The Iraqi Turkmen are a community of around 3 million, predominantly present in the Iraqi provinces of Mosul, Erbil, Kerkuk, Salahaddin and Diya, Baghdad and Wasit. They represent the third largest ethnic group in Iraq (13% of the population) and, since 29 July 2012, they are officially recognized by the Iraqi Parliament as one of the three main ethnic components of the country’s population. Kerkuk is considered by the Turkmen as their capital city.
This area, within the ‘Turkmeneli’ region of Iraq, produces nearly 20% of the Iraqi and 2.2% of the world’s petroleum. The Turkmen region has large natural resources such as oil, gas and Sulphur. In addition, there is an abundant production of wheat and cotton. However, the national Government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) constantly fight for the control of the oil-rich city, which has harbored for centuries a diverse population including Arabs, Kurds, Turkmens and Christians.
The Turkmens are distinct in language and culture from both their neighbours, the Arabs and Kurds. Yet, the Turkmens are continuously denied political rights and systematically face attempts to assimilate them in the Kurdish or Arab identity. Iraqi Turkmens have been subjected to intensive assimilation policies, forced emigration and cultural erosion. They have been victims of assimilation and ethnic cleansing campaigns, marginalized and denied their right of self determination, autonomy and any role in the state affairs.
No Turkmen has held a high position in any Iraqi government and still until today. This policy reached its peak during the Baath regime. After the fall of the Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, all Iraqis had high expectations of the interim administration established after April 9th, 2003. Turkmens expected to see democracy, justice, equality, fairness, an end to discrimination, the right to self-determination and an end to violence. Unfortunately, the opposite had occurred. Confiscation of land was one of the major features of the assimilation policies of the Ba’ath regime.
Through the Arabization processes by Saddam regime, Turkmen lands has been confiscated and given away to Arabs. During the thirty-five years of Ba’ath regime from 1968 to 2003, the sum of the lands which were confiscated in different provinces was estimated to be more than a half million acres, most of which belonged to Turkmens. In 2003 after the fall of Ba’ath regime Turkmen regions were exposed to serious Kurdification processes after which the Kurdish parties controlled the Turkmen regions.
Changing the administrative boundaries and seizing the lands by resettling Kurds, as a result of the demographic shift seen in all lands seized by Kurdish forces, Kerkuk’s council elections and most recent census are seen as fraudulent by Turkmen as they do not accurately reflect Kerkuk’s population. Almost all the Turkmen regions in the so-called disputed areas were exposed to the same processes. The surface area of the Erbil city has hugely enlarged in the last two decades. Since 2003 Turkmens started to be exposed to extensive attacks.
Hundreds of bombing attacks, assassinations and kidnappings took place in Turkmen regions. They are severely exposed to intimidations, large numbers of Turkmens are arrested, and many are lost. In Turkmen areas 95% of the terror attacks targeted Turkmens, all the Turkmen academic staff, businessmen, doctors have been threatened to be killed or kidnapped and killed or paid ransom. Turkmen neighborhoods left with no protection despite the heavy presence of security force which are protecting other non-Turkmen neighborhoods.
Although every major group in Iraq have strong militia power and have huge presence in the Iraqi Army, Turkmens are still not allowed to form their own defense security force, that is what made them vulnerable to terrorist and ethnic attacks. Every Turkmen city had been a target of explosions that killed thousands of Turkmens so far. Despite the European Parliament Resolution and many other international Human Rights Institutions calls on the Iraqi and Kurdish authorities to put measures into place that guarantee the safety and security of Iraqi Turkmen, no action has been taken by Iraqi and Kurdish authorities to protect Turkmens.
The Kurdish authority opposed the recommendation to form a security force in these areas, and hence Turkmens are continually being plagued by ethnic and sectarian violence and discrimination. In 2014, ISIS started their atrocities in Iraq, started by attacking the most vulnerable groups in Iraq like Turkmens and others, as they do not have their own security forces to protect themselves. On 15th June 2014, ISIS fighters took Telfar, which is mostly populated by Turkmens.
In total, 100 people were killed and more than 300.000 people are estimated to have fled Telfar according to Human Rights Watch. ISIS forces kidnapped at least 450 Turkmen Women and ordered 950 Turkmen families to leave the villages of Kubbak and Shireekhan. Many more than 100 Turkmen families were forced from Al Rashidyia village, and other Turkmen villages around Mosul, More than 70 children lost their lives as result of lack of water and high temperature.
The international community’s ignored the ISIS atrocities against Turkmen so far. The Turkmen of Iraq support a united democratic Iraq and expect to see justice, equality, fairness, an end to discrimination, the right to self-determination, to obtain rights equal to those obtained by other groups and save whatever is left of our unique culture and population and an end to violence. Unfortunately, these expectations are far from reality.