“Turkey entered into Syria in early 2014 when ISIS directed its first attacks in the country against us Turkmens,” a senior official from the Syrian Turkmen Assembly told me during an interview this summer. He went on saying that Turkish troops, backed with air support, entered into Syrian soil with many tanks and killed around 200 ISIS militants, “saving Turkmens from a huge massacre.” However, the cross-border operation was not publicized due to concerns raised from the complex conjuncture.
Months after the interview, the Assad regime and its allies launched a large-scale offensive against the Turkmens – a Turkic ethnic group based with minority populations in Syria and Iraq – in Bayir-Bucak region of Latakia.
Sources on the ground in Latakia report that around 3,000 regime troops, some 4,000 Shiite militia from Iraq-based Liwa’a Zulfiqar, around 1,000 militants from Marxist Alawite group Muqawama Suriya, led by Turkish-born Mihraç Ural are participating in the operations that are supported with Russian airstrikes.
On the other side, those who resist the heavy bombardment is reported to be limited number of fighters from the Turkmen Sultan Abdulhamid Brigade, assisted by some 1,000 fighters from the Jaish al-Fatah.
The offensive came only days after the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the U.S. is planning to embark on a new operation with Turkey to secure an approximately 98-kilometer portion of the Turkish-Syrian border. The timing of the aggression also “coincided” with Turkey hitting six ISIS targets, leading Turkmens to recapture two villages from the extremist group.
Some key locations were seized by the regime at the very first days of the offensive that started on Thursday. However, some 10,000 armed men not being able to seize the strategic Turkmen Mountain and 27 villages bring in the question of: “How could the region not fall in almost a week time?”
Alarmed by the continuing fight, a closed-door security meeting was held at Çankaya Palace headed by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who said that Turkey “took all measures” against the “barbarous” attacks.
Turkish government is aware that Bashar al-Assad’s aggression is closely tied with the desire to create a “safe-zone” in northern Aleppo, bordering Turkey. Commenting on the development, a senior Turkmen figure, Mehmet Ali Ozturk, told Turkish state-run news agency that “In a way, Assad and Russia warns Ankara. They’re saying Turkey cannot enter into Syria, nor establish safe-no-fly-zones.” While provoking Turkey with shelling Turkmens, the attacks could also be interpreted as Moscow’s plans to pave ways for regime to hold more regions before entering a possible transition period.
It is now obvious that Assad and his supporters not hiding their cards. On the other hand, Turkey takes diplomatic steps, such as summoning Russian ambassador, calling UNSC to take action. Nevertheless, there are also strategic maneuvers taken in the field. One should realize that Bayır-Bucak can be seen from the Turkish side of the border and that Turkey has the capability of conducting “silent” operations to turn the games upside-down in northern Syria.
Selcuk Ozdağ, the deputy chairman of Turkey’s ruling AK Party, ruled out speculations that the Turkmen Mountain had fallen into the hands of the regime and gave the clearest answer to the question why Assad will not be able to become a neighbor to Turkey again: “Turkey is a powerful country. We provide all sorts of helps to Turkmens, who will fight until establishing a free Syria."