dimanche 10 août 2014

Turkmens desperately call on Turkey to be let in

Turkmens seeking refuge in the Kurdish region have not received a warm welcome from the Kurdish government and are reportedly barred from going to Kurdish cities such as Arbil.(Photo: Cihan)
August 09, 2014, Saturday/ 17:00:00/ AYDIN ALBAYRAK / ANKARA
Turkmens fleeing the terrorist group “Islamic State” (IS) in Iraq have been crying out to be granted entry into Turkey, but their calls seem to have fallen to deaf ears in the Turkish capital, which is so far only sending humanitarian aid to those whose lives are in jeopardy.

“We ask Turkey to let us cross the border,” Yasin Muhammed Yunus, a 55-year-old Turkmen who arrived in Turkey about a month ago, told Sunday's Zaman.

Members of the opposition parties have criticized the government for ignoring the plight of Turkmens in Iraq and for denying them entry into Turkey despite the fact that the country is currently hosting around 1.5 million refugees from Syria.

It is estimated that several thousand Turkmens have died since the IS launched its offensive in Iraq. At least 300,000 Turkmens are believed to have fled their homes in the past two months because of the IS terrorist attacks.

Yunus, a civil engineer who was based in Mosul before the IS captured the province in June, was only able to make it to Turkey thanks to a Kurdish friend who works as a civil servant. The peshmerga forces of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq do not allow Turkmens to pass through the Kurdish region which has a border with Turkey.

In an official car, his friend took him to the Habur customs gate at the Turkish-Iraqi border. Yunus had to leave his family, who are struggling to survive in the difficult conditions in Iraq.

Most recently, in an offensive over last weekend, the IS seized three more towns in northern Iraq. These towns were home to Turkmens and Yazidis, tens of thousands of whom were forced to flee from Zumar and Sinjar to the KRG territory in northern Iraq. The UN has said that some residents remain trapped in a rugged and open area on a nearby mountain that has been surrounded by militants.

The issue was hotly debated in Parliament at the beginning of the week. During the discussion, Sinan Oğan, a deputy from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), stated that the government is not allowing Turkmens without passports to seek refuge in Turkey. In stark contrast, as was noted by Oğan, Turkey does not demand to see the passports of hundreds of thousands of Syrians fleeing civil war when they arrive at the border.

Sharply criticizing the government, Oğan said: “[Turkmens] say: 'I am also Turkish [and] Muslim. I will come if you open the border.' Why are you closing the border to Turkmens? Are they to blame because they are Turkmens? If they were Arabs, you would have immediately opened the border.”

“Why won't you open the border when Turkmens are being slaughtered there [on the other side of the border]?” Oğan added, and he challenged ruling party deputies to speak out if his remarks were untrue. None of the ruling party deputies disputed Oğan's comments.

Yunus finds it hard to understand why Turkey asks to see fleeing Turkmens' passports, as most Turkmen do not have passports. Most of the people who have been internally displaced in Iraq over the last two months have taken refuge in the Kurdish region. According to Kurdish officials they currently host 1.5 million displaced people. There are not enough camps for the number of refugees, a significant number of whom are Turkmens, and many have no choice but to live in tents or in the open under the cruel summer sun.

Turkmens seeking refuge in the Kurdish region have not received a warm welcome from the Kurdish government and are reportedly barred from going to Kurdish cities such as Arbil.

“We do not want to stay in the Kurdish region because we are not treated well by the Kurds,” Yunus confirmed. “If Kurds do not want to host us [in their region], then they should let us leave and establish a corridor to the Turkish border,” he suggested, hoping that the few Turkmens with a passport would be able to come to Turkey.

After capturing Mosul in June, the IS also seized towns in the surrounding area, where thousands of Turkmens live. Turkmens then fled to the mountains and the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq that borders Mosul province.

Following their expansion into Mosul in mid-June, the IS seized Tal Afar, a city with a population of nearly 400,000 people in northwestern Iraq, the majority of whom are Turkmens.

An aid worker from Kimse Yok Mu (Is Anybody There?) who, during one of his trips to transport aid to Turkmens, had the chance to get information about the Turkmens fleeing the IS occupation of Tal Afar, said Turkmens do not feel safe and just want to get into Turkish territory.

Before Sinjar, a city in northwestern Iraq near the Syrian border, was captured by the IS, Turkmens fleeing the attack on Tal Afar wanted to take refuge in Sinjar. But the Kurdish peshmerga forces controlling the city did not allow the Turkmens to enter the city, which is under the KRG's administration.

Kimse Yok Mu's aid worker, who asked to remain anonymous, said that Turkmens from the Sinjar area had told him that Turkmens had not received all the humanitarian aid sent by Turkey as the aid was distributed by peshmerga forces. “I was told that there are no doctors in the camps where they are kept and their children don't have access to proper medical care,” the aid worker told Sunday's Zaman, adding that Turkmens had said, “Take us to Turkey, we want nothing more than that.”

Having done nothing other than send humanitarian aid to the Turkmens, Turkey is at long last now preparing to establish a campsite for displaced Turkmens near the Turkish border in Iraq.

Turkmen representatives called on Turkey to mobilize the UN to establish a safe zone in northern Iraq where Turkmens would be protected against the threat of the IS. The calls apparently fell on deaf ears in Turkey, and Erşad Salihi, the leader of the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF), submitted a petition to Nikolay Mladenov, a UN representative in Iraq at the beginning of the week. The petition reiterated the request for a UN safe zone in areas populated by Turkmens in Iraq.

During the US occupation of Saddam-era Iraq in the early 1990s, a US-led coalition imposed a buffer zone in northern Iraq to protect Kurds from potential attacks by the Iraqi army.

Noting that Turkmens have been the biggest victims of the IS terrorist attacks, Salihi told the Doğan news agency in Kirkuk: “The land populated by Turkmens is on its way to being depopulated. We are sandwiched between the two sides. Either the armed groups will seize our land or we will, in cooperation with peshmerga [Kurdish military] forces, fight against the armed groups.”

Salihi noted that, unlike the Kurds, Turkmens do not have an armed unit of their own and that he is making these calls on the UN because the Turkmens' survival is being jeopardized by the swift advance of the IS.

Like the MHP, the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) has also criticized the government for ignoring the plight of Turkmens.

Faruk Loğoğlu, deputy chairman of the CHP told Sunday's Zaman: “In terms of humanitarian law and morals and [because] Turkmens are our kinfolk, it is completely the wrong attitude to close the borders to Turkmens. The AK Party [Justice and Development Party] has been insensitive to the plight of Turkmens [in Iraq]. It has left Turkmens to their own devices,” he added.

Professor Suphi Saatçi, a Kirkuk-born scholar from Mimar Sinan University, recently said that Turkey was refusing entry to Turkmens fleeing violence in Iraq. Highlighting the conditions that the Turkmens live under while fleeing the extremists, Saatçi said, “They are living under the harsh sun, without shade, food or water and are left to die right under our noses; we are overwhelmed.”

Although in recent weeks Turkey seems to have increased the amount of humanitarian aid sent to Iraq for Turkmens and others facing threats from the IS, many Turkmen children have died due to heat exposure, diarrhea, malnutrition, thirst and scorpion stings while struggling to stay alive in desert areas where they have had to settle. Many children and their parents are living in extremely unhealthy conditions, sleeping in the open air when they cannot find a place in refugee camps and tent cities, and thus have no access to services or food.

Turkmens in Iraq are disappointed by the government's insensitivity to their plight. “Turkey has not backed us politically. This is what saddens us most,” Riyaz Sarıkahya, a Kirkuk-based leader of the Turkmeneli Party, told Sunday's Zaman.

Although expressing his gratitude for the humanitarian aid Turkey has been sending to Turkmens, Sarıkahya said: “Turkey has not submitted petitions to any international organizations regarding the security of Turkmens. We are deeply disappointed by that.”

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