Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Some notes on the Turkmen, Turkey, and this diaspora's future

Earlier today, on my personal blog I noted, after a friend's observation on Facebook that the Turkish shootdown of a Russian Sukhoi Su-24 on the Turkish-Syrian border, the pilots successfully escaping in parachutes only to be shot dead was Syrian Turkmen Brigades in Syria. This is obviously a critical issue from the perspective of conflict--Robert Farley's post at Lawyers, Guns and Money, and Leonid Bershidsky's Bloomberg View opinion piece, do good jobs of noting the state things are in. My attention was caught by another issue: Who are the Syrian Turkmen?

Simply put, the Syrian Turkmen are a substantial ethnic minority, apparently concentrated near the Turkish border, amounting to the hundreds of thousands. How many hundreds of thousands? Might it even be millions? There's no firm data, it seems, much as there is no firm data on the numbers of Iraqi Turkmen. What is known is that these Turkish minorities are numerous, that their zones of inhabitation overlap at least in part with that of ethnic Kurds, and that they are politically close to Turkey. As Vox's Zack Beauchamp noted, in the particular case of Syria the Turkmen are opposed to Russia.

The Turkmen arrived in what's now Syria centuries ago, as various different Turkic empires — first the Seljuks, then the Ottomans — encouraged Turkish migration into the territory to counterbalance the local Arab majority. Under Bashar al-Assad's rule, the mostly Sunni Muslim Turkmen in Syria were an oppressed minority, denied even the right to teach their own children in their own language (a Turkish dialect).

However, the Turkmen didn't immediately join the anti-Assad uprising in 2011. Instead, they were goaded into it by both sides. Assad persecuted them, treating them as a potential conduit for Turkish involvement in the Syrian civil war. Turkey, a longtime enemy of Assad, encouraged the Turkmen to oppose him with force. Pushed in the same direction by two major powers, the Turkmen officially joined the armed opposition in 2012.

Since then, they've gotten deeply involved in the civil war, receiving significant amounts of military aid from Ankara. Their location has brought them into conflict with the Assad regime, ISIS, and even the Western-backed Kurdish rebels (whom Turkey sees as a threat given its longstanding struggle with its own Kurdish population). Today, the Syrian Turkmen Brigades — the dominant Turkmen military faction — boast as many as 10,000 fighters, per the BBC, though the real number could be much lower.

The Turkmen role in the conflict has put them directly in Russia's crosshairs. The Russians, contrary to their stated goal of fighting ISIS, have directed most of their military efforts to helping Assad's forces fight rebels. The Turkmen have clashed repeatedly with Assad and his allies in the north — which led to Russian planes targeting Turkmen militants last week.

Turkey was not happy, and called in the Russian ambassador to register its disapproval. "It was stressed that the Russian side's actions were not a fight against terror, but they bombed civilian Turkmen villages and this could lead to serious consequences," the Turkish foreign ministry said in a description of the meeting provided to Reuters.

Could, as Beauchamp suggests, the Turkish attack have been a warning to Russia to avoid attacking Turkey's ethnic kin? It's imaginable, at least.

I'm unaware of research conducted on the propensity of Syrian Turkmen to migrate. I might speculate that, given the intensity of the fighting in Syria, the proximity of Turkmen communities to the Turkish border, and the relatively small cultural distance between Turkmen and Turks, there might be great incentives to migrate. More concretely, British Turkish scholar Ibrahim Sirkeci has conducted research on Iraqi Turkmen, specifically the January 2005 report "Turkmen in Iraq and International Migration of Turkmen" (PDF format) and the January 2011 followup "Turkmen in Iraq and Their Flight: A Demographic Question". In these studies, Sirkeci notes that not only do Turkmen in Iraq have great incentives to leave, but that they can leverage their cultural connections with Turkey to emigrate to Europe and elsewhere. Two press reports from last year note that Iraqi Turkmen have encountered problems crossing into Turkey, but given the mutability of the situation I would not count on this lasting.

At my blog, I said--and still say--that I see a tragic irony in this story. At least in part in an effort to diminish the negative consequences from Russia's support of armed ethnic kin against their parent state in Ukraine, Russia has now come into conflict with Turkey's armed ethnic kin as they fight against their parent state. Terrible conflicts, like the one in Syria or like the lower-intensity conflict in Ukraine, tend to result in permanent dislocations of populations, particularly vulnerable diasporas. After the Second World War, for instance, West Germany's economic success led to the absorption not only of millions of East Germans, but of most of the German diaspora that remained. Less catastrophically, after the fall of the Soviet Union ethnic Russians--and others--emigrated to Russia in large numbers. Curiously, comparatively few Magyars moved to Hungary, perhaps indicating the relative contentment of Magyars in Hungary's neighbouring countries and Hungary's lack of attractiveness as a destination. Especially with demographic and economic changes in Turkey that might make immigration necessary, I find it too easy to imagine that, one day soon, there will not be very many Turkmen left in Syria and Iraq at all.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

On the ineffective and immoral proposal of David Frum

A recent post by Shakezula at Lawyers, Guns and Money Canadian-born American political commentator David Frum posted to his Twitter account a proposal to deal with terrorism in Europe.

Alas, subsequent posts on his Twitter feed make it unlikely that this was a proposal he was offering forth in the noble tradition of Jonathan Swift.

There are many things that can be said about this proposal. Perhaps the most important, at least from the perspective of practicality, is that it wouldn't work. Most of the perpetrators were in Europe more than two years ago, many seem in fact to have been native-born citizens of one European country or another (France and Belgium). Are we to broaden the scope of this mass deportation--what some, perhaps unfavourable to this cause, might call an ethnic cleansing? How far back shall we go? Who shall determine who gets to stay? Do people of Muslim ancestry in Europe itself, like Bosniaks and Albanians, get to stay? Shall we also include converts? What legal mechanisms will be established to enable mass deportations of sufficient scope, whatever sufficient is?

Moving on from issues of practicality, Frum's proposal is inhumane, and this inhumanity would make things worse. It's difficult to see how any effort at a mass deportation of European residents, including European citizens, based on their religion would not end catastrophically for everyone involved, not least by legitimating the Daesh's rhetoric of an inevitable clash between Christians and Muslims worldwide.

Pew Research Centre's statistical overview of European Muslim populations is worth noting, if you want some quick statistics. What better place to start than with actual data?

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Allons, les enfants: a brief note on the Paris attacks of today

News of today's terrorist attacks in Paris reached me almost instantaneously here in Toronto, via a short BBC breaking news feature. It's been terribly sad to see different acquaintances on different social networks reveal their connections to different attacked sites: one actually stayed in an apartment above Le Petit Cambodge, others also had spent time or had loved one in different areas. My thoughts are with the victims.

I owe thanks to Vox's German Lopez for pointing readers like me to a Tweet by one Dan Holliday. Holliday's reaction to the people who would seize upon the refugees entering Europe from Syria as some kind of contagion for terrorist infection.

More to the point, I suspect that the attackers were native to wider Europe.

The Daesh have their own strategy of tension, a desire to help its cause by causing a general collapse in relations between different communities--Muslims and non-Muslims, Arabs and non-Arabs, in short the people it sees as its natural power base whatever they actually think and everyone else. It's critically important not to let this happen, not to give the Daesh victory here. Their enemy is all humankind. Never forget that.

And now, to conclude, here's the famous performance of "La Marseillaise" from Casablanca. Allons, les enfants, allons.