By: Merry Fitzgerald – Europe-Turkmens of Iraq Friendship Association
The Turkmen region in Iraq ‘TURKMENELI’ (indicated in blue on the map) in 1921, before the ethnic cleansing, land grabbing and demographic changes which have taken place since then.
In Iraq the Turkmens are around 3 million (population of Iraq: est. 33 million). Turkmens are the third largest ethnic component in Iraq, their first recorded existence as ‘Turks’ in Iraq was in 632 AD.
The Turkmens are a Turkic people, they are the descendants of the Turkish OĞUZ tribes originating in Central Asia. They arrived in Iraq (Mesopotamia) in successive waves and settled there 1.400 years ago. They built principalities/states (Atabegs) and ruled over several regions in Iraq, Syria and Iran for several centuries. Turkmen communities rose to prominence as administrators, merchants and politicians during the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad and under the Ottoman Empire. The Turkish era began in the Middle East in 1055 when the Caliph of Baghdad declared the Seljuk commander Tughrul Beg as a “Sultan”.
In Iraq the Turkmens established 6 states: The Seljuks, the Atabegs of Mosul, Erbil and Kirkuk, the Ilkhans, the Jalairids, the Qara Qoyunlu, the Aq Qoyunlu, they ruled Iraq during 453 years.
The Turkmen region in Iraq, called TURKMENELI, lies between the Kurdish region in the northeast and the Arab region in the southwest. It stretches from Tel Afar in the northwest of Iraq at the Syrian border, through Mosul, Erbil, Altun Kopru, Kirkuk, Taza Kurmatu, Daquq, Tuz Khurmatu, Kifri, Khanaquin, Badra and Al-Aziziya southeast of Baghdad close to the Iranian border. The largest concentration of Turkmens lives in the city of Kirkuk, which they consider as their capital city and main cultural centre. There is also a large number of Turkmens in Baghdad.
Before WWI the majority of Turkmens were living in the cities, where they had businesses and shops. They had a high number of intellectuals and lived a peaceful and prosperous life. However, since the beginning of the Iraqi State in 1921, Turkmens were treated as second class citizens, their basic human rights were denied and their political leaders and intellectuals were massacred. As a consequence, they were no longer able to develop and they became the poorest ethnic group in Iraq, they were no longer able to defend themselves and their human rights adequately.
. Minimizing the Turkmen presence in Iraq
During the Ottoman era, Iraq was administratively divided in three provinces: Baghdad, Mosul and Basra. “Mosul Province” (“Mosul Vilayat”) covered the entire north of Iraq (the present six governorates of Ninewah, Erbil, Suleymaniya, Dohuk, Salaheddin and Kirkuk).
During WWI, the British occupied Basra and Baghdad provinces and the southern part of the Mosul Province. A cease fire was declared on October 30th 1918. However, despite the cease fire the British army occupied the city of Mosul on 11th November 1918 which created the “Dispute of Mosul” between Turkey and Britain which lasted for 8 years.
The British wanted to detach Mosul Province from Turkey for economic and geopolitical reasons – essentially to control the oil reserves of Kirkuk – in order to facilitate the separation, they minimized the Turkmen presence there. Exhausted by 11 years of continuous wars since 1911, Turkey opted for peace and good relations with the west, relinquishing it’s claim on the Mosul province at the Ankara Treaty of June 5, 1926. Mosul has been officially incorporated into Iraq since then. From that date on the problems of the Turkmens intensified. The successive Iraqi governments continued marginalizing the Turkmens, on the suspicion that they might support Turkey in case Turkey claimed back Mosul. Although Turkmens were loyal Iraqi citizens who had always resisted foreign interference in Iraq they were barred from high and sensitive government positions. They were discriminated and subjected to assimilation policies.
The last reliable census in Iraq was held in 1957 under the Monarchy, according to this census, the Turkmen population was 567.000 when the entire Iraqi population was 6 million. This means that Turkmens represented about 9% of the Iraqi population.
In 1958 the Monarchy was overthrown and Iraq was ruled by the military with the support of the Iraqi Communist party, which included a large number of Kurds within its ranks. A new constitution was issued in which Kurds were declared as ‘partners of the Arabs’, whereas the Turkmens were not mentioned. The Kurdish leader Barzani was brought back from his exile in Russia and he claimed the oil rich Kirkuk to be the capital of his proposed ‘autonomous Kurdistan’. This was rejected by both Turkmens and Arabs.
As Kurds persisted in claiming that Kirkuk was a Kurdish city, tensions rose between the original inhabitants of Kirkuk, the Turkmens, and the Kurdish newcomers to the city. On 14thJuly 1959 a massacre of the Turkmens took place in Kirkuk, it lasted three days during which the leaders and intellectuals of the Turkmen community were arrested and savagely murdered by the Kurdish militia and Communist party members.
In 1963 the military regime was toppled in another coup d’état, led this time by the Arab Nationalists and Baath party. In the following census the number of Turkmens was minimized in the official records and their population was recorded as 2%. Under the Arab Nationalist Baath party (1963-2003) application of double standards continued and on 24th January 1970 Turkmens were granted ‘cultural rights’, while the Kurds were given ‘autonomy’ in 3 northern provinces on March 11, 1970 and the Turkmen city of Erbil was made their capital. All those major concessions were given without asking the Turkmens. Turkmen’ as a nationality was removed from the official census forms. Turkmens had to choose between either becoming Arabs or Kurds. They had to declare “change of nationality” to Arabic in order to get jobs. Real estate sales were banned amongst the Turkmens. Sale could only be done to Arabs. The use of the Turkish language was banned in public and government offices. Publications in Turkish were forbidden.
Demographic changes in Turkmeneli
Turkmeneli is a region which contains fertile agricultural lands and also large oil and gas reserves. In order to weaken the Turkmen presence several demographic changes took place in the Turkmen region in the north of Iraq.
After WWI Iraq fell under British Mandate, the British immediately started to develop the oil industry in and around Kirkuk. This necessitated a large work force and a great number of Assyrians, Kurds and Arabs were brought to Kerkuk from other provinces to work in the oil industry. This was the beginning of important demographic changes in the Turkmen region and especially in Kerkuk province.
Other demographic changes took place under the Arabization policy of the Baath regime in the 1980s which installed tens of thousands of Arab families in Kirkuk city and Kirkuk Province giving them financial incentives, jobs and agricultural lands. Several Turkmen villages were totally destroyed and their inhabitants were forcedly displaced, their agricultural lands were confiscated thus they became homeless and without any resources. The agricultural lands belonging to Turkmens were given to Arabs from neighbouring regions by the government. Today, Turkmens are still waiting to receive compensation for their losses and have still not recuperated their properties and agricultural lands.
The largest demographic change happened in Kirkuk and surrounding Turkmen towns under U.S. occupation in 2003 when the Kurdish leaders Messrs. Barzani and Talabani brought over 600.000 Kurds from other areas in Iraq and even from neighbouring countries to be settled in the city. On 10th April 2003, the US forces authorized the Kurdish militias to advance far beyond their “Autonomous Region” established in the three governorates in the north-east of Iraq (Duhok, Erbil and Suleymaniya) and to invade and occupy the other governorates of the north of Iraq (Kirkuk, Mosul, Salaheddin and Diyala) where the majority of Iraqi Turkmens live. When they entered Kirkuk the Kurdish Peshmerga immediately occupied all the official buildings, they put fire to the land registry office and destroyed the records and state archives.
Today there is ongoing pressure by Kurdish and Arab authorities to shift the Turkmen population to different areas to continue the demographic change. Numerous incidents of encroachment and seizure of government and private Turkmen land by Kurdish families have been reported. These Kurdish families receive financial assistance from the Kurdish Regional Government to build houses on these Turkmen lands. In almost all Turkmen regions, from Tel Afar to Khanaqin and particularly in the oil-rich province of Kirkuk, the demographic structure was changed with the intention to gain ground for Kurdish authorities.
Since June 2014 many Turkmen cities and villages have been attacked by ISIL, 350.000 Turkmens had to flee leaving everything behind and many were tortured and killed. Neither the Iraqi army which was supposed to protect them nor the Kurdish Peshmerga forces which were stationed nearby came to their help. One of the Turkmen cities, AMIRLI, was besieged by ISIS and its inhabitants heroically resisted for 72 days, but contrary to the city of KOBANI in Syria, this was hardly reported in the western media and it did not get the attention of the western politicians, decision makers and humanitarian organizations. Since June 2014 thousands of internally displaced Turkmens have sought refuge in the Kurdish Region, but many were turned away by the Peshmerga because they are Turkmens. Others were put in transit camps where they live under dire conditions, many babies have died. Thousands of Turkmen families were taken to the south of Iraq where they were given shelter in schools and Husseyniyas (Shiite mosques). To-date, the internally displaced Turkmens have received hardly any help from the Iraqi government, to survive they can only rely on humanitarian help from some Turkish NGOs and the generosity of other Turkmens.
Today, the fate of the Turkmens looks very bleak, their very survival in Iraq is threatened. Therefore, Turkmens are calling on the European Union and the U.S. to help them to obtain their local autonomy, self-administration and their self-defence forces in cooperation both with the Iraqi Central Government and the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government.
Turkmens also ask the EU and US to work together with the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government to realise a special status for Kirkuk Province.
These demands are also those of the Chaldeans-Syriacs-Assyrians and the Yezidis in Iraq.
Therefore, the Turkmens, the Chaldeans-Syriacs-Assyrians and the Yezidis have united themselves to work towards a common future in which each of their peoples are recognised as part of their country and will be able to preserve the existence of their ethnic, cultural and religious identities. Their aim is to maintain and contribute to the rich diversity of their country.
On 19th November 2014, the Iraqi Turkmen Front, the European Syriac Union and the Federation of Yezidi Associations will be signing a Common Declaration calling for the restoration of human rights to the non-ruling indigenous peoples of Iraq. This event which is organised in co-operation with the Christian Political Foundation for Europe will take place at the European Parliament in Brussels and will be hosted by MEP Branislav Skripek.
Dr. Hassan T. Aydinli, ITF representative to EU
Merry Fitzgerald – Europe-Turkmens of Iraq Friendship Association
19th November, 2014.
-Regarding grabbing of Turkmen lands in Iraq under the Baath regime: after 2003 the Turkmens had access for the first time to the Iraqi Government’s official documents, the Iraqi Turkmen Front has gathered the official decrees regarding confiscation of lands belonging to the Turkmens in three books (in Arabic) entitled:
“Turkmanity of Kirkuk in Iraqi and international references and Documents”
“Iraqi Turkmens Suffering in Iraqi Official Documents 1968-2003” (2 volumes).
Presentation first Common Declaration of the Yezidi, Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrian and Turkmen Peoples of Iraq at the European Parliament in Brussels on 19 November 2014:
Declaration of the Turkmen, Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrian and Yazidi people of Iraq at the European Parliament in Brussels:
Iraklı Türkmenler, Kaldaniler, Süryaniler, Asuriler ve Kürt Yezidilerin ortak bildirgesi. Hükmi varlığı olmayan kadim Irak halklarına insan haklarının düzeltilmesi için çağırı:
Türkmeneli’nden .. Türk’ün dilinden: TÜRKMENLER YENİDEN AVRUPA PARLAMENTOSUNDA: