‘Intense’ Russian air-strikes reportedly hit Turkmen inhabited villages near Turkish border as Syrian regime expands ground operations in Latakia.
Ankara has expressed understandable outrage at Russia’s assault against Syrian Turkmens, going so far as to issue a statement that Turkey will take all necessary measures to protect Turkmen people and the integrity of the Turkish border.
The Russian ambassador to Ankara, Andrei Karlov, has been summoned to Turkey’s foreign ministry and Russia has been warned to immediately cease bombing “civilian Turkmen villages” or face “serious consequences”.
While speaking at a press conference in November 22nd, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu discussed the emergency talks taking place between high level government officials, the Chief of General Staff, Hulusi Akar, and head of the National Intelligence Organization, Hakan Fidan, in regards to continued Syrian-Russian air raids reportedly targeting Turkmen villages near the Turkish border.
Davutoğlu stated that; “Our security forces have been instructed to retaliate to any development that would threaten Turkey’s border security,” and that “If there is an attack that would lead to an intense influx of refugees to Turkey, required measures would be taken both inside Syria and inside Turkey”.
The prime minister also underlined that this area was not subject to Deash control, disputing Russian claims that these attacks are simply part of Russia’s ongoing bombing campaign against the Islamic State (Deash).
Adding to escalating tensions between Ankara and Moscow, these air strikes have called significant consternation in Turkey, partially due to increased border insecurity including recent Russian incursions into Turkish air space but more importantly, due to Russia’s entrenchment of the embattled Syrian regime, which Ankara would like to see the demise of.
The foreign ministry has issued a statement condemning Russia’s “heavy bombardment” of Bayir-Bucak, which is in north-west Latakia and is a predominantly Turkmen populated area. According to Anadolu Agency, thousands of Turkmens have been forced to flee their homes following Russian bombings and a coordinated Syrian ground invasion, largely heading towards the Turkish border which is already seeing a significant rise in refugees.
According to Ercan Topaca, Hatay governor, “As of today, some 1,500 Turkmen brothers and sisters have come to our border”. Turkey is now utilizing its new ‘zero point delivery’ system of cross-border emergency relief, which entails the transfer of humanitarian aid from Türk Kizilay to a network of humanitarian NGOs and local councils in Syria.
Tonnes of emergency supplies such as tents, food kits and blankets have already been transferred in order to cope with the unfolding crisis faced by Syrian Turkmens and Arabs in affected areas.
Turkish aid organizations have also rallied to the cause of late, with NGOs such as the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) and Kimse Yok Mu launching widespread public awareness campaigns calling for donations for Turkmen brothers.
Based on historical, ethnic and cultural connections, Turkey has close ties with Turkmen communities in both Iraq and Syria, both of whom have received protection and aid from the government, particularly the Prime Ministry of Disaster and Emergency Management (AFAD), over the course of recent conflicts.
This relationship came to a head in 2013 when trucks supplying Turkmens with humanitarian aid were stopped before the border and purportedly found to be transferring weapons. Reports on this controversy have been largely shrouded in mystery, however according to Hürriyet, “Interior Minister Efkan Ala’s statement that the truck was transporting aid to Turkmens in Syria constitutes the first ever confession that Turkey was in direct assistance to its ethnic kin. The fact that the gendarmerie’s initial search showed it was carrying weapons and ammunition, the situation shows Turkey is providing military assistance to Turkmens in Syria.”
Clashes reportedly continue between Turkmen military units and regime forces around Burj El Keseb and Kızıldağ. The chairman of the Syria Turkmen Assembly has called for anti-aircraft weapons from the anti-ISIL coalition, including Turkey, according to Hürriyet.
As this conflict continues to unfold, up to 30,000 people may be forced to flee Turkmen and Arab villages according to Ercan Topaca, only adding to the ever escalating humanitarian crisis faced on both sides of the border as Syria enters its fifth devastating year of civil war.