Yet, in a pattern that appears to be repeating itself across the country, relations between ISIS and the Turkmen who are fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) were initially cordial. When the ISIS militants first rolled in with their flashy weapons and SUVs they were on their best behavior. But soon they began replacing local schoolteachers and imams and preaching their rigid, unsmiling brand of Islam. “They called us ‘Sufis’ and ‘apostates,'” Abdullah said.
Tensions flared when the militants began demanding that locals give up their daughters in “marriage” and that the Turkmen and fellow FSA fighters from Arab units cede control over the villages and raise the ISIS flag. These came to a head last month when a group of about 50 masked ISIS fighters raided a hospital in the village of Gevere, killing at least four people, including a Turkmen village elder who had come to parley with them. “First they shot them, then they cut off their ears and noses,” said Yusuf Baldir, a Turkmen fighter with the Zaher Bibers brigade.
The Turkmen, who are scattered across Syria, face similar pressure from jihadist groups in Raqqa and Aleppo provinces. Baldir described the plight of a Turkmen woman in Aleppo who was gang-raped by ISIS fighters. “She hanged herself with a rope from the ceiling,” Baldir said.