Posts Tagged ‘diasporas’
Friend of the blog Jussi Jalonen recently noted on Facebook that the Turkish shootdown of a Russian Sukhoi Su-24 on the Turkish-Syrian border, the pilots successfully escaping in parachutes only to be shot dead by Syrian Turkmen Brigades in Syria, underlines the complexities.
The Syrian Turkmen are a substantial ethnic minority, apparently concentrated near the Turkish border, amounting to the hundreds of thousands. How many hundreds of thousands? Might it even be millions? There’s no firm data, it seems, much as there is no firm data on the numbers of Iraqi Turkmen. What is known is that these Turkmen minorities are numerous, that their zones of inhabitation overlap at least in part with that of ethnic Kurds, and that they are politically close to Turkey. As Vox‘s Zack Beauchamp noted, in the particular case of Syria the Turkmen are opposed to Russia.
The Turkmen arrived in what’s now Syria centuries ago, as various different Turkic empires — first the Seljuks, then the Ottomans — encouraged Turkish migration into the territory to counterbalance the local Arab majority. Under Bashar al-Assad’s rule, the mostly Sunni Muslim Turkmen in Syria were an oppressed minority, denied even the right to teach their own children in their own language (a Turkish dialect).
However, the Turkmen didn’t immediately join the anti-Assad uprising in 2011. Instead, they were goaded into it by both sides. Assad persecuted them, treating them as a potential conduit for Turkish involvement in the Syrian civil war. Turkey, a longtime enemy of Assad, encouraged the Turkmen to oppose him with force. Pushed in the same direction by two major powers, the Turkmen officially joined the armed opposition in 2012.
Since then, they’ve gotten deeply involved in the civil war, receiving significant amounts of military aid from Ankara. Their location has brought them into conflict with the Assad regime, ISIS, and even the Western-backed Kurdish rebels (whom Turkey sees as a threat given its longstanding struggle with its own Kurdish population). Today, the Syrian Turkmen Brigades — the dominant Turkmen military faction — boast as many as 10,000 fighters, per the BBC, though the real number could be much lower.
The Turkmen role in the conflict has put them directly in Russia’s crosshairs. The Russians, contrary to their stated goal of fighting ISIS, have directed most of their military efforts to helping Assad’s forces fight rebels. The Turkmen have clashed repeatedly with Assad and his allies in the north — which led to Russian planes targeting Turkmen militants last week.
Turkey was not happy, and called in the Russian ambassador to register its disapproval. “It was stressed that the Russian side’s actions were not a fight against terror, but they bombed civilian Turkmen villages and this could lead to serious consequences,” the Turkish foreign ministry said in a description of the meeting provided to Reuters.
Could, as Beauchamp suggests, the Turkish attack have been a warning to Russia to avoid attacking Turkey’s ethnic kin? It’s imaginable, at least.
All I can add is that there’s a tragic irony here. At least in part in an effort to diminish the negative consequences from Russia’s support of armed ethnic kin against their parent state in Ukraine, Russia has now come into conflict with Turkey’s armed ethnic kin as they fight against their parent state.