For The Middle East Eye:
Nationalist and pro-rebel groups say they are inundated with calls from Turks keen to fight with Turkmen against Russian and Syrian forces
ISTANBUL, Turkey – Tens of thousands of Turks have expressed a desire to cross the border into Syria and join Turkmen rebels fighting government and Russian forces in Syria, with hundreds already believed to have joined the battle.
According to aid groups who have been funnelling aid to rebel areas, scores of potential recruits now want to go to the Turkmen Mountain, a border area in Syria’s Latakia province, to help native Turkmen under growing threat from Russian air strikes and government advances.
Between 250 and 500 Turkish citizens have already gone to Latakia to join mostly Turkmen rebels, with casualties on the rise.
While thousands of Turkish citizens are estimated to be already fighting in Syria with groups such as the Islamic State (IS) or the al-Nusra Front, those heading towards Turkmen areas are drawn by a mix of nationalist, ethnic, and religious sympathy for the minority, says a group sending aid to the region and experts on fighters in Syria.
Right-wing groups like Alperen Ocaklari and Ulku Ocaklari – often called the Grey Wolves – and opposition parties including the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), say the Russian bombing of Turkmen areas has ignited nationalist fervour in Turkey.
Kursat Mican says he has been busy fielding phone calls from potential recruits since 24 November when Turkey shot down a Russian jet over Turkmen Mountain. He is the Istanbul chairman of Alperen Ocaklari, a cultural and political organisation founded by right-wing religious nationalists that has been delivering aid to the Turkmen for nearly two years.
“They are calling me to ask how they can go join the Turkmen [rebels],” Mican told MEE in the group’s Uskudar office, seated beside a mural of Ottoman Sultan Mehmet Fatih entering Constantinople in 1453.
“We had 12,000 people call us to go [join the rebels], then we stopped counting.
“We tell them ‘we cannot take you, but if you want to go, we will tell you where to show up, and you can go on your own.’ If someone actually organises things, I think 10,000 people would go to Syria,” he added.