Around 1,500 members of Syria’s Turkmen minority have fled to the Turkish border to escape renewed fighting in the northwest of the country, a Turkish official said Sunday.
Turkey has expressed concern in recent days over Russian air raids in the area, fearing they are aimed at hitting Syrian opposition fighters and bolstering the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Meanwhile, Turkmen fighters backed by Turkey have launched their own ground operation in northern Syria to retake territory controlled by Islamic State (IS).
“As of today, around 1,500 of our Turkmen brothers and sisters have come to our border region,” the governor of Turkey’s Hatay region on the Syrian border, Ercan Topaca, was quoted as saying by Turkish news agencies.
“Of course we are ready to meet their every need, especially as winter conditions are starting,” he said, adding that 575 tents had already been sent as well as blankets, food and medical supplies.
The refugees have been fleeing to an area south of the Turkish town of Yayladagi, 50 kilometres (31 miles) from the Hatay regional capital Antakya.
Turkey says it has taken in a total of 2.2 million refugees from Syria’s four-year civil war and still maintains an “open door policy” while warning its capacity to take more is limited.
Topaca said the authorities are preparing for a possible new wave of migration from the affected area, with 15 mainly Turkmen villages in the conflict zone with a total population of up to 35,000, including ethnic Arabs.
Ankara has expressed fury over the bombing campaign by Russian and Syrian regime jets in the region, summoning Moscow’s ambassador last week to protest raids “very close” to the border.
In a sign of the government’s concern over the issue, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu convened an unscheduled meeting of security chiefs in Ankara on Sunday to discuss the Turkmen, state media said.
“Our sensitivities on this issue continue every day and every hour,” Davutoglu said in a statement to Turkish television after the meeting, which included spy chief Hakan Fidan and Turkey’s top general Hulusi Akar.
“We have many sensitivities here, above all our border security,” he said. “Our security branches have been instructed to respond immediately to any threat to our border security.”
The Turkmen are a Turkic-speaking ethnic minority who live alongside Arab and Kurdish populations and have traditionally had uneasy relations with the Syrian regimes of Bashar al-Assad and his late father Hafez.
The Turkmen have for decades tried to maintain their language and culture in Syria, resisting Arab assimilation policies of the Damascus regime, which in turn has frequently regarded them as a fifth column working in favour of Ankara.
They maintain close ties to Turkey, which sees the minority as allies in its push to oust Assad from power.