that amounts to dividing the country. Syrian Turkmens support a unitary state model in which all factions, including themselves, are provided with the same basic rights and freedoms.
On the other hand, life is quickly returning to normal in areas that have been cleared off terrorist elements with Turkey's support. Civil society is also growing stronger. Accordingly, we saw Syrian Turkmens organize a congress in the Syrian town of Çobanbey, under the leadership of the Syrian Turkmen Assembly.
Nearly 250 delegates representing Turkmens from various cities like Aleppo, Idlib, Bayır-Bucak, Raqqa, Hama, Homs, Tartous, Daraa, Golan and Damascus attended the congress.
The Turkmens congress
The Turkmens in the Syrian opposition had been using a variety of banners for some time. They want to be strongly represented within the Syrian opposition. The assembly decided to organize a congress in order to respond democratically to the wishes of Syrian Turkmens. The members of the assembly, opinion leaders of the Turkmens community, commanders of Turkmens military groups and the leaders of the Turkmens nongovernmental organization as well as the representatives of Turkmens residential areas, participated in the congress.
The standard receiving the majority of votes among the nine in the running has been hoisted as the standard of the Turkmens of Syria. On the standard, the blue color represents the Turkic origin, the red color the blood of the martyrs and the white reflects the universal humanitarian values. As for the crescent moon and the star, they represent Islam. After this congress, which symbolizes regional peace and security, the return of Turkmens from Turkey to the region is expected to increase.
Turkmens, as an ancient people of the Syrian region, have lived in this part of the world since the 7th century. They spread over a large area in Syria. They are waging a serious struggle to preserve their identity and the lands on which they have lived for centuries. The Turkmens have existed for centuries in Syria, independently of the Syrian people. There are nearly 1.5 million Turkish speaking Turkmens in Syria. Taking into account those who do not speak Turkish, the figure rises to nearly 3 million. Turkmens constitute the second-largest ethnic group after the Arabs in Syria and they are one of the biggest victims of the Syrian crisis. They have never been linked to ethnic or religious terrorist organizations. They have always defended the territorial integrity of Syria and wished to defend their own rights at the negotiation table.
If rights are fully accorded to the Turkmens, it will be an important step toward the establishment of lasting peace in Syria. On this occasion, the Turkmens will facilitate relations between the democratic Syria that will be founded, the Republic of Turkey and the wider Turkic-speaking world.
* Assistant professor in the Department of International Relations, Karatekin University