November 24, 2015

TRUST PUTIN TO FIND A NEW ENEMY TO LOSE TO:

Syria's Turkmen: who they are, and what they have to do with Russia's downed plane (Zack Beauchamp,  November 24, 2015, Vox)

Turkmen (not to be confused with people from Turkmenistan) are spread across several Middle Eastern countries but are mostly concentrated in Syria and Iraq. Their total population is thought to range from 1.5 to 3.5 million, though reliable estimates are hard to come by. Of those, somewhere in the range of 100,000 to 200,000 likely live in Syria, mostly in the country's north near the Turkish border.

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.

Posted by at November 24, 2015 5:19 PM

  

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