Russia-Turkey crisis: Who are the Turkmen?

Russia-Turkey crisis: Who are the Turkmen?
Analysis: A face-off between Russia and Turkey over a group of Turkmen villages in northern Syria has reached boiling point, with Ankara downing one of Moscow's jet fighters.
3 min read
24 November, 2015
Syria's Turkmen have been staunch supporters of the Syrian uprising [Anadolu]

A Russian war plane shot down by Turkey on Tuesday was operating over the Turkmen Mountain region in Syria's Latakia province.

One of the Russian pilots was reportedly captured by a rebel group, which includes local Turkmen fighters who are embroiled in a fight against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

The largely marginalised minority have close ties with Turkey and were one of the first communities to join up with the Syrian uprising.

Turkmen villages close to the border with Turkey have been repeatedly targeted by Russian war planes in recent days, leading to a ramping up of tensions between the two countries.

Who are the Turkmen?

The Syrian Turkmen 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.

     The Turkmen in Syria were among the first to take up arms against Syrian government forces

They speak an old version of Turkish named the Turkmen language. They also form a small minority in Iraq, and a few thousand live in Lebanon, mostly in the north.

The largest Turkmen community surrounds the Turkmen Mountain 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.

Read more on the Russia-Turkey crisis over Syria
- NATO calls extraordinary meeting after Turkey downs Russian jet
- Russia jet in Turkish airspace 'was not the first'
- What was Russia's airforce doing near Turkey's borders anyway?
- Who are the Turkmen?

Last week, Turkey's Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador to demand that Russia cease operations in Syria targeting Turkmen villages.

The Turkmen 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 since 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 Turkmen 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 Turkmen from government forces and the Islamic State group.

Turkey vowed then to support the Syrian Turkmen. Now a Russian plane has been shot down by a NATO member for the first time since the 1950s, and the faultlines of the old alliances are again being tested as the world teeters on the edge of all-out global war.