BEIRUT, Lebanon

Despite descending from their ancestral homes in Central Asia and Anatolia more than 500 years ago, Turkmens in Lebanon still preserve their mother tongue, customs, and traditions.

Turkmens believe they came to Lebanon in 1516 during the reign of Sultan Selim I (1512-1520), with the aim of securing the Hejaz trade route while others fled drought in their original homelands.

Turkmens of Lebanon are distributed across the country’s regions. However, they are mainly concentrated in Akkar province north of the country, particularly in the villages of Kouachra and Aydamun.

Large numbers of Turkmens can also be found in the eastern province of Bekaa.

They are also spread in smaller numbers in the cities of Sidon, Al-Qalamoun, Tripoli and the capital Beirut.

Diverse journeys

However, not all Turkmens in Lebanon share the same origin or pattern of migration to the Arab country.

Those in Tripoli are mainly Turks of the island of Crete which the Ottoman Empire lost control of in 1897, forcing the majority of its inhabitants to migrate to the Turkish cities of Mersin and Izmir while others migrated to Tripoli in Lebanon as well as the Syrian capital, Damascus.

For Turkmens in Beirut, they are mainly from the Turkish city of Mardin who left the city for better economic opportunities in Beirut.

The Mardin Turks speak Arabic alongside Turkish, assets that have facilitated their rapid integration into Lebanese society.

While there are no official statistics on the population of Turkmens in Lebanon, they are estimated to be in tens of thousands.

Customs intact

Despite their presence in Lebanon spanning more than five centuries, Turkmens have largely preserved their customs, language, and traditions.

“We came to Lebanon during the reign of Sultan Selim I, in 1516, when we made Akkar and the Syrian coast as our home,” said Khaled Al-Asaad, 63, from Kouachra.

“We have been here for 500 years or more, and we still preserve our Turkmen language, customs, and traditions that we inherited from our ancestors,” he added, recalling his time as a child when residents in the village only spoke Turkish.

But Al-Asaad is worried about the future of the Turkmen language in the country. “The Turkmens today, especially the new generation, do not speak Turkish, because of the system in schools, and the mixing with Arabs.”

He welcomed efforts by the Turkish Cultural Center to “send teachers to teach the Turkish language to residents of Turkmen villages in Akkar.”

Despite his fears that Turkmens are losing their language, Al-Asaad pointed out that their customs and traditions are still different from the Arabs, especially on special occasions, such as weddings.

He pointed out that the Turkmens in the town of Darwis, in the eastern province of Baalbek, came to Lebanon 300 years ago from the Syrian province of Homs.

“The Ottomans did not establish borders between people at that time, because they did not differentiate between one person and another.”

Turkiye’s role

Al-Asaad said he was the one who alerted Turkiye to the presence of Turkmens when he was a soldier in the Lebanese army in the demining unit.

“The first relations between Turkmens and Turkiye began in 1989 when I went to the embassy to meet the Turkish ambassador at the time at the request of the officer in charge,” Al-Asaad recalled.

He said Turkmens in Lebanon stand in solidarity with all their Turkic brothers.

“During Turkiye’s assistance to Azerbaijan in its war to liberate its land from the Armenian occupation, we called from our hearts for the victory of the Azerbaijani brothers,” Al-Asaad said.

“And as a result of that, we started looking for whether there is an Azerbaijani embassy in Beirut to go and congratulate them for their victory. The embassy warmly welcomed us.”

Jibril Al-Asaad, 60, said when his Arab friends watch the Ertugrul TV series, they praise Turkmens in Lebanon for the bravery of their ancestors.

“The Ertugrul series showed the true image of the Turkmens to all the world,” he said.

* Writing by Ibrahim Mukhtar in Ankara

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