dimanche 5 mai 2013

The Tragedy of the inhabitants of the Turkmen village of Beşir, Kirkuk Province, Northern Iraq

Beşir is situated 20 km south-west of Kirkuk

Twenty seven years ago, in 1986, the  6.000 inhabitants of the Turkmen village of Beşir (Beshir) situated in Kirkuk Province, Northern Iraq, were illegally evicted from their homes and their agricultural lands were illegally confiscated under the arabization policy of the former Iraqi regime. 

Some time later the former Iraqi regime ordered the destruction of all the houses in order to prevent the inhabitants of Beşir from returning to live in their village.

The lands belonging to the Turkmens were given to Arabs from neighbouring areas, in application of a policy of the Baath regime designed to arabise Turkmen towns and villages in Kirkuk province. The name of Beşir was arabised and became 'Al-Bashir'.

Today, ten years after the regime change in Iraq, the people of Beşir have still not recuperated their agricultural lands and they are still waiting to receive compensation for the destruction of their homes, the confiscation of their agricultural lands and their loss of income.

The unresolved property claims of the inhabitants of the Turkmen village of Beşir.

Beşir (Beshir) is a large Turkmen village in the north of Iraq, it is situated 20 km south-west of Kirkuk, it lies on the Khassa River which takes its source in the mountains north of Kirkuk. Beşir was built by the Turkmens in the middle of a vast plain of fertile agricultural lands. The Turkmens cultivated the land and produced cereals, fruits and vegetables, they also raised cattle, mainly ovine and bovine.

During the Ottoman rule, Beşir’s inhabitants had registered their lands officially in their names and the government had issued them official land property certificates or “deeds”.  During the early years of the newly founded Iraqi state (in 1921) the people of Beşir renewed their land registration certificates and deeds.

From 1921 up to 1958 Beşir had grown bigger and its inhabitants enjoyed economic growth,  they built a new school and a medical centre.  They started mechanizing and modernizing their farming tools and equipment, they bought tractors and harvesting equipment and they extended their farms beyond their officially registered lands and cultivated ‘government owned lands’ at the border of their village as these were not used by anyone.  These lands were called “Amiri” lands and the Turkmens payed an extra yearly tax to the government to cultivate these lands.

In 1959, one year after the toppling of the monarchy in Iraq, a land reform law was issued to regulate land ownership restricting the use of “Amiri” lands in order to distribute them to the landless Arabs.  Gradually these “Amiri” lands were taken from the Beşir farmers to be given “in theory” to poor Arab farmers.  Unfortunately, all these “Amiri” lands fell under the control of some politically influential people, relatives of well known Arab and Kurdish feudal lords called Sheiks and Aghas.

This is how the Turkmen village of Beşir was rapidly surrounded by new Arab and Kurdish villages.

Despite the loss of the “Amiri” lands, the inhabitants of  Beşir managed to improve their income thanks to the mechanization of agriculture and the regular use of fertilizers starting in the early 1960s. In addition, a new generation of young people from Beşir who had graduated from institutes and colleges were appointed in well paid government jobs thus contributing to the social progress of the village.

In the 1970’s Beşir had become a thriving Turkmen village of some 700 families (over 5.000 people) who owned 48.000 donums (+/- 12.000 hectars) of farmland. It had five schools, a good size hospital, a police station, seven mosques, a potable water system and electricity supply to all houses. 

In the early 1980’s, after the start of the Iraq-Iran war, and despite the enrolment of several hundreds of young men from Beşir in the army to fight in the front lines against Iran, the government security forces arrested hundreds of intellectuals from Beşir,  accusing them of being activists in the outlawed Islamic Da’wa party, many of these intellectuals were later executed.

Beşir: a thriving Turkmen village in northern Iraq whose inhabitants were expelled under the arabisation policy of the former regime.

Beşir’s inhabitants were all Turkmens whose ancestors had built the village several centuries ago. They had developed the village and had constituted a well organized community where people lived in good harmony and cooperation with each other and in good intelligence with their neighbours until 1986 when they were expelled from their village and their land and properties were confiscated and given to Arabs from neighbouring areas, in application of a policy of the former regime designed to arabise Turkmen towns and villages in Kirkuk province.

The Ethnic Cleansing of the Turkmens of Beşir

In 1986 the misfortune of the people of Beşir reached its peak when the entire community was expelled from the village, their lands and houses were confiscated to be given to Arabs from neighbouring areas and the name of Beşir was arabised and became ‘Al-Bashir’.  
Thus, while the young Turkmens of Beşir were used as cannon fodder to fight in the war against Iran, their families were subjected to terrible human rights abuses, they were victims of forced displacement and expulsion from their homes, with confiscation of their lands and properties, without any valid reason or any legal justification. They were moved to some communal compounds, which had been built in a rush to serve as transitional residence for these forcibly displaced people, on the road to Tikrit.

After a year in these compounds almost all the families from Beşir were dispersed to cities throughout Iraq, i.e. Basra, Diyala, Erbil, Kut, etc.  without being provided with housing and without receiving any compensation for their illegally confiscated properties and lands.

Moreover, the Iraqi authorities completely destroyed the homes of the Beşir people to prevent them from returning (see picture below)

Dr. Hassan Aydinli standing on the spot where his family house stood before it was demolished under the arabization policy of the former regime.

After the displacement of the Turkmens, the Iraqi government embarked on a major irrigation project in the Beşir area, greatly increasing the productivity of the land. In the mid-1990s, the government began resettling Arab tribesmen in the area, offering them twenty-five donums of irrigated farmland on annual leases. More than 200 Arab families moved to the area.

During the 2003 US invasion/occupation of Iraq the Arabs who had been settled in Beşir by the former regime did not leave and they continued to occupy the lands belonging to Turkmens.  This was due to the fact that neither the coalition forces nor the Kurdish Peshmerga took control of the district and that the Turkmens, although they constitute Iraq’s third main ethnic community, do not have armed militias to defend themselves.

Turkmens of BeshirRefugees in their own country

The illegal eviction and displacement of the inhabitants of the thriving Turkmen village of Beşir, all of whom were landlords and productive farmers, constitute a serious crime against humanity.  This unfair decision which hit all of the 6.000 inhabitants of Beşir in 1986 seriously affected them and completely changed the course of their lives. The stripping of their basic human rights has made them poor and powerless, preventing them from achieving any of their goals as they were made refugees in their own country.

Today,  twenty seven years after their forced displacement and ten years after the regime change in Iraq, the people of Beşir are still waiting to receive compensation for the destruction of their homes, for the confiscation of their agricultural lands and for their loss of income, despite the fact that the crimes committed against the inhabitants of Beşir have been acknowledged in the introduction of the New Iraqi Constitution as equal to the crimes committed against the Arabs of Al-Dujail and the Kurds of Halabja.

In 2003 the people of Beşir filed a complaint to the Iraqi Properties Claims Commission (PCC) and in 2005 the Tribunal passed a judgement that the properties must be returned to the people of Beşir because they had been illegally confiscated.

Unfortunately, to date the original inhabitants of Beşir have not  received any compensation whatsoever although the Properties Claims Commission has spent 250 million Dollars for other places where people had influence.

When it comes to Turkmens, the Properties Claims Commission seems paralyzed, from all the complaints’ files which were presented to the Property Claims Commisssion in Kirkuk none of the files belonging to Turkmens has been finalized.

The number of complaint cases which were presented to the Property Claims Commission in Kirkuk is about 44.000,  80% of which are of Turkmens.  The Kurdified administration of Kirkuk has continually hampered the decisions of the PCC.  Today, only about 20% of the cases are completed and not a single file belonging to Turkmens has been completed.

Only about 100 Turkmen families (widows and orphans of Turkmen martyrs) have returned to Beşir, thanks to the Iraqi Turkmen Front who has built new houses for them.

The Turkmens are caught between hammer and anvil

The Turkmen region in Iraq called  'Turkmeneli 'is a 'buffer zone' separating the Kurds in the north from the Arabs in the South.

During the last decades the peaceful and unarmed Turkmens have been victims of arabisation and kurdification.

Since the U.S.-UK invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 the Kurds (with their peshmerga) have occupied and imposed their rule over the Turkmen region, with the blessings of the U.S. military.

Ten years after Iraq was 'liberated' the Turkmens - who are Iraq’s third main ethnic community alongside the Arabs and Kurds and the north of Iraq’s second main community alongside the Kurds - continue to be discriminated and targeted and their human rights continue to be violated.

The revenues of the Iraqi state are not fairly distributed, and the Turkmens do not receive their due share, in fact, while the Kurds get 17% of the revenues the Turkmens receive nothing.

If the tragedy of the people of Beşir and of of other Turkmen villages who suffered the same tragic fate does not get the attention it deserves in the media, it is mainly because foreign journalists seldom venture to visit Kirkuk and its region for security reasons, in fact most foreign journalists who are in the north of Iraq report from Erbil or from Suleymaniya where they are often influenced by Kurdish propaganda. 


Dr Saadetin Ergeç, ITF President, declaration in 2004 to HRW
Human Rights Watch Report
Claims in Conflict : Reversing Ethnic Cleansing in Northern Iraq
Case Study: Al-Bashir village

According to HRW (Human Rights Watch Report August 2004 – Reversing Ethnic Cleansing in  Northern Iraq) in 2003 the evicted Turkmens from Beşir wanted to return to their village, but the Arabs who occupied their village and lands insisted they would only leave after a decision on the property dispute was made by a new Iraqi government.  The Turkmens from Beşir intended to march on their village to chase the Arabs who occupied their lands illegally, but the U.S. military in Kirkuk prevented them from doing so and they initiated a mediation of the dispute in early September that year. The mediation was led and controlled by U.S. authorities and did not involve a panel of Iraqis.

Unlike the Dogurtkan (a Kurdish village) mediation, where an Iraqi panel actually settled property disputes, the Beşir mediation was an explicit short-term agreement, leaving the long-term issues of property-ownership unresolved. Among other things, the agreement provided for the allocation of thirteen donums of land for the winter agricultural season, on a non-renewable basis, to each landless Arab family living in Beşir, and that Arab farmers be granted the winter harvest. Decisions on land allocation would be made by a committee composed of representatives of the local agricultural directorate and coalition forces. Complaints relating to compensation claims were to be submitted within sixty days of the signing of the agreement to a commission set up for this purpose, composed of representatives of Taza district agricultural department, Kirkuk directorate and coalition forces. Arab families originally from outlying areas and who did not own a place of residence in the village would be required to leave the village within a year of the signing of the agreement. Returning Turkmen families would not be allowed to enter the village, except by invitation, during the period in which Arabs remained on disputed land.

see also: 

Census of population and land in Kirkuk subdivision at the time of Sultan Suleiman The Magnificent


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