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Saturday, November 28, 2015
Putin responds to the Turkmen that killed the Russian pilot but hold on. Here is what Russia has been doing to the Turkmen prior to the Russian plane being shot down:
Baku – APA. Nov 27 Russian air strikes in northwest Syria have heavily targeted ethnic Turkmen areas, according to a Reuters data analysis that helps explain rising tensions between Moscow and Ankara in the weeks before Turkey shot down a Russian warplane.
Tuesday's incident marked the biggest clash between a NATO member and Russia in half a century, and has drawn threats of economic retaliation from the Kremlin. Turkey says the plane strayed into its airspace, which Moscow denies.
Long before that, Turkey had condemned Russia's bombing of towns and villages in the north of Syria's western Latakia province, areas it says belong to Syrian Turkmen, who are Syrians of Turkish descent.
Russian Defense Ministry data, collated by Reuters, shows the bombing raids have struck at least 17 named locations in Turkmen areas since President Vladimir Putin ordered them to begin on Sept. 30.
Russian missiles have destroyed ammunition bunkers, command points and a suicide bomb factory in towns including Salma, Ghmam and Kesladshuq to the west of Syria's Alawite mountains, according to the data, an area humanitarian groups say is ethnically Turkmen.
Salma, which has a majority Turkmen population, has been bombed on at least eight occasions and has found itself at the centre of some of the most geographically concentrated strikes.
Russian jets have hit 15 separate named targets within a 13 km (8 mile) radius of the town, which is used as a base by Turkish-backed rebels in their fight against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"The Russians were heavily bombing Turkmen villages before the downing of the plane," said Samir Alo, head of the Higher Council of Turkmen in Syria. "Thousands of Turkmen families have been driven to the border."
BACKGROUND ON TURKMENS: Turkmen card plays into hands of AK Party gov’t in times of crisis November 28, 2015, Saturday/ 17:00:00/ GÜLTEN ÜSTÜNTAĞ / ISTANBUL TODAY’S ZAMAN
Despite both Syrian and Iraqi Turkmens having occasionally been among Turkey's foreign policy priorities in times of crisis, experts have questioned the sincerity of the protection Turkish policy offers them since the de facto situation proves that Syrian and Iraqi Turkmens' rights have been trampled on compared to other groups in those countries.
The same experts have also concerns that Turkmens are seen as a foreign policy instrument by the Turkish government and are sometimes brought to the table for the purpose of strengthening Turkey's hands in the process of realizing its aspirations regarding Syria and Iraq as part of a broader vision for the Middle East.
After air campaigns against the terrorist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) were intensified by Russia, in partnership with the Syrian regime, the Turkish government brought the dire conditions of Bayır-Bucak Turkmens, who are also suffering from the bombardments, to the international community's agenda.
Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria in 2011, the Bayır-Bucak Turkmens did not occupy Turkey's domestic and foreign policy agendas until Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's ground forces, supported by the Russian air force, recently targeted the rural area of Latakia that encompasses Fırınlık, Acısı and Avanlı in a mountainous region inhabited by Turkmens near the border with Turkey.
Around 1,500 Bayır-Bucak Turkmens fled across the Turkish border after Russia started to pound the area, crossing into Hatay province through Turkey's Yayladağı border gate. It is estimated that the number of the Turkmen villages in the area is around 50.
In the case of Iraq's Turkmens, who were deprived of many social, economic and cultural rights and subjected to immense cruelty and atrocities under the regime of Saddam Hussein since 1970, they finally became free of this situation after the US toppled Saddam in 2003. At those times, Turkmens were not even an issue in relations between Ankara and Baghdad.
Shortly after this, Turkmens began to face serious pressure from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) led by Massoud Barzani, particularly in Kirkuk and Telafer, which were once dominated by a Turkmen population but are now Kurdish majority. Turkmens see Kirkuk as one of their homes. With the displacement of Turkmens in Kirkuk, their percentage of the total population decreased by 35 percent, causing Turkmens to feel threatened in terms of their existence in the region.
Turkey has long been criticized for remaining indifferent to the problems of Turkmens in northern Iraq, despite its rhetoric declaring that the violations of the Turkmens' rights in Iraq are a "red line" for Turkish foreign policy that could provoke any kind of response, including a military one, if Turkmens' right are violated.
None of these threats seem to have worked because the region's Kurds already control the oil trade worth billions of dollars and the Turkmen population fell even more after the Kurds forcibly relocated them.
The goal of the rhetoric was to prevent an independent Kurdish state from emerging in northern Iraq. Despite the fact that there is no independent Kurdish state recognized internationally, a de facto state is visible there that rules the region without answering to the central Iraqi government in Baghdad.
Controversial remarks on MİT-trucks brought Turkmens to the fore
Until the beginning of 2014, Turkmens in Syria were not frequently discussed. In January 2014, gendarmes stopped three Syria-bound trucks belonging to the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) in Turkey's southern provinces of Adana and Hatay after prosecutors received tip-offs that the vehicles were illegally carrying arms to armed organizations in Syria.
Consecutive statements following the interception from senior political figures, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, with some claiming that the trucks were carrying humanitarian aid to Turkmens in Syria, revealed a serious contradiction when others confirmed weapons shipments to Syrian opposition forces fighting against the Assad regime.
It was the moment when the Turkmen card played into the hands of the Turkish government as a tool to justify its position as a country, "supporting its kin in Syria" in an effort to shake off international pressure in the face of accusations that the country has secretly extended a hand to ISIL, an organization considered to be terrorist by the West.
On Tuesday, Turkish jets downed a Russian warplane on the Turkish-Syrian border for violating Turkish airspace. This move, which provoked a harsh response from the Russian side with a series of measures being declared against Turkey, came after Russian jets bombarded Turkmen-inhabited areas.
Although at first sight the downing appears to have links to the protection of Turkmens, many agree that it will exacerbate the security conditions of the Turkmens, with Russia intensifying the air strike campaign on the region in which they live, and that the move will not stop another de facto Kurdish state from being formed in Syria's north.
Turkmens in Syria prominent element of country
The existence of Syria's Turkmens in the region dates back to the seventh century, when the Oghuz Turks, who are considered ancestors of today's Turks living in Turkey, migrated from Central Asia. The first incident marking the appearance of Syria's Turkmens as an actor in regional history was their taking part in the army of Salahuddin Ayyubi (Saladin), who defeated the Crusaders and captured the holy city of Jerusalem in 1096.
When Ottoman Sultan Yavuz Selim defeated the Mamluks in Aleppo in 1516, Turkmens automatically joined the territory of the Ottomans, until 1918, when the Ottoman Empire lost control of the lands in World War I to the Allies. After the Ottomans withdrew from the region, Turkmens immediately launched a fight for independence that resulted in failure. As per the Ankara agreement between Turkey and France in 1921, Turkmens' social and cultural rights were recognized, granting Turkey the right of guarantor state.
According to Middle East historian Erol Çalı, who spoke to Sunday's Zaman, there are nearly three 3.5 million Turkmens living in Syria and 200,000 of them live in the Bayır-Bucak area, with some of them having left the place due to the ongoing military campaign against them. Çalı emphasizes the Assad family had close ties with the Turkmens, but that this did not prevent the policy of intimidation applied against the Turkmens by the Nusayris under the leadership of Hafez al-Assad, the father of Bashar al-Assad, who took over the Syrian administration after the 1970 military coup.
Experts: Turkmens abandoned to their fate
Speaking to Sunday's Zaman, Serhat Erkmen, a prominent Middle East analyst at the 21st Century Turkey Institute, stressed that Turkmens both in Syria and Iraq were the subject of a change in demographic composition over a decade, as well as political divisions.
"They were pressed and attacked for years and never obtained power to defend themselves and respond to these assaults. When comparing their current situation to that of 10 years ago, no progress can be observed. Most of the lands previously inhabited by Turkmens in Syria are now partitioned by ISIL, the Assad regime forces and some Kurdish groups. It cannot be said that they have gotten enough support from Turkey."
Sedat Laçiner, an expert on the Middle East and international relations, told Sunday's Zaman regarding the discussion that Turkmens have been the losers for more than a decade in the region.
"Turkey's insufficient policies towards the region have played a key role in this picture. For a long time, Turkish governments failed to handle the issue based on ethnic politics and did not develop a policy specific to Turkmens in general. The priority was to block a Kurdish state being created or to topple Assad in Syria. Also, Turkey formed a foreign policy based on sectarian divisions by supporting Sunni Arabs in the Middle East. By not coming to terms with the great powers such as the US and Russia in Syria, no solution can be found for the Turkmens," Laçiner said.
Samet Altıntaş contributed to this report.
WHY DO THE RUSSIANS ATTACK THE TURKMEN (MCCAIN’S GUYS)? BECAUSE THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THEM AND ISIS
Turkish weapons ‘heading to end in ISIS hands’: RT speaks to Cumhuriyet journalists
With a Turkish prosecutor asking a court to imprison the Cumhuriyet journalists pending trial on charges of treason, espionage and terrorist propaganda, the mood in the office was tense and many refused to talk to RT on camera, but still wanted to be heard.
In May, the outlet which is considered to be the opponent of the government, published photos of weapons it said were then transferred to Syria by Turkey's intelligence agency.
Those who sent the convoy from Turkey knew that the weapons were "heading to end [up] in ISIS hands," one of the Cumhuriyet bosses told RT's Ilya Petrenko. "There was that flag that belongs to ISIS... [it could be seen] very clearly [from] Turkish border line," the journalist said.
Turkish officials made contradictory statements after the paper blew the whistle, first saying that the arms "were going to the Free Syrian Army," then denying the delivery altogether, and then saying the "aid was destined for the Turkmen."
"When you ask [the government] who [the Turkmen] are, they tell you that those are our guys," another Cumhuriyet journalist told RT. But when the reporter "personally talked" to the fighters supported by her government in Syria, she said she didn't see how they could be different from the terrorists, saying "they were all brothers."
"[There is] no difference between ISIS and the other guys. I think there is a problem with the labels here, because all the world is focused on ISIS, but there are other jihadist groups there, and they have links with Al-Nusra or ISIS, [while] Turkey says 'we are helping that groups – not ISIS'," the Turkish journalist added.