AP EXPLAINS: Turkmen minority caught up in Syrian civil war

AP News
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Posted: Nov 25, 2015 12:17 PM
AP EXPLAINS: Turkmen minority caught up in Syrian civil war

The shooting down of a Russian military plane by Turkey in Syria's Latakia province and the killing of one of the Russian pilots by a rebel group that includes local Turkmen fighters has brought the Syrian minority into focus. Here is a brief explanation on who the Syrian Turkmens are and how they have been affected by the civil war, now in its fifth year.

IN SYRIA SINCE MEDIEVAL TIMES

Syrian Turkmens are Syrian citizens of Turkish ethnicity who have lived in Syria since Ottoman times and have coexisted with Syrian Arabs for hundreds of years. There are no official statistics on the size of the Turkmen minority in Syria but most estimates say Turkmens number around 100,000. They speak an old version of the Turkish language called the Turkmen language. Turkmens also form a small minority in Iraq and few thousands of them live in Lebanon, mostly in the northern part of the country.

TURKMEN HEARTLAND IN SYRIA

Most Turkmens live in the Turkmen Mountain region in Syria's coastal province of Latakia, near the border with Turkey. They also have a smaller presence in villages in the province of Aleppo in the north, Homs in central Syria and the Quneitra region in the country's south. The Turkmen Mountain region has been subjected to a government offensive in recent days under the cover of Russian airstrikes. Last week, Turkey's Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador to demand that Russia cease operations in Syria targeting Turkmen villages.

ROLE IN SYRIAN CIVIL WAR

The Turkmens in Syria were among the first to take up arms against Syrian government forces, as Turkey lent its support to rebels seeking to topple President Bashar Assad. They have looked to Turkey for support and protection. In late 2012, they united under the Syrian Turkmen Assembly, a coalition of Turkmen parties which represents Syrian Turkmens in the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition opposition group. The military wing of the assembly is called the Syrian Turkmen Brigades and aims to protect areas with Turkmens from government forces and the Islamic State group. Turkey has vowed to support Syrian Turkmens.