Turkmen community in Syria’s Manbij reclaims heritage and coexists four years after the expulsion of ISIS

MANBIJ, Syria (North Press) – A Turkmen representative in the city of Manbij, northern Syria, said that after four years of the expel of Islamic State (ISIS), they can live in harmony with other city’s communities and work on restoring their heritage and language, in addition to establishing their own association that will represent them.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), along with the Global Coalition, expelled ISIS from the city of Manbij in 2016, two and a half months after the start of the Martyr Faisal Abu Leila operation.

The Turkmen minority in Syria have a centuries-long history in the region, with most Turkmen settling in northern Syria during the Ottoman era. Most are Sunni Muslims, and many of them speak Turkish in addition to Arabic. Many live in the northwestern countryside of Manbij city, in about ten villages, and the eastern part of Manbij city.

Fayez Haidar, of Turkmen origin, said that the coexistence of the communities in the city of Manbij strengthened after the expulsion of ISIS from the city, as everyone can practice their own rituals, customs, and traditions through the associations that were opened in the city. The Circassian community in the city has an association, in addition to institution for the Kurdish language and a Turkmen association.

Now more than ever, Turkmen represent their community and get along with other communities. “We share the same mourning and gratitude; we never differentiate between one community or the other,” Haidar added.

Haidar added that the Turkmen community are participating in the educational, service, and cultural institutions of the Autonomous Administration in Manbij.

Most Turkmen in the city work in trade, especially the trade of crops, while some of them are butchers. “Most of the butchers’ market shops in Manbij are Turkmen,” Haidar said.

There are no official statistics on the number of Turkmen in Syria, and particularly in Manbij, the Turkmen Association in Manbij said the Turkmen community represent 3% of the population in Manbij and its countryside.

Aziza Hamza, a Turkmen from Manbij, said that the spread of racist ideas and feelings at the beginning of the war in Syria created a rift between all communities after attempts to stir up strife among the city’s residents.

“We, as Turkmen women, have also suffered marginalization, discrimination, and deprived from practicing our rights and duties under the previous regimes. But after the liberation of Manbij, Turkmen women became more represented in civil institutions, and became equal to men in everything,” Hamza said.

The Turkmen Association in Manbij city plays a major role in supporting activities which aim to revive and preserve the Turkmen heritage.

Sarwat Sabri, co-chair of the Turkmen Association in the city of Manbij, said that the inauguration of the association “came after effort and exhaustion, as we were able to organize ourselves anew after all the marginalization that we were subjected to during the period of armed factions and the Islamic State in the city.”

Sabri pointed out that the Turkmen community, like others in Manbij, was subjected to injustice and persecution in addition to marginalization during ISIS control of the city. There have been many attempts aimed at Arabizing Turkmen and eliminating all features of Turkmen culture, under the pretext that Islam calls for equality between people.

He added that the Turkmen Association, which was established in April of 2018, is working to revive the culture and language with educational courses at their centers, in addition to teaching Turkmen customs and traditions.

The association also organized lectures to introduce the Turkmen community to its history, roots,  and culture, in addition to forming a Turkmen folkloric group that includes young men and women wearing Turkmen dress.

Reporting by Saddam Hesan