The Potential Power of the Turkmens of Iraq
By Orhan Ketene
In the aftermath of the American withdrawal from Iraq in Dec 2011, the country is facing a dangerous uncertainty due to the resurfacing of the long hidden tensions between rival parties that could lead to a bloody civil war. This will eventually involve the neighboring countries into the conflict, which means widening the disturbance to the whole region of Middle East. If the Middle East is disturbed, oil flow to the fragile European economies will be interrupted. That means trouble for the world economy.
Therefore, establishing peace in Iraq means peace for the world. In these dire times, what Iraq needs is a stability element that could diffuse tensions and unify all factions.
This element of stability is the Turkmen entity.
This entity, despite its' long experience in successfully administering a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-sectarian and multi-religious country like Iraq, for nine centuries, had been brushed aside after WWI and this noble people had been reduced to an unimportant minority with minimal or symbolic rights and had been kept out of any state affairs for nine decades and on top of curtailing their constitutional rights, they had been subject to enormous assimilation efforts to the level that two thirds of their population lost their mother tongue.
In the absence of a unifying and stabilizing power, like the Turkmens, from the Iraqi politics, the country has gone from bad to worse, which is the situation today.
So, who are the Turkmens?
The Turkmens of Iraq are a Turkic people inhabiting Iraq since its existence.
Population wise they constitute the second ethnicity after Arabs.
They are friendly, non-violent, peace loving and the most civilized and democratic people in Iraq.
Turkmens have four advantages that no other people in Iraq possess:
1- Nationwide Location: Turkmens are spread all over Iraq and exist in every province with varying concentrations.
2- Multi-Lingual: One third of Iraqi Turkmens speak Turkic language (similar to Azeri), they live on a diagonal strip stretching from Telafer in the northern province of Musul (Mosul) to Mendeli in the central-eastern province of Diyala. The largest Turkmen tribe in this strip is the Bayat.
The other two thirds of the Turkmens speak Arabic and to a lesser extent, Kurdish.
The Arabic speaking Turkmens live in all provinces of central and southern Iraq in the form of the following tribes: Qaraqollus (or Qaraghullis), Wandawees, Salihees, Haydarees, Khalidees, Jumailees and the Bayats (who are related to the Turkic speaking Bayats of the north).
Whereas the Kurdish speaking Turkmens live in the central-eastern province of Diyala as two tribes: Qara Ulus and Bajalans (Parts of those tribes are not Kurdified yet).
The linguistic situation of the Turkmens is similar to an ICEBERG. The upper one third which is visible above the water level, represent the Turkic speaking Turkmens. Whereas the submerged two thirds below the water level, represent the non-Turkic (Arabic and Kurdish) speaking Turkmens.
The total population of the Turkmens (Turkic, Arabic and Kurdish speakers) is around 5-6 millions (no precise census is available yet)
3- Multi Sectarian: Half of the Turkmens are Sunnis and the other half are Shiites.
4- Long Historical Administrational Experience:
Up until the end of WWI, Turkmens in Iraq had been in power for fifteen centuries and in administration (directly or indirectly) for nine centuries.
These four advantages give the Turkmens great potential powers and ability to mediate between the factions and stabilize/unify the country, because they share values with every ethnic entity and sect in the country.
However, Turkmens nowadays have great disadvantages that no other people in Iraq face. These disadvantages prevent the Turkmens from playing their important constructive role in the country.
1- Despite being administrators of the country for nine centuries, Turkmens are deprived from the right of self-administration. Currently, there are no Turkmen administrators in Turkmen towns and villages or any where in Iraq.
2- Despite defending Iraq for more then fifteen centuries, Turkmens are deprived from the right of self-defense. They are not allowed to establish their defense units in their towns and villages to stand against continuous terrorist attacks on their communities, towns and villages or kidnapping and killing of their professionals and personalities.
3- Turkmens are deprived from their share of the national wealth (oil) which is produced in their own lands. There are no Turkmen social or educational institutions because there are no funds for such establishments.
4- Turkmens are deprived from their share of ordinary and high governmental positions.
5- Despite being the third widely spoken language in Iraq, Turkmen language is not among the official languages.
6- Despite being the builders of the first university in the world (Nizamiyah, Baghdad -1065) Turkmens do not have a single university in Iraq.
After the American withdrawal of Dec. 2011, Iraq is left (unofficially) divided into three quarreling ethno-sectarian factions, The Sunni Arabs in the west, Shiite Arabs in the south and the Kurds in the north, who, by their nature (raison d'être), cannot and will never be able to unite the country under their banner because each group represents only their piece of the total, whereas, Turkmens, as being spread all over the country and with half Sunnite and half Shiite, as well as being Turkic, Arabic and Kurdish speakers, do represent all pieces together as a total.
Turkmens are staunchly against any separation or ethnic/sectarian division of Iraq, because such divisions are against their existence and interests. As any division of the land will automatically divide their population and negatively and vitally affect their lives.
In order for the Turkmens to play their positive role in Iraq once again, they should be given a chance and they should be empowered to rebuild themselves and their institutions.
With their 1500 years old experience as state-builders and administrators of the land, they will be able to unite and stabilize the country.
The benefit will be for all.