Turkey urges UN to act to protect Turkmens in Syria

Turkey urges UN to act to protect Turkmens in Syria

Serkan Demirtaş - ANKARA
Turkey urges UN to act to protect Turkmens in Syria

Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoğlu speaking to reporters on Nov. 22, 2015. AA Photo

Turkey has called for a U.N. Security Council meeting to discuss attacks on Turkmens in neighboring Syria, according to Prime Ministry sources, with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu saying his government will “not hesitate” to take the required measures on Syrian soil to protect the Turkmen people.

Days after Ankara summoned the Russian ambassador to protest against the bombing of the Turkmen villages, Davutoğlu stated that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) was not active in the region targeted by Russian air strikes.

Turkey is in discussions with the United States and Russia over the bombing of the villages and has sent a letter to Britain, the current holder of the U.N. Security Council’s presidency, asking for the subject to be taken up, sources from Davutoğlu’s office told Reuters on Nov. 23. Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioğlu has also discussed the matter on the phone with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the same sources said. 

Speaking to reporters late on Nov. 22, Davutoğlu recalled that he was engaged in constant contact with both Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar and National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Chief Hakan Fidan over the weekend concerning alleged Russian air raids on Turkmen villages near the Syrian-Turkish border. Sources, meanwhile, told Reuters that Davutoğlu had consulted on the intelligence dimension of the issue with Akar and Fidan.

“Our security forces have been instructed to retaliate against any development that would threaten Turkey’s border security,” the prime minister said.

“If there is an attack that would lead to an intense influx of refugees to Turkey, required measures would be taken both inside Syria and Turkey,” he added. 

“Looking at background of these attacks, in a region where very clearly there is no element of Deash [ISIL], where there is no terrorist element, first Russian airplanes come and then with support from foreign fighters. I want to underline that foreign fighters are not only Deash elements in Syria: Every non-Syrian inside Syria is a foreign fighter, whether they be Hezbollah coming from Lebanon or elements coming from other places. All these foreign fighters target civilian people where the regime no longer has the power to resist,” Davutoğlu said.

“We will also take the required measures diplomatically for the protection of our brothers and sisters in the place where they are located and for the protection of their human rights in the face of any threat,” he also stated.

However, prominent Syrian Turkmen figure Ali Türkmani challenged Ankara’s claims that Syria’s Turkmen community was being targeted in attacks. 

“There is a perception operation that is being waged over the Turkmens,” Türkmani told daily BirGün on Nov. 22. “The regime will of course attempt to maintain its territorial integrity. As such, threats from al-Nusra and the Free Syrian Army are being targeted [by Russian air strikes]. It’s not correct to say the Turkmens are being targeted,” he added.

The Turkmens are a Turkic-language-speaking ethnic minority who live alongside Arab and Kurdish populations and have traditionally had uneasy relations with the Syrian regimes of Bashar al-Assad and his late father, Hafez al-Assad.

The Turkmens have for decades tried to maintain their language and culture in Syria, resisting Arab assimilation policies of the Damascus government, which in turn has frequently regarded them as a fifth column working in favor of Ankara. They maintain close ties to Turkey, which sees the minority as allies in its push to oust al-Assad from power.

Turkey summoned Moscow’s ambassador on Nov. 20 and called for an immediate end to the Russian military operation near its border in northern Syria, which it said included “heavy bombardment” of Turkmen civilian villages. 

Russian air strikes in support of al-Assad’s forces have shifted the balance of power in the conflict and dealt a setback to Turkey’s aim of seeing al-Assad removed from power. 

The provincial governor of Turkey’s Hatay province, which borders the area where the bombing is taking place, said around 1,700 Turkmens had fled towards Turkey over the last three days, state-run Anadolu Agency reported. 
Governor Ercan Topaca told a news conference that up to 30,000 inhabitants of the mountainous area could potentially be forced from their homes as a result of the fighting. 

Turkey’s disaster and emergency authority AFAD said Turkmen families fleeing the fighting were being sent to the Yamadi camp across the border from the Turkish town of Yayladağı and that tents, blankets and clothing were delivered to them. Turkey is already hosting around 2.2 million Syrian refugees.