Crisis puts spotlight on Turkmen militias
Published 25/11/2015 | 02:30
The downing of a Russian fighter jet on Syria's Mount Turkmen has thrown the spotlight on to its inhabitants, part of the broader Turkmen community that stretches across northern Syria and Iraq.
In Syria, the Turkmen, who are linguistically and ethnically Turkish, live alongside Arabs and Kurds, but have mostly aligned with non-jihadist anti-Assad rebel groups.
They historically objected to the Arab nationalism of the Assad regime's Baath party, which stressed assimilation to the Arab language and culture. In turn, the regime has frequently regarded them as a fifth column working in favour of Ankara.
Around a dozen Turkmen militias have formed, some directly supported by the Turkish government. It is one of these, Alwiya al-Ashar, that is reportedly holding one of Russia's downed pilots.
They have been fighting alongside other rebel groups, including the al-Qa'ida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and more moderate brigades, in Latakia province which runs to the sea along the Turkish border in the north-west.
In recent days, thousands of civilians have fled over the border, saying they feared Russian bombing raids in support of regime forces in the area.
Another 5,000 arrived at a refugee camp at Arfali, on the Syrian side of the border.
According to the governor of the Turkish province of Hatay, Ercan Topaca, 28 civilians arrived injured and one died in hospital.
The clash that led to the downing of the Russian jet today may be connected to that fighting.
Alwiya al-Ashar is linked to a Turkish and CIA-backed logistics supply programme that funnels a near-constant stream of small arms, ammunition, and cash for salaries to rebel groups across northern Syria. (© Daily Telegraph, London)