Turkmen: A Minority Influential in Syrian Culture

People waving Turkish and Syrian flags before the departure of an aid convoy headed for Syria - 2016 (Reuters)

People waving Turkish and Syrian flags before the departure of an aid convoy headed for Syria - 2016 (Reuters)


The connection between Turkmen and their origins in Turkey may have been ambiguous during the pre-war years. However, the Syrians diaspora, and especially those who have arrived in Turkey, were enabled to seek their historical ties, and for various reasons.

Over the past eight years, Turkey has offered the option of permanent settlement for a large number of Syrians, including Turkmen. In Turkey, they have found more than cultural growth and sustainable development, as they have felt in its alleys, and in the spirit of its people, an ancient affinity. Turkey bears the marks of undeniable similarity to Syria, but also distance that is difficult to fathom.

This obscure familiarity prompted Syrians to turn to their history and their roots, rediscovering the missing connections which were suppressed by decades of civilizational recession that prevailed in Syria in the modern era. Now, they are rereading their history, and reformulating their understanding of their common lived reality along with the “foreign Ottoman occupiers”.

Who Are Turkmen?

Turks, or Turkmen, are nomadic peoples who came from Central Asia to Anatolia. They rose to prominence after carrying the banner of Islam and leading its followers. They entered Syria under various names, such as Mamluks, Seljuks, Zengis and then Ottomans. When Turks left Syria in the early twentieth century, many Turkmen families had already settled in Syria and considered it their homeland.

Turkish culture and language have perished for a section of Syrian Turkmen, due to the policies of assimilation (Arabization) under the French mandate and since then. With time, many Turkmen became indistinguishable from Arabs, except in areas inhabited by a large concentration of them, where they maintained their Turkish identity, and continued to use their language.

The Syrian regime did not recognize Turkmen as a minority, so their numbers cannot be accurately measured in the civil registries. They are registered as religiously Muslim, while no official statistics exist according to the ethnic classification of the population in Syria. However, a hard look into the Syrians’ ancestries will reveal the great influence of Turkmen in Syrian life, and their contributions to its rich culture.


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