March 29, 2007
The conference Iraqi Turkmen: the Human Rights Situation and Crisis in Kerkuk was organised jointly by the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) and the Iraqi Turkmen Human Rights Research Foundation (SOITM), and held at the European Parliament in Brussels from 26 to 27 March 2007.
The conference was organised with the aim of giving voice to Iraq’s third largest community, the Iraq Turkmen, and raising awareness of their rapidly deteriorating human rights situation. This was considered especially important at a time when tensions in northern Iraq are rising rapidly ahead of a constitutionally mandated referendum on the future status of the oil rich city of Kerkuk. With the process of reversing the demographic distortions imposed under Ba’ath Party rule clearly far from complete and itself subject to charges of distortion, the referendum appears poised to risk fostering further discontent and ethnic tension, as opposed to stability and security.
All parties to the conflict profess an interest to a peaceful resolution - surely the only option for the people of northern Iraq following decades of persecution and violence under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. A prevailing atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion, fuelled by violence and chronic insecurity, continues however to undermine the possibility of meaningful and constructive dialogue between the conflicting parties.
The Iraqi Turkmen in particular feel frustrated by the political process that has followed the fall of Ba’ath Party rule. Persecution had all but destroyed Turkmen civil society and political organisation, and as a result, their leaders have felt excluded from a number of political decisions that appear set to determine the region’s future.
In response to this, the conference had two main objectives:
The first was to address a concern amongst Turkmen leaders that they are finding it difficult to effectively present their concerns on the international stage. To this end, the conference was undoubtedly intended as an opportunity for members of Iraq’s Turkmen community to present their thoughts and concerns to an international audience.
The second objective was to begin restoring a process of dialogue, aiming eventually at peaceful resolution to the region’s outstanding problems, and in particular the status of Kerkuk. UNPO is in a unique position and offers a distinct forum within which to address these concerns as its membership includes the Iraqi Turkmen, the Iraqi Kurds, and Assyrians. To this end it was however important to include participation from a range of political representatives capable of influencing proceedings in Iraq. Much effort therefore went into securing the participation of local political actors, a process much complicated by the perilous security situation and complex visa and passport requirements.
We are delighted to have successfully included the participation of influential political actors such as Dr. Muzaffer Arslan, advisor on Turkmen Affairs to the President of Iraq H.E. Jalal Talabani, Mr. Ali Mehdi, Head of the Turkmen Group at the Kerkuk City Council, and Mr. Burhan Jaf, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Representative to the European Union. Unfortunately a number of other parliamentarians and politicians, representing both Iraqi Turkmen and Kurds, were unable to travel on this occasion due to security concerns.
This conference was however only a first step. The quality and enthusiasm of discussions bodes well for the prospects of future dialogue, negotiations, and commutation between the region’s many communities. The organisers remain hopeful therefore that dialogue can save the people of northern Iraq from the violence that continues to plague their southern neighbours.
A proposal discussed during the conference focused on the possibility of establishing a permanent forum for such communications, setting in place the framework for a structured and democratic process for the resolution of all outstanding conflicts.
UNPO and SOITM maintain a commitment to contributing to such future initiatives, and hopes future conferences and events might represent an opportunity to gather further representatives from the communities of Iraq.
The organisers are grateful to the many participants whose varied contributions made the conference a successful step towards the restoration of a constructive dialogue. We are also very appreciative for the partnership of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), without which the conference could not have been a success.