Impressions from the First Meeting of the Syrian Turkmen Platform

The first meeting of the Syrian Turkmen Platform was held in İstanbul on December 15th, 2012. This meeting has a great importance for Syrian Turkmens. Because, the biggest deficiency of Syrian Turkmens is the problem of not being organized and not being able to act in unison. Through the aforesaid meeting, all Syrian Turkmens who represent the whole Syrian Turkmen population in every region and area were united under a single roof. What makes the meeting more important is the fact that it was hosted by the Turkish Foreign Ministry and held with the contributions of the Turkish Prime Ministry. Besides, the fact that Turkish Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also attended the meeting and each made an opening speech was important for Turkey to show  the support given to Syrian Turkmens at top level. Even though President Abdullah Gül did not personally attended the meeting, Advisor to Turkish President for Middle East Affairs Ershad Hurmuzlu delivered Abdullah Gül's message during the meeting. Also, the same day Prime Minister Erdoğan hosted a Syrian Turkmen delegation in his office in İstanbul. All these developments might be considered as quick steps taken in a relatively short period of time in terms of the Syrian Turkmen community which has been striving to know itself and to be organized. The fact that Foreign Minister Davutoğlu stated, “we promise to support you from now onward as well” might be considered as the most important sign regarding that Turkey will continue to support Syrian Turkmens    
The First Meeting of the Syrian Turkmen Platform started after the entrance of Turkish Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in the conference hall. In the beginning of the Meeting, a short documentary entitled “We Have a Message for Turkey” was shown. Following the images showing the tragedy and destruction in Syrian Turkmen regions, President Abdullah Gül's message was delivered by the Advisor to Turkish President for Middle East Affairs Ershad Hurmuzlu. In his message, President Abdullah Gül stated that “We are as close with Syrian Turkmens as two coats of paint, we always feel close to each other even through we are at different places due to the borders, Syrian Turkmens assume a major role as a bridge between the whole Syrian population and themselves, and they will continue to do so.” President Gül also stated that Turkey was trusted with Syrian Turkmens in the past, and that they would always protect them. He also issued a call for Syrian Turkmens “to get to the position they deserve within territorial and political integrity of Syria”. Following President Gül's message, Honorary President of the Turkmen and MHP Mersin Deputy Mehmet Şandır made a speech. In his speech, Şandır underlined that “Syrian Turkmens are the common ground of the Turkish politics”. He also stated that, “When it comes to Syrian Turkmens, everyone in Turkey would adopt a common attitude. Syrian Turkmens of approximately 4 million population consider Syria as their homeland and they are the primary components of the area. Currently, Syrian Turkmens have been going through major problems, some 40 thousand Turkmens live as refugee and their biggest problem is the lack of organization and not being able to get organized”.                    
After the speech of Şandır along with a standing ovation, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu delivered his speech. Foreign Minister Davutoğlu directly addressed and gave very explicit messages to Syria and Syrian Turkmens during his speech. Beginning his speech by saluting the Turkmen martyrs who were killed during the conflict in Syria, Davutoğlu described the meeting with Syrian Turkmens as the end of 1000 years of longing. Davutoğlu said that they support the whole Syrian population by stating that as Turkey, they have never excluded any group; Arabs, Kurds, Sunnis, Alawites, Christians, Druses in Syria, and that they always stood behind them. The most important emphasis in this statement was that Turkey has always stood by and will continue to stand by the whole Syrian people and Syrian Turkmens. This statement was concluded with “We promise you this”.            
He said Turkey looks at Syria from 3 perspectives, and that the first perspective is humanitarian. Within this framework, he stated Turkey pursued an open-door policy for Syrian people asking to cross into Turkey for security reasons. And he added that we have a  responsibility dating back to history, and that it is not possible not to open doors if you are influenced by our profound historical culture. Davutoğlu, who stated that they would always open the doors if 500 thousand Kurdish fellows in Iraq or in Bosnia went through such a problem, described Anatolia as the “homeland of oppressed people”.    
The 2nd perspective, on the other hand, is about the future of Syria. Accordingly, he stated that Turkey has been standing at an equal distance to the whole Syrian people, and that they desired for a change is Syria and wanted to see a democratic Syria instead. And he added that Syrian Turkmens would get to the point they deserved within this perspective of democratic Syria. Stating that Syrian Turkmens used to hesitate to speak in Turkish even on the streets in the past, Davutoğlu said Turkmens are the primary component of Syria and they will be so. He also outlined the Turkish presence in Syria by giving some examples. Davutoğlu, who gave examples like the Turkish names such as Yukarı Karamanlı and Aşağı Karamanlı, reminded that there is a settlement called Afshariya in Aleppo and that Afshar tribe is actually a Turkic tribe, that there is a village called Kayı in Homs and Kayı is also a Turkic tribe. He mentioned that Syrian Turkmens are spread all around the cities such as from Raqqa to Golan, from Damascus to Aleppo, and to Hama, Homs, Latakia and Tartous. He put another important emphasis on this part and stated that, “Nobody should doubt that Syrian Turkmens will get their just rewards in the future of the country, Turkmens have been in their well-deserved place within the recently-formed Syrian National Council”.                
Within the framework of the third perspective on Syria, it was stated that new Syria has relations with Turkey and Turkey has been standing by the Syrian people and that all the stops would be pulled out to create a new Syria. “The walls between Syria and Turkey will be removed, a Syrian citizen will encounter no problem while entering in İstanbul, there will be an integrity by removing all obstacles between Aleppo and Gaziantep, Rasoul Ayn and Ceylanpınar, Bayır-Bucak and Yayladağı, we imagine such a future, and we want a future to render the borders meaningless by respecting the borders at the same time,” he stated. In the last part of his speech, Davutoğlu addressed to Syrian Turkmens and asked them to join their forces, and to focus on major targets instead of dealing with minor problems. He also promised on behalf of the Republic of Turkey that “to stand by Syrian Turkmens as long as they unite.”              
During the meeting, representatives from each Turkmen district delivered their speeches following the speech of Foreign Minister Davutoğlu. Representatives coming from Damascus, Aleppo, Golan, Hama, Homs, Latakia, Idlib, Raqqa and Tartus expressed the problems Turkmens have been going through in their regions. Afterwards, commanders who attended the meeting as representatives of Syrian Turkmen military units made their speech. The speeches of Turkmen commanders, who fought in the field and some of whom were injured, were applauded loudly. Military unit representatives mentioned their problems and expectations for support.       
Then started the speeches of political groups. There are two prominent groups within the Syrian Turkmen political movement which is in the beginning stage of organization. These groups are the Syrian Turkmen Democratic Movement led by Abdulkerim Aga, and Syrian Turkmen Group led by Youssef Mullah. Following the speeches of the representatives of both groups, prominent figures of the Syrian Turkmen Democratic Movement and Syrian Turkmen Group announced that they decided to join their forces within the framework of the goal to unite Syrian Turkmens under a single roof, which is one of the primary objectives of the Meeting. Even though the majority of prominent figures of Syrian Turkmen Democratic Movement announced they would act in unison under a new party after resigning from the party, Syrian Turkmen Democratic Movement stated that they would carry on their political activities under the same party along with those who remained within the movement.         
Syrian Turkmen movement is under construction stage. They did not have opportunity to socially or politically be organized under an authoritarian regime. Therefore, upon the sudden weakening of the regime, people started to strive to socially and politically be organized both in and out of Syria. However, as in all Syrian opposition; their efforts to be organized started from a very basic level as they do not have an opposition tradition and background. There is a problem on forming a group to act in unison, and on a leadership accepted by the whole Syrian Turkmen society. Nevertheless, it is necessary to say that major steps have been taken in a short period of time. Currently, there are 16 representatives within the Syrian National Council and 2 representatives in Secretariat General of the Syrian National Council. More importantly, there are 3 Turkmen representatives within the Syrian National Coalition in the new opposition group formed in Qatar. One of them is Halit Hoca, Turkmen-origin Turkey Representative of the Syrian National Council; the other one is Ziyad Hassan as the representative of Syrian Turkmen Democratic Movement, and the third one is Hussein Abdullah from Raqqa as the representative of the Syrian Turkmen Group. However, the biggest achievement of Syrian Turkmens is their progress in military field. Currently, Turkmens are the leaders of biggest opposition military brigades, and some of the soldiers among the brigades. In addition, there are also Turkmen brigades and military units composed of Turkmens and which protect Turkmen districts. Some of the most powerful military units fighting in Aleppo might be listed as follows: Brigades of Mehmet the Conqueror, Sultan Abdulhamid and Grandsons of Fatih. Also in the Seladdin district of Aleppo, which has a strategic importance, Turkmen brigades with Idlib origin fight along with Arab brigades. Other than this, there are Turkmen brigades also in Latakia, Homs and Damascus. The Turkmen settlements in the rural area are also controlled by those military units.