mercredi 12 mars 2008

Arab, Turk or Kurd?


This is what journalist Nermine Al-Mufti wrote on 19th August 2004

Arab, Turk or Kurd?

Nermine Al-Mufti traces the chequered past of an ethnically interwoven city

Time was that Kirkuk was a microcosm of Iraq's social strata, a myriad of ethnic, doctrinal and religious variations. Back then, Iraqis used to say that the best thing about their country was its complex structure, the mosaic of a long history of civilisation. Today Kirkuk still mirrors Iraq, but what it mirrors is a wounded country, a country hesitant to choose between federalism and confederacy, a country fearful of partition, a country racked by daily military operations, terror attacks, assassinations and organised crimes, by murder, drugs and abduction.

Kirkuk was the city, because of oil, that gave Iraq its wealth and relative modern fame. Today, this same oil makes the city dread a divided future, makes its inhabitants wish that their city never had that source of wealth that made them poor and sleepless.

I visited Kirkuk recently, having read a Human Rights Watch report that warned of hostilities breaking out at any moment in the city. I found pictures of Kurdish Turkish leader Abdullah Ocalan plastered on the walls in the Kurdish parts as well as elsewhere in the city, along with the Kurdish flag. Kirkuk was the last city in Iraq to fly the Iraqi flag following the restoration of "sovereignty". It was as if the city's Kurdish officials were coerced into raising a flag they hardly recognise.

In Kirkuk, assassinations and threats continue, with everyone demanding their rights while ignoring those of others. Why the Ocalan images? Perhaps they were meant as a signal to the Turkish authorities that sent a military commissioner to divine the mood in the city. Half the population of Kirkuk, according to reliable Iraqi and Western documents, are Turkoman. The rest are Arabs, Kurds and Assyrians.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica states that over half the population of Kirkuk is Turkoman. Hanna Batatu, in his trilogy about Iraq, describes the city as "Turkish [Turkoman] in every sense of the word", at least until recently. The Kurds moved gradually from nearby villages to this town. Stephen Longrigg, in his book Four Centuries of Modern Iraq, says that ancient Turkoman immigrants settled in Talafar and a long line of villages on the Mosul road between Dali Abbass and Al-Zab Al-Kabir. Most of them settled in beautiful Kirkuk, which changed little in the last two centuries, Longrigg states.

Salim Matar, in his book The Dialogue of Identities, refers to the Declaration ratified by the parliamentary council meeting on 5 May and addressed to the League of Nations. The Declaration contains Iraq's pledges to the Council of the League of Nations. The pledges were drafted by a committee formed by the Council upon a decision made on 28 January 1932. The Declaration, in Article 9, states that the dominant community in the Kafri and Kirkuk provinces is Turkoman and notes that "the Turkish and Kurdish languages have been declared official languages, alongside Arabic."

There are dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of documents testifying to the majority of Turkoman in Kirkuk.

Saadeddin Arkej, chairman of the Turkoman Council, says that according to the 1957 census, one of the most credible censuses in Iraq, the Turkoman numbered 560,000 of Iraq's total population of 6 million. Many documents speak of the concentration of Turkoman in a crescent running from Talafar, north of Mosul, to the outskirts of Diyali to the east. "But we have always been, and still are, for a pluralist and united Iraq. We want to coexist as we always did, Arabs, Kurds and Turkoman," Arkej adds.

One Kurdish researcher, who wrote several books about the Kurds and their struggle, says that Kurdish demands are excessive, and that because of the close ties Kurds have with the Americans, they have lost much of the credibility and sympathy they used to enjoy among Iraqis in general. The Kurds have paid a high price, and now they want compensation, but the truth is that all Iraqis deserve compensation, the researcher notes.

Mohamed Rashid Kirkuki, a Kurd from Kirkuk, says, "For a reason still unknown to me, I and my family were expelled from Kirkuk. Not all the Kurds who entered the city after 10 April, 2003 were expelled in the past. We are the original Kurds of Kirkuk. We came back and we found our homes and property that Saddam's regime had confiscated. Unfortunately, some found their homes demolished, but they have the title deeds. The compensations are complicated because of those who do not have the right papers. These people, unbeknown to them, have become a bargaining chip in the hands of the leaders. They are poor people, and yet they have become fodder for the continued conflict over Kirkuk."

Khabad Shirwan, also a Kurd from Kirkuk, says that everyone should recognise the Kurdishness of Kirkuk and take into account the demonstrations that were staged in support of independence. Our future is in Kirkuk, regardless of any decisions or viewpoints, Shirwan adds.
Hundreds of thousands of Arabs live in Kirkuk, a vestige of Saddam's attempt to Arabise the city. Residents of the city were able to marginalise the newcomers, particularly since most of the latter were poor and illiterate countryside people and no match for an urban society with the least percentage of illiteracy in Iraq. Some of the Arab newcomers were housed in homes of the Turkoman and Kurds who had been expelled or forced to sell their property.

To complicate things further, the Arab newcomers have given up all their rights back in their hometowns. They are now registered Kirkuk residents, with nowhere to go. They have been driven by poverty to take a part in the Arabisation. Some of them have left Kirkuk. Others have been expelled. But the majority still reside in Kirkuk and now the Kurds want them out.

While the Arabs of Kirkuk are trying to side with the Turkoman in confronting the Kurdish tide, a problem surfaced in the village of Bashir, one that led to tensions between the Arabs and the Turkoman. Irshad Harmazi, a former resident of Bashir, claims that the village, which was Shia and Turkoman, was the scene of genocide. Over 350 families were killed, although some women and children managed to get away, he says. Saddam gave the village's agricultural land to Arab peasants from the original Arab stock of Kirkuk, and now the latter refuse to return the land to its original owners. Turkoman never resort to arms to settle their problems, I was told. As a result, they frequently lose their rights.

Kirkuk is getting ready for a new census that will be pivotal in determining its future. It is watching closely the Kurdish waves of newcomers, who are settling everywhere, including in football fields and scouts camps. Ethnic clashes in Kirkuk are one reason for the postponement of the National Assembly.

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