Iraqi Turkmen push for stronger legal protection of their identity
Ahmet Davutoğlu, who paid a historic visit to Kirkuk on Thursday as the first Turkish foreign minister to visit in 75 years, is pictured with Iraqi Turkmen children. (PHOTO AA, HAKAN GöKTEPE)
5 August 2012 / AYDIN ALBAYRAK , ANKARA
The adoption by the Iraqi parliament on July 28 of a report that bestows on
Turkmen in Iraq the status of the third largest ethnic group in the country is
an important gain for the Turkmen, analysts believe, but they also note that
the demands of Turkmen in the report need to be transformed into a legal
framework for a lasting and positive result to be obtained.
“It’s maybe not as powerful as a law, but it opens a door,” Mahir Nakip,
an Iraqi Turkmen from Kirkuk who has been living in Turkey for a long
time and spokesperson of the İstanbul-based Kirkuk Foundation,
commented to Sunday’s Zaman. Despite admitting that this represents
a very positive step for the Turkmen he also added, “But the real
success would be to put the content of the report into law.”
Hicran Kazancı, the Iraqi Turkmen Front’s representative in Turkey, is a
little more cautious. “The adoption of the report is of historic importance,
but we need to see what the practice will be,” he told Sunday’s Zaman.
Noting that the Iraqi constitution already bestows on Turkmen
many of the demands brought together in the report, he added, “But
Turkmen have not been allowed to enjoy those rights until today.”
After the American occupation began in 2003, Turkmen were victimized,
facing discrimination in Iraq, as the Turkish Parliament rejected a motion
allowing US land forces to enter Iraqi territory by way of Turkey in the
days leading up to the occupation. The Turkmen people in Iraq are
estimated to make up nearly 10 percent of the population, but they were
not considered to be one of the constituent elements of the Iraqi state
together with the Arabs and the Kurds, and thus have been
underrepresented in politics and government office.
And in provinces such as Kirkuk, Arabs, in accordance with an
Arabization policy that was in effect before the occupation, and
Kurds, after the occupation, were allowed to seize pieces of land
that officially belonged to Turkmen.
The adoption of the report by the Iraqi parliament is actually just an
elementary step because, as Kazancı noted, a high committee on
Turkmen affairs needs to be established first, and then the committee
will set about studying the demands of Turkmen enumerated in the
Kazancı prefers to be a little cautious because in recent years the
Turkmen people were also entitled to a share of the national budget,
but that money has never materialized.
Still, Turkmen are hopeful. “This is a festival day for us,” Necat
Hüseyin, a Turkmen member of the Kirkuk City Council, said at a
press conference in Kirkuk last Sunday. Noting that Turkmens in
Iraq have been waiting for this day for eight years, he added:
“We used to be a second-class people in Iraq, but now have become
a first-class people. And that’s made us very happy.”
It is noted in the report that the Turkmen, previously usurped rights
are to be reinstated and that Turkmens are to be allowed to have
representation in public institutions in accordance with their population.
That means quite a lot for the Turkmen. In Kirkuk, which was
historically a Turkmen city, there are today 32 directorates for public
institutions, of which only one, the directorate of national education,
is headed by a Turkmen, while Turkmen in Kirkuk, in spite of a
large-scale Kurdish migration to Kirkuk in the years following
the occupation, make up at least one-third of the total population.
Similarly, in the provincial governing board in Kirkuk, Turkmen have
only nine chairs out of a total of 41. Not only in Kirkuk, but also in cities
such as Tuzhurmatu, Tal Afar, Altunkopru, to some extent in Musul
city, Arbil and Hanekin, Turkmens now have the expectation that
they will, in public institutions, be entitled to occupy a considerable
number of posts of which resently deprived to a great extent.
A designated amount of money from the state budget will also be
allocated to the Turkmens, which would allow them to promote their
culture, should the Iraqi government act in accordance with the report.
“Getting a share of about 6 percent would be a success for the
Turkmen,” said Mehmet Tütüncü, a Turkmen who came to Turkey in
1991 after the First Gulf War and who is now chairman of the Iraqi
Turks Culture and Mutual Aid Association based in İstanbul.
With the new step, underrepresentation in politics is also expected
be eliminated. In the Iraqi parliament, there are today only nine Turkmen
deputies, and with Turkmens benefitting from a national quota in the
election system, the number of seats to be occupied by Turkmen
deputies would be considerably higher. Another significant benefit of
the report for Turkmens will be in the area of education. “Schools
Turkmen children go to are in a very bad shape,” Tütüncü told
Sunday’s Zaman. But from now on, Turkmen schools will get
financial support from the state as other state schools do. Last but
not least, in the area of education, Turkmen schools will be able offer
courses for Turkmens in an alphabet which is suitable
to the nature of their language, which will be the Latin alphabet
and not Arabic script, thanks to which education in Turkmen schools
will be able to utilize curricula from Turkey.
Tütüncü is optimistic about the step the parliament has taken.
“It’s promising being described as the third constituent people,” he stated.
He is hopeful that this new step will allow many expectations of the Turks
in Iraq to be met. “We’ve been getting signals in this direction,”
The adoption of the report by the Iraqi parliament may be a move by
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is on bad terms with the Kurdistan
Regional Government (KRG) in the north of the country, to have Turkmen
on his side in the Iraqi equation. “This is certainly an effort by Maliki to get
Turkmen on his side,” said Kaan Dilek, general coordinator of the
International Middle East Peace Research Center (IMPR). The same move
may also be interpreted as an olive branch held out by Maliki to the Turkish
government. “Maliki may be giving a message by way of the Turkmens to
improve [deteriorating] relations with Turkey,” he commented to Sunday’s
Zaman. It’s noteworthy that Maliki, appearing on a Kurdish television station
in Iraq, said about a week ago that the problems Iraq and Turkey have
are only at the level of discourse and that problems between Turkey and
Iraq are not insurmountable.
Turkmen in Syria may face similar fate
It’s feared that Turkmens in Syria, whose population is estimated to be
around 1.5-2 million, with another 1.5 million Turkmens having already
been assimilated into the Arab ethnic identity, may face similar problems
to the Iraqi Turkmen in the days after the regime of President
Bashar al-Assad falls, given that Syrian Turkmen are even more
widely scattered throughout Syria than the Turkmen are in Iraq.