ANALYSIS: The Route of Syria and Turkmens

Emre Kartal, Yıldırım Beyazıt University –  October 14, 2012

Indicative Abstract : The recent events in Syria are a revolt, which is comprised of the broad historical background and a social structure that emerged out of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’. In order to understand the full extent of these events, the process of establishment of the Syrian Government, ethnic diversity and the structure of the state have to be examined.

Turkey is interested in the Syrian territory, both in terms of the border neighborhood and of the ethnic groups. Syria is a country that had been ruled for centuries by the Seljuk and Ottoman Turks. Today, it is also a border country of the Turkish Republic, with which it shares its longest border. In addition, the Kurdish problem is also of interest to Turkey, which is one of the country’s current problems, especially in terms of the Turkmen[1] population. In Syria, there are the Arab Alevis, Sunni Arabs, Kurds, Druze, Armenians and Turkmens, which can be considered as a relic inherited from the Ottoman Empire, which have had a plurality under Assad’s regime.

Seen in the light of history of Imperialism, the uncertain route of Syria for the moment is an indicator of a new ethnic based structure. However, if the massacres are taken into account, it is obvious that this process will be really bloody.  In order to understand Syria’s current path, the political structure and the contemporary history of Syria have to be analyzed. The foundation of the current Syrian structure is based on the French mandate after the First World War. During the French Mandate period, for administrative purposes, France divided the country into ethnically based regions and granted them autonomy.  When France desisted, it constituted an army based on these ethnic grounds. The Baath Party cadres, which rule Syria today, emerged based on the organizational principals of this army. During the independence struggle of Syria, the Arab Alevis were in power, which sowed the seeds of what is called as Ba’athism. The ‘Levant Special Force’ founded by the French in Syria was created by the Arab Alevis, the Druze, and a small group of the Sunni population living in rural areas. Searching for a common identity in this army had been the common denominator of Ba’athism.

Against this background, today, it could be claimed that the current revolt is organized and under the promotion of the Barzani Kurdish population and it has an active political aim. In the northern regions there is even a possibility of an autonomous structure. This is a process reminiscent of the Kurdish administration gaining autonomy in Iraq after the U.S. operation.  The Assad regime is a matter of life and death for the Arab Alevis because the destruction of the regime would mean great difficulties for them.  The Turkmens in the country are facing great difficulties as well as they had under the Assad regime. So to speak, the Turkmens, touted as ‘the descendants of the Ottoman invaders’ by the Baathist Arab nationalism, are either facing great difficulties, or they are partially assimilated. They are the target of both Assad’s attacks, and of the opponents such as the Kurdish Defense Forces (HPK) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

An analysis of the latest developments in Syria shows that the sides to this struggle in the country are the following: the Kurdish movement supported by Mesut Barzani, ex-political power holders who are no longer supportive of the Assad regime and who became opponents and, finally, the Sunni Arab uprising in the central region.  The Arab Alevis, previously identified by the regime, may have to share their absolute power with the citizens of other ethnic origins. This may partly be due to the Arab Alevis who no longer support Assad. The most striking example for the Kurdish groups that have political demands in Syria is the Kurdish structuring in Iraq. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the then U.S. president George W. Bush, during a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, had guaranteed ‘Iraq’s territorial integrity’. Along the same lines, Mesut Barzani, the leader of the autonomous administration in Northern Iraq, declared themselves in the favor of territorial integrity of Iraq. However, a closer inspection of today’s situation might show that the aforementioned administration is currently a step closer to independence.

Syria’s path is still uncertain. However, out of two possible scenarios, Assad’s overthrow is more likely. It is not possible to sustain the Assad’s regime which is massacring people and has lost its legitimacy in the world public opinion. The possible establishment of a new system will face these ethnic disparities and imperial ambitions. The imperialist experience of the French Mandate in the region and ethnic based system of the latter regime show us that the United States and some Western states are trying to apply the divide-and-conquer logic to this region. The statement by the former U.S. minister of foreign affairs on 7 August 2003 in the Washington Post that ‘the borders of the 22 countries from Morocco to China would change’ supports this claim.

To sum up, the new regime that will be established after the Assad regime’s overthrow will be based on ethnicity due to the historical experiences. Moreover, while the Turkmens will be disenfranchised, there will be a strong Kurdish structure in line with Western and international support. This will cause problems both for Turkey (in terms her struggle with the PKK) and for the Barzani administration. The assimilation of Turkmens in the region will be inevitable. The armed attacks against Turkmens in Kirkuk and other Turkmen cities will continue and massacres against the Turkmen are likely to increase. It is possible to have a structure that is dominated by Sunnis at the center. In my opinion, the activities of the Arab Alevis in the bureaucracy will continue for a while but their liquidation will take place soon.

Emre Kartal, postgraduate student at the Department of International Relations at Yıldırım Beyazıt University

Please cite this publication as follows:

Kartal, Emre (October, 2012), “The Route of Syria and Turkmens”, Vol. I, Issue 8, pp.18-19, Centre for Policy Analysis and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, ResearchTurkey. ( 

[1] The Syrian Turkmen are an ethnic minority of Oghuz Turkish descent living in Syria (e.n.)