Turkmens in Iraq: Third-largest ethnic group still cut off from political participation


With more than three million members, the Turkemens in Iraq make up the third largest ethnic group in Iraq following the Arabs and Kurds. They live in regions close to the Turkish heartland and their Turkish dialect is similar to that spoken of Istanbul.

Although large in numbers, the Turkmens in Iraq were unable to reach any political influence in Baghdad, while facing a history of violence, expulsion and discrimination. Their concerns remain largely ignored. The so called Islamic State raided their villages multiple times, killing many inhabitants in the process. In other parts of Iraq, Turkemens are kidnapped by various groups seeking ransom for their release.

Even under former Head of State, Saddam Hussein, Turkmens belonged to an underprivileged class. In the 80s, thousands were displaced and dispossessed in central- and South Iraq, due to an aggressively imposed arabisation process.

“The systematic disenfranchisement and deprivation of political rights against the Turkmens began in 1918 with the colonization of Iraq by the British Empire,” said Turhan Ketenes, the founder and chairman of the Iraqi Turkmenfront (ITF), which was once an umbrella organization of all Turkmen parties. Today it is ignored that Turkmens make up 13 % of the population, to avoid more problems in the country, stated Ketene.

Torhan Mufti, chairman of the Turkmen nationalist Hak-Party, explained that the Turkmens have failed to demand more rights and freedoms, to retrieve their confiscated land, or to bring up their concerns with the international community. The Turkmens have been too attached to the Turkish state, instead of standing up for their own interests on a national and international level.

Throughout the centuries, the Turkmens have ruled over Iraq for a total of six times and lived all across the regions of the country, mainly in the north. There, the Turkmens share territory with the Kurds, which also deprive them of political representation. The Iraqi Turkmens are part of the Turkic people, whose settlements extend from Central Asian regions such as Iran, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and northern Pakistan, all the way to the Northern Caucasus. They belong mostly to Sunni and Shia Islam. They are represented in various professional groups, but hardly in public office. Only two of 328 seats are held by Iraqi Turkmens.

Although the Iraqi constitution has recognized the Turkmens of Iraq as a constitutive entity in the country, they were denied recognition later on. Only later in 2012, the were recognized again by the legislature as the third-largest ethnic group of the country.

Back then, the Turkmenregion was officially known as Turkmeneli – the era of the Turkmens – with Kirkuk recognized as their capital. The large quantities of oil in the region – city councilor Sami Bayatli suggested that around 20 percent of the entire Iraqi oil-reserves and 2.2 percent of the world reserves are located in the area – are contested by the Kurdish Regional Authorities which fight for the supremacy over the city. Natural gas and Sulfur are located in the ground as well, which is also the most fertile in the entire country.

According to the former Technology- and Finance-minister Rashad Mendan Omar, the wealth of the Turkmenregion has attracted many criminals. Turkmens have become preferred victims for kidnappings for religious and political extremists. In the year 2006, Turkey had to pay more than 10 million US-Dollars for the release of kidnapped Turkmens within the Turkmen Community.

The former Minister for Humanright in Iraq, Mohammad Mahdi al-Bayati, said that at least 770 Turkemens were murdered last year by the Islamic State alone. At least 960 were injured and 350 people including women and children, remain missing, while more than 590 000 Turkmens are on the run.

The situation for the Turkmen Community is becoming worse and worse, while ethnic groups such as the Kurds are already re-drawing the map and deprive them any rights for political representation. A tripartite division of the country, seperated in to Sunni, Shite and Kurdish held regions, has already de facto emerged throughout the past few years.

The political activist Dr. Elham Abbas, who is working as a gynecologist in Great Britain, complains that the Turkmens are not doing enough to strive for national unity, helping their cause for political recognition. “We still serve the interests of others, and our victims are completely ignored in the media.”

On behalf of Turkmen activists, it is said that there is an on-going cultural- and systematic genocide happening against the Turkmens of Iraq. It takes a lot of hard work to preserve the heritage, language, country, history and future of the Turkmen community.


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