Almost 7,000 Turkmen have recently been displaced due to repeated air and ground assaults by Syrian regime forces and Russian warplanes in Syria’s predominantly-Turkmen Bayirbucak region, according to a local Turkmen association.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Ahmed Vezir, secretary-general of the Association of Syrian Turks, said that 20 villages in Bayirbucak -- where some 17,000 people are estimated to live -- had been entirely vacated as a result of the recent upsurge of violence.
Vezir said that a number of Turkmen -- mostly women, children and elderly people -- had recently fled to the villages of Yamadi and Sallur near the Turkish border and to Turkey's southern Hatay province.
Turkey’s official disaster relief agency, AFAD, for its part, has set up a coordination center in Yamadi to organize the distribution of humanitarian aid to affected Turkmen families.
Over the last several days, approximately 2,000 Syrian Turkmen, fleeing the violence in their home country, have reportedly arrived in southern Turkey.
Turkmen are a Turkic ethnic group based largely in Syria and Iraq, where they live alongside large Arab and Kurdish populations. The Turkmen community, which includes both Sunni and Shia Muslims, shares close cultural affinities with the Turkish people.
Abdul-Rahman Mustafa, head of the Ankara-based Council of Syrian Turkmen, told Anadolu Agency that only young Turkmen of fighting age still remained in Bayirbucak.
‘No Daesh presence’
Turkmen civilians in Bayirbucak, which is located in Syria’s Latakia province, say the Daesh militant group has no presence in the area.
A number of Turkmen told Anadolu Agency that Russian claims of a Daesh presence in Bayirbucak were little more than a pretext intended to justify ongoing Russian airstrikes in the area.
"Everyone is using Daesh as a pretext to intervene in Syria," said Mustafa. "Daesh isn’t in the Turkmen Mountains; this is a big lie."
"If Russia really wanted to strike Daesh, why don’t they hit them in northern Aleppo where we’re already fighting them?" he asked.
Many Turkmen say they have been abandoned by the international community, saying they faced frequent attacks by Syrian regime forces, backed by Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Russian air power.
Ahmed Yusuf, 45, a civilian in Bayirbucak, told Anadolu Agency that Russian warplanes frequently struck "civilians targets and mosques in the area".
"Turkey has opened its borders to the [Turkmen] people," Bayirbucak resident Suhail Abdullah, 29, said. "But most of us don’t want to leave our villages."
"We’ve lived here for ages," he added. "We won’t leave our ancestral lands to anybody."