samedi 26 avril 2008

Turkmens, Turkmeneli and the Musul Region, by Orhan Ketene - PART I

Northern Iraq or the Musul Region is home of the Iraqi Turkmens for over a millennium. The economic and strategic importance of this land, had made it one of the most sensitive parts of the Middle East in general and of Iraq in particular.

Introduction :

Turkmen is the name of the Turks inhabiting the Musul region and the rest of Iraq. Turkmeneli means Turkmen-Land in Turkish. It is the name of areas where Turkmens are concentrated.
Musul Region is the Northern part of Iraq that is naturally separated from the rest of Iraq by Himrin and Mechul mountains. It is a multi-ethnic region that includes the homelands of the Turkmens (Turkmeneli), of the Kurds (Kurdistan), of the Jazira Arabs (west of Tigris) of the Assyrians (Plains of Ninewah) as well as Ezdi and Shahbek minorities.


The Musul Region was called Turcomania by the British geographer William Gutherie in his map of 1784.
The Musul region was the power base of the Atabeg Turkmen states in the 12th and 13th
centuries. Its 3 major cities; Musul, Erbil and Kerkuk were the capitals of those states.
Later, it became part of the larger Turkish-Turkmen states. The total statehood of the Turkmens in Iraq lasted for 9 centuries.
It was called the “Musul Province” by the Ottomans in the 19th century and it was one of the three provinces (beside Baghdad and Basrah provinces) that formed Iraq.

The Musul region, despite its multi-ethnic nature, is geographically, economically, historically and culturally a connected unit. The cities of Musul, Erbil, Kerkuk and Suleymaniye as well as the towns and villages of the mountains and steppes have always been interconnected and in close relations with each other.

Up until the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the British occupation of Iraq, Musul, Erbil and Kerkuk had always a Turkish character, However, after the British occupation of Iraq and the formation of the state of Iraq, the Jazira Arabs (Jubur and Shammar Arab tribes) began to influx into Musul from the twenties and on. The mountainous Kurds began to influx into Erbil from the fifties and on. With the fall of the monarchy in Iraq in 1958 and for political and economical (oil) reasons, the Kurds (in the sixties, seventies and recently after the American invasion) and Arabs (in the eighties-Baath era) settled in Kerkuk in mass numbers. Those politically and economically motivated settlements have significantly changed the demographic structures of those three cities.

Currently, the city of Musul is dominated by the Arabs. Erbil is dominated by the Soran Kurds. The struggle for domination in Kerkuk city and its region is going on and the ethnic tension is quite high.


The Turkmens in the Musul Region are concentrated in five areas;

1- Telafer : Located west of Musul, it is bordered by the Tigris river from the north-east and the Syrian border from the west and the Jazira flatland from the south. It consists of the city of Telafer with 300 towns and villages around it. The population in this area is overwhelmingly Turkmen.
2- Eastern Musul : In the city of Musul, Turkmens are concentrated in the eastern part of the city called Ninewah, They are also concentrated in the towns and villages on the Tigris river located to the north and south of the city.
3- Erbil : Turkmens originally were concentrated in the downtown and the castle of Erbil. Later they were relocated from the castle for historical restoration.
4- Kerkuk : Kerkuk area is bordered with the Lower Zab river in the north, Diyala river in the south, Himrin Mountains in the west and Qaradagh mountains in the east.
This area is considered as the hub of the Turkmens. Kerkuk is considered as the capital of the Turkmens.
5- Khanaqin : This area is located between the Diyala river and the Iranian border. Main cities are Khanaqin, Qizlarbat (Sadiyye) and Qaraghan (Jalawla).

Natural Resources:

Turkmeneli is very rich in natural resources and minerals. Oil and natural gas is the most important mineral, oil fields are located in three areas:

1- The largest field is in Kerkuk, the underground reservoir stretches from nearby Erbil in the north to Tuz Khurmatu in the south.
2- Sasan and Eyn Jaleh, Batma fields, located north of Telafer to the west of the Tigris River
3- Neftkhana field located on the Iranian border south of Khanaqin.

The land is fertile and is irrigated with the rivers of Tigris, upper Zap, lower Zap, Khasa-Su, Tawuq-Su, Aqsu, Narin and Diyala.


The Turkmen population of Iraq is approximately 3 million or %15 of the Iraqi population.
The Turkmens who are ethnically Turkish, belong to the Oghuz Turkish group which is one of the three major Turkish groups.
{The other two Turkish groups are the Karluks (Ozbeks and Uyghurs) and the Kipchaks (Kazakhs, Kirghiz, Tatars, Bashkurds...etc.). The reader must not confuse the Turkmens of Iraq with the other Turkmen groups such as the Turkmens of Turkmenistan, Turkey, Syria, Caucasia, Iran or Afghanistan.}
The bulk of the Turkmens live in the Musul region, However, there are considerable numbers of Turkmens in Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, mostly concentrated in the northeastern sections of Adhamiyye, Raghiba Khatun, and Waziriyyah.
There are also sizeable numbers of Turkmens in the central provinces of Diyala (Baquba, Shahraban, Mendeli), Kut (Bedre, Aziziyya), Karbala and Najaf in central Iraq.

Since the creation of Iraq after WWI and the fear of Turkey claiming the Musul Region, Britain and the successive Iraqi governments as well as the Kurdish administration in the north, until today, tend to suppress the Turkmen numbers to the lowest level possible. Therefore, there hasn’t been a single reliable census. Results were always forged and a policy of discrimination and bias against the Turkmens resulted in suppressing their actual numbers to be shown by the official Iraqi statistics as %2, which means in today’s numbers as 500.000 out of a total of 25 million.
Whereas, the northern city of Telafer alone counts for 500.000 Turkmens.

Originally, Kurds lived mostly in mid-western Iran (Hamadan, Nahawand). The word “Curdestan” was officially mentioned for the first time by the Seljuk Turks in the 11th century.

The migration of Kurdish tribes westward into Eastern Anatolia, Syria and Northern Iraq was encouraged by the Turks (Seljuks, Atabegs, Ottomans, Safawids) throughout the second millennium. The history of Kurdish-Turkish cooperation could be summarized as follows:

1- Cooperation with the Atabeg Turks against the Crusaders. Salahaddin the famous Kurdish commander was sent by the Atabeg of Musul Imadeddin Zengi to liberate the Holy Land.
2- Cooperation with the Ilkhanid Sultan “Mahmud Ghazan” in 1295 to subdue Northern Iraq and western Iran.
3- Cooperation with Tamerlane in 1398-1401 in subduing northern Iraq and eastern Anatolia.
4- Cooperation with the Ottoman Turks (Sultan Selim-1508, Sultan Murad-1743) against the Shiite expansion in Eastern Anatolia that started by the Safawid Turks from Iran.
5- Cooperation with the Safawid Turkish Nadir Shah in 1734 to subdue northern Iraq to his rule.
6- Cooperation with the Ottomans (Sultan Mahmud-1843, Sultan Hamid-1894) to quell rebellions against the empire in northern Iraq and eastern Anatolia.

The Turks (Seljuks, Atabegs, Tamerlane, Ottomans and Safawids) in return for this cooperation by the Kurds, allowed large numbers of Kurdish tribes to move from Iran and settle in northern Iraq and eastern Anatolia. They gave them vast lands as well semi autonomous status.
The city of Suleymaniye was built by Suleyman Pasha the Ottoman governor of Baghdad at the beginning of the 18th century, to be a major Kurdish city.
In the 20th century and before the start of the Kurdish revolts in the forties, Kerkuk and Erbil were considered as major Turkmen cities, but, due to economical and political reasons, large numbers of Kurdish peasants settled in Erbil and Kerkuk. Also, because of continuous revolts against the Iraqi government, significant numbers of Kurdish villages in the mountains were destroyed by the troops and those peasants were forcefully settled by the government around Erbil and Kerkuk to keep them under control. Within time, two thirds of Erbil and one quarter of Kerkuk became Kurdish. The first large scale Kurdish settlement was a suburb called “Iskan”(meaning settlement), established in 1960 by Gen. Abdul Kerim Qasim. The second Kurdish quarter was Azadi established in 1970.

The Chaldo-Assyrians are the original Christians of this area, mostly concentrated east of Musul, in the plains of Ninewah, which a triangle between the Tigris river and the Upper Zab river. They also exist in small numbers in Erbil and Kerkuk.
Most of the Assyrians and Armenians were settled by the British after WWI in Kerkuk.
The Arafa (New Kerkuk) quarter was established mostly for the Assyrians working in the oil industry.

West of Kerkuk is Hawija, inhabited by the Arab tribes of “Obeidies” and Hadidies who were settled west of Kerkuk by the Iraqi government in the Thirties and Forties.

As a result of an intense Arabization policy during the Ba’ath era, large numbers of Arabs were forced or lured to move to Kerkuk and the rest of Kerkuk province, Arabic suburbs have been built around Turkmen cities, new Arabic settlements and irrigation projects built in the Turkmen rural areas which altered the demographics of the area beyond recognition.

Turkmen language is a dialect of Turkish which is a part of the Western Turkish language group that includes also the Turkish spoken in Turkey, Cyprus, the Balkans, Azerbaijan (North and South), Northern Syria, Iran, Turkmenistan, and Southern Turkestan (Northern Afghanistan). The Turkmen language with its 5 major accents is closer to the Turkish spoken in Azerbaijan and Urfa in southeastern Turkey rather than Turkmenistan which is part of Turkestan (central Asia).

The main Turkmen cities from north to south are : Telafer, Musul, Erbil, Altun Kopru, Kerkuk, Tuz Khurmatu, Kifri, Qaraghan, Qizlarbat, Khanaqin, Mendeli and Bedre.

Cities with population over 250,000 are as follow:

Telafer (pop. 0.5 million): This city is the northernmost Turkmen city and it is %99 Turkmen, located on the Teymurlenk (Tamerlane) hills which are part of the Sanjar- Zambar mountain range. Together with the surrounding Turkmen villages, the Turkmen population of the area is around 0.8 million. The great revolution against the British rule in Iraq in 1920 started here.
Mainly an agricultural area, there are also oilfields in Sasan, Eyn Jaleh (Eyn Zale) and Batma located in the north, nearby the western banks of the Tigris River.

Musul (pop. 1.5 million): The largest city in northern Iraq. Located on the Tigris River. It was the capital of the Atabegs of Musul in the 12th century. Atabeg Imadeddin Zengi fought the Crusaders and sent his commander Saladdin (Salahaddin) to defeat the Crusaders in Syria and Palestine. Atabegs main monument in Musul is the “Ulu Jami”(Grand Mosque) with its famous “curved minaret”.
Neynewa (Nineveh), the capital of the ancient Assyrian Empire is located on the eastern bank of the Tigris river where the Turkmens and other non-Arabs are concentrated, whereas the Arabic population is concentrated in the western side of the city.

The Turkmens of Musul are mostly concentrated in Neynewa, Yunus Peygamber, where Prophet Jonas is buried, Qadikoy, Reshidiye, Qara Yatagh, Qarakoyunlu, Shirkhan, and Sellamiye. The Shahbeg (Shabak) tribes and their branches the Sarili’s and the Mawulu’s, are the remnants of the Mongol armies. Together with the surrounding villages, the Turkmen population is approximately 0.5 million. They stretch from north of Musul to the upper Zap river which borders Erbil.

Erbil (pop. 0.75 Million): Located between the upper and lower Zap rivers, Erbil is the second largest Turkmen city after Kerkuk. Erbil is the oldest surviving city in the world. It has a historical castle, which was restored few decades ago.
Erbil was the capital of the first Atabeg state known as the Begtekin's, established in 1149 AD., the most famous Atabeg was Muzaffereddin Gokboru. The existing "Desert Minaret" was built during his era.
Prior to the Kurdish rebellions which started in 1949, Erbil was a major Turkmen city.
In the Forties, Erbil was made of 5 quarters:

- Qal’a (castle) which included: Saray, Topkhana and Tekiyya sections.
- Tajil Islam
- Tajil Yahud
- Arab Mahallesi
- Khanaqah (Kurdish)

By 1947 the quarter of Tayrawa was established and by 1957 the district of Seydawa was established. After 1958, the number of Kurdish quarters increased.
The reason for this increase in Kurdish population was economical. Rural Kurdish peasants moved to Erbil for better job opportunities. Also because of the continuous destruction of the rebel Kurdish villages in the mountains east of Erbil, by the Iraqi army, large numbers of Kurds were settled in Erbil. Today, Turkmens, mostly concentrated in the ancient castle, constitute approximately one third of the population.

Kerkuk (pop. 1.25 Million): Located on the river Khasa Su. It is the cultural center of the Iraqi Turkmen and the largest Turkmen city in Iraq. It is also called ‘the Bride of the North’ because of the many parks and green areas.
The rich oilfields around Kerkuk, made it the most important city in Iraq. Being the center of the oil industry, it produces one third of the Iraqi oil. The eternal fire of Baba Gurgur is located in the middle of those fields, it has been active for thousands of years.

It was the capital of the Iwak Atabegs in the century. South of Kerkuk is the city of Tawuk or Daquq on the river of Tawuq Su, which was the first Turkish city built in this area around 850 AD by the descendants of the Turkish troops placed in the Abbasid capital Samarra.

The distinctive castle of Kerkuk was built 3000 years ago. Prophet Daniel is buried here. Populated entirely by the Turkmens, among them the Christian Turkmen, whose numbers dwindled down to few hundred in recent years, Kerkuk castle had all the aspects of ancient Turkish architecture. There are a lot of historical Turkish buildings and monuments in the city. In 1997 Saddam ordered the demolition of this ancient castle which was a unique historical monument and a symbol of Kerkuk.

The majority of Assyrians and Armenians were settled in the thirties by the British to work in the oil industry. The majority of Arabs were brought by the Iraqi government in the thirties, forties, seventies and eighties, for political reasons, to upset the ethnic balance in their benefit. The majority of the Kurds came to Kerkuk for economical and political reasons. Some were forcefully settled by the government, in the forties and the Qasim era, to keep them under control, others were settled by the Kurdish parties to change the ethnic balance in their benefit during the proposed ethnic plebiscite in 1970 which was suspended by the government.

Prior to the massive arabization of Kerkuk, in the Eighties, the city was made of 21 Turkmen and 5 Kurdish quarters. The original Kerkuk quarters are:

Turkmen Quarters:

A- West of the river Khasa Su:

1- Qorya
2- Ahmad Agha
3- Shaturlu (1/5 Assyrian, Armenian)
4- Sari Kahya (1/5 Assyrian)
5- Mahatta
6- Almas (1/3 Kurdish and 1/3 Assyrian)
7- Begler
8- Arafa (1/2 Assyrian-new Kerkuk)
9- Baghdad Yolu
10- Tisin(demolished)
11- Yengi Tisin
12- Hamzalilar
13- Gawur Bagi (Mixed: All nationalities)

B- East of the river Khasa Su:

1- Qal’a (the Castle)(demolished in 1997)
2- Musalla(1/5 Arabs)
3- Chay
4- Piryadi
5- Awchi
6- Bulagh (1/5 kurt
7- Chuqur
8- Akhir Huseyn (1/5 Kurdish)
9- Kasapkhana

Kurdish Quarters:

A- West of the river Khasa Su:

1- Rahimowa (1/4 Turkmen, Assyrian, Armenian)

B- East of the river Khasa Su:

1- Imam Qasim (1/3 Turkmen)
2- Shorja (1/3 Turkmen)
3- Iskan (established in 1960) (1/4 Turkmen)
4- Azadi (established in 1970)


Turks existed in Iraq for quite a long time. The Sumerians who came to Iraq (3500-4000) years ago from Central Asia, established the first civilization of the world. The linguists found at least 300 words to be of Turkish origin. Excavations in Turkmenistan revealed cities of Sumerian origin similar to the ones in Nuzi (Kerkuk) Ur and Eridu.

Turks assumed important positions in the Sassanid Empire, the prime minister and chief financial officer of the emperor Yezdigerd was Begir Khan Buda. There were also many Turkish tribes and principalities in Central and Southern Euphrates, the most important ones were the Batuqlu and Banuqlu principalities, headed by Bozboru who fiersly resisted the Muslim Arab armies, His son prince Solubay, later became a Muslim and cooperated with the Arab armies. The military tradition of the Turks attracted the attention of the Umayyads and they started to bring more Turks to Iraq as elite forces.

Ubeidullah bin Ziad the Umayyad governor of Basra brought 2000 soldiers in 674 AD. Another group was brought in 692 AD by Hajjaj bin Yusuf Al-Thaqafi, the governor of Iraq, to protect his capital Waset (Al-Kut). Later they were settled in Badrah on the Iranian border in central Iraq. Badrah is the oldest existing Turkmen settlement with more than 1300 years in history.
The Abbasid Caliphs Abu Ja'far Al-Mansur, Haroun Al-Rashid and Alma'moun brought at least 2000 Turkish soldiers every year to serve as the elite protection forces and settled them in Baghdad.

In 835 AD. The largest group of selected Turkish soldiers numbering 40.000 were brought by Caliph Al-Mu'tasim along with their Turkish brides (40.000) and a new city of Samara was constructed for them, Samarra became the capital of the Abbasid Empire during the Mu’tasim era. After his death, the capital was moved back to Baghdad and most of the Turkish inhabitants of Samarra moved across the Hamrin Mountains to establish the first Turkish settlement in northern Iraq; Tawuk or Dakuk which is located south of Kerkuk.

The Attraction of the Land:
It was the hilly landscape of these lands which was identical to their homeland in Turkestan and Central Asia that attracted the Turkish tribes to this area. With a plenty of water and a fertile land that included the strategic castles of Kerkuk, Erbil, Musul and Telafer, served as military control posts for the northern and central Iraq and to protect transportation routes from Iran to Anatolia, as well as being close to the center of the Empire in Baghdad, all those factors played a significant role in the settlement of this land by the incoming Turkish tribes over the centuries.

Turkmen Name:
There are many theories about the name Turkmen, but the most logical one is the way a Turk, in those days, would have introduced himself or herself when asked about his or her national identity, by saying in the Central Asian Turkish accent : " Men Turk’ men " which means "I am a Turk". Even today, an Ozbek or an Uygur from Turkestan, introduces himself as Ozbek'men or Uygur'men. Whereas in today’s western Turkish accent, self introduction is: "Men Turkem or Ben Turkum ".

The Start of the Turkish Rule:

The military superiority, reliability, loyalty and the durability of the Turkish forces increased the dependence of the Abbasid Empire on the Turks. At the time of Caliph Mu’tasim the army was under the command of a Turkish commander called Afshin.
In 1055 the Seljukian commander Tughrul Beg was asked by Caliph Al-Qaim-bi-Amrullah to save Baghdad from the Persian Buweihy domination. Tughrul Beg was awarded the rank "Sultan" and since then, Turks became the official rulers of Iraq until 1918.

Although the Bayat tribe is one of the major tribes that make up the Turkmen population, the Turkmens all over Iraq are a mix of too many Turkish tribes that came to this area to support the 8 different Turkish states and empires that ruled this land for nine centuries. These Turkish states and empires are:


1- The Seljuk Empire 1055-1149 = 94 Years

2- The Atabegs 1149-1258 = 109 Years

3- The Ilkhanids 1258-1336 = 78 Years

4- The Jalairids 1336-1360 = 24 Years

5- The Karakoyunlu (Baran) 1360-1469 = 109 Years

6- The Akkoyunlu (Bayindir) 1469-1508 = 39 Years

7- The Safawids
1508-1534 = 26 Years
1623-1638 = 15 Years
Total : 41 Years

8- The Ottoman Empire
1534-1623 = 89 Years
1638-1918 = 280 Years
Total : 369 Years

TOTAL : 863 Years

The chronology above, explains the 5 major accents the Turkmens speak today.


The Turkmens adhere to the Islamic religion with both its branches the Sunni-Hanefi (two thirds) and the Shia (one third). There is also a small group of Christians, these used to be located in the Castle of Kerkuk before its demolition by Saddam in 1997.


Please see next post for PART TWO

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