Turkmens in Bayırbucak face ethnic cleansing after Rabia falls

Turkmens in Bayırbucak face ethnic cleansing after Rabia falls

Turkmens living in the Bayırbucak region face ethnic cleansing from Russia and Shiite militias supported by the Syrian regime after Sunday's fall of Rabia, the last major opposition-held town in the coastal province of Latakia.

Regime forces reportedly announced that they have shared coordinates with Russian aircraft to hit the village of Yamadi near the Turkish border where 21,000 Turkmens have sought shelter, and made a call for Turkmens to leave the Bayırbucak region completely. The regime's capture of Rabia has displaced many Turkmens from 70 villages around the area.

Citing a military source, Syria's state television said Sunday that Syrian government "forces, in coordination with the popular defense, seized control of the town of Rabia." The town had been held by the opposition since 2012 and was controlled by a range of groups of Syrian Turkmens.

Ömer Abdullah, commander of the Turkmen Sultan Abdülhamid Han Brigade, said that they lost 18 militants and 76 were wounded after the two days of Russian heavy air offensives.

Regarding recent offensives, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, told Agence France-Presse (AFP): "In the past 48 hours, regime forces surrounded the town from three sides – the south, west and north – by capturing 20 villages," and that senior Russian military officials were overseeing the battle for Rabia, and that Russian airstrikes "played an essential role" in the fight.

With the capture of Rabia, government troops are closing in on rebel supply routes through the Turkish border to the north, he said.

Abdurrahman Mustafa, head of the Syrian Turkmen Assembly, said that they will continue fighting against terrorist organizations and international forces, "[however] the strength of Turkmens is obvious. Our capability against terrorizing forces is this far. Bayırbucak did not fall and the resistance continues. It will not fall either."

Russia has been bombing villages in the Bayırbucak Turkmen area in northern Syria to bolster the Damascus regime, which it has been a staunch ally of since before the crisis. Turkish officials are alarmed by the intensified airstrikes on Turkmens, who are a Turkic ethnic group in Syria and Iraq and share some cultural ties with Turks of Turkey.

Despite being heavily besieged by Syrian and Russian forces, Turkmens defend their century-old homeland but continue to be targets of the Assad regime and Russia. After the emergence of the Syrian uprising in 2011 and the civil war that ensued, the Turkmens have sided with moderate opposition forces in the face of the regime forces.

Under Syria's Alawite minority and the Baath regime led by Bashar Assad – previously ruled by his father, Hafiz Assad – about 3 million Turkmens have faced oppression and discrimination for many years. The same issue applies to the Turkmens in Iraq and Iran.

Russian support for Assad's regime and its recent activities in Syria are heavily criticized by President Erdoğan, who told Russian President Vladimir Putin that there is no DAESH presence in Northern Syria but mostly Turkmens.

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