The Turkmen are an ethnic minority in Syria whose ancestors were Turkic peoples who fanned out across Central and East Asia in the 11th century. The Ottomans encouraged them to migrate south, so when the Ottoman Empire was divided after World War I, their descendants found themselves in the very north of Syria, close to the Turkish border.
President Bashar al-Assad’s Syria is a secular, socialist republic and in pursuing a policy of “Arab unity”, it doesn’t recognise many, if any, ethnic minorities. As such, the Turkmen suffered institutional discrimination over religion, employment and education for many years and were forbidden from writing and publishing in their native Turkish dialect.
When they took part in the March 2011 uprising against the Syrian government, they suffered harassment, attacks, arrests and torture.
“The [government’s] prisons are two levels below ground,” says Adil Orli, commander of Camp 1071, a training facility in the Turkmen Mountain region near the Turkish border.
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