March 25, 2008

Iraqi Turkmen



Population: 3 million approximately
Language: Turkish  


The Iraqi Turkmen are a community of just under 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 29th July 2012, they are officially recognized by the Iraqi parliament as one of the three main ethnic components of the Iraqi people. Kerkuk is considered by the Turkmen as their capital city. This area, within the ‘Turkmeneli’ region of Iraq, produces nearly 20% of the Iraqi petroleum and 2.2% of the worlds. The Turkmen region has large natural resources such as Oil, gas and Sulphur. In addition, there is an abundant production of wheat and cotton. The Turkmens are a distinct society and the third largest nationality in Iraq. They 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 assimilation. 


The Turkmens are descendants of the Turkic speaking Oghuz tribes who began settling in Iraq about 1500 years ago. They played a significant role in the administration of Iraq and established 6 states, The Seljuks, Atabegs, Ilkhanids, Jalairids, Qara Qoyunlus and Aq Qoyunlus. October 30, 1918, at the end of First World War, the Mosul province was still within the borders of the Ottoman Empire. The British troops occupied the territory after the cease-fire on November 11, 1918. Turkey refused to accept this act and demanded the return of Mosul province.  The Turkmens and Kurds resisted British authority by participating in the popular 1920 Iraqi revolution and refused the British installed Hejazi Hashemite monarchy in 1921. They were attacked on May 4, 1924 by the British army mercenaries (Levies) in Kerkuk, where many civilians were killed. In 1925, under the Constitution, the Kurds and the Turkmens had the right to use their own languages in schools, government offices and to have their own language press. On June 5, 1926, Turkey, under British pressure, accepted the integration of Mosul into Iraq. In  1932, entering the League of Nations, the Iraqi government declared that it will respect all minority rights. But in 1933 it began closing Turkmen schools and sending activists into exile. In July 14th 1959, Communists and separatist militias massacred Turkmen leaders along with hundreds of Turkmens in Kerkuk in an attempt to ethnically cleanse the city. A revised census of 1957, therefore showed the Turkmens as 9% of the Iraqi population. In  January 24th 1970, The Baathist government again granted some cultural rights to the Turkmens. But in 1972 prohibited the study in the Turkish language and restricted the Turkish media in Iraq to one weekly journal and one monthly magazine promoting Baath propaganda.

 The 1970s where  in fact characterised by other breaches of Turkmen human rights such as the  ‘Arabisation of Kerkuk’ in 1971, and by their discrimination through employment opportunities, unfair dismissals, deliberate measures to exacerbate their living conditions, forced displacement and deportation, and interference with right of ownership.After seizing power in 1979, Saddam Hussein’s regime instigated a campaign of intensive “Arabisation”, systematically expelling the Turkmen, instead promoting the resettlement of the Arab population. This period of persecution effectively destroyed Turkmen civil society, forcing many of its political institutions underground or into exile abroad. 

Unfortunately, despite the regime change in Iraq in 2003, the Turkmen tragedy continues. Many Iraqi Turkmen communities believe that their historical presence and influence has remained marginalised during the process of reconstructing the Iraqi state, and that more has to be done to correct the past injustices they have suffered.



The Iraqi Turkmens are represented in the UNPO by Dr. Muzaffer Arslan the founder of the Iraqi National Turkmen Party (INTP). Turkmens have the following political organizations: 1- Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF) which is an umbrella organizations of several parties: INTP, Turkmeneli Party (TP), Adalet part (AP), Islamic Movement of Iraqi Turkmens (IMIT) and the Independents Movement. 

2- Turkmen Nationalist Movement (TNM), 
3- Turkmen Wafa Movement, 
4- Islamic Union of Iraqi Turkmens(IUIT). Non political organizations are: Turkmeneli Cooperation and Cultural Foundation (TCCF) in Turkey, Turkmen Brotherhood Center (TBC) in Iraq and Iraqi Turks Culture and Solidarity Association in Turkey. Several other civil society organizations. On October 1997, Turkmen organizations arranged a "Turkmen Assembly" in Erbil, northern Iraq. The assembly gathered most of the Turkmen organizations, and determined the cultural, educational, information and social policies for the Turkmen people. The groups who attended the assembly have adopted the "Declaration of Fundamental Principles. A 30 member council was created from various Turkmen organizations. In order to maintain the identity of the Turkmens and to ensure social solidarity worldwide, several associations and foundations were established in Denmark, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, the USA and Australia. 


It remains challenging to illustrate the extent to which the Turkmen community in Iraq has been exposed to ethnic cleansing for decades without having been attended to by the international community. Permanently lurking fears of explosive power struggles particularly over the control of the ‘powder-keg’ city of Kerkuk, and the deepened sectarian divides after the U.S. invasion only serve to further place the Turkmen in a precarious position. The Tal Afer district of Iraq (Ninevah governorate) was attacked twice by helicopters, tanks and tens of thousands of soldiers in 2004 and a year later, in 2005: 1,350 were left dead and 2,650 were wounded. In December 2007, a suicide bombing in Kerkuk shook its residents and stoked security fears, killing at least 55, and injuring another 120. On 17th of December 2012, the bodies of two abducted teachers were found near the Humera village, located 35km south west of Kerkuk, both carrying signs of torture and being burnt alive. In January 2013, a crowded tent full of Turkmen mourners in Tuz Khurmato was transformed into a mass killing ground by a suicide bombing with genocidal intent, that left at least 35 people dead and 117 wounded.


On the 14th of March 2013, the European Parliament adopted a Resolution (welcomed by UNPO) on the plight of minority groups in Iraq, and specifically the Iraqi Turkmen. The resolution states that the European Parliament condemns the recent attacks on the Turkmen community and affirms that ‘despite the reference in the Constitution to the rights of Turkmen and other minorities, these minorities continue to be plagued by ethnic sectarian violence and discrimination’.



Perhaps one of the most noteworthy aspects characterising Iraq constitutionally, is the fact that to date it possesses no comprehensive minority rights or anti-discrimination law at the level of ordinary legislation. What is furthermore notable about the international standards is that Iraq is not a signatory to the ILO Convention, No. 169 on the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples in independent countries. The unfortunate consequences of this lack of implementations are evident in the UNAMI report on Human Rights concerns of January to June 2012, which documents a countless number of violations in regards to the Turkmen community, including the afore mentioned imminent threat to civilian’s security, arising from frequent terrorist attacks. Other noteworthy bearings include the mistreatment of Turkmen detainees in Iraqi prisons, the unregulated enforcement of capital punishment, several recorded incidents of children victimised by human rights abuses, and the recurrent disappearances and suspected executions of Turkmen intellectuals and health practitioners. Additionally the poor living conditions of the Turkmen population in heavily neglected areas, the challenges faced by the barely surviving Turkmen education in local schools, and the frequent bombing of religious sites (in the last 12 years over 65 churches were destroyed in the region), remain constant sources of a growing preoccupation.



The confiscation of land (‘land grabbing’), was one of the major features of the assimilation policies of the Ba’ath regime. The village of Bashir (Beşir in Turkish) situated South West of Kerkuk, presents a perfect case study of the consequences of such policies. The inhabitants of Bashir were landowners and farmers, whose ancestors had settled in the area several centuries ago. During the Ottoman rule, Bashir’s inhabitants officially registered their lands in their names, and were issued official land property certificates, which they renewed in 1921. In the early 1980s, after the start of the Iraq-Iran war, Iraqi security forces arrested and executed hundreds of intellectuals from the village, accusing them of being activists in the outlawed Islamic Da’wa Party. In 1986, while the young men of Bashir were fighting in the war against Iran, their families were given 48 hours to pack their personal effects and leave their homes. Houses were razed to the ground and agricultural lands were confiscated, to be later given to Arabs brought by the Ba’ath regime. Each Arab family was given 10.000 Iraqi Dinars in cash as an incentive to build their house on Turkmen lands, while the Turkmen families received no compensation. Meanwhile the former regime had arabised the name of the village calling it “Al-Bashir” instead of Bashir.

In 2003 when the U.S. military occupied northern Iraq, they did not take control of the area around Bashir and the Arabs which had been installed there by the previous regime, remained in the village.  The original Turkmen inhabitants of Bashir started to return demanding their lands. U.S. occupation authorities intervened, leading a controlled “mediation”, however the latter did not settle the property dispute. Nearly a decade has passed since this attempt to mediation, but little has changed since. The original Turkmen families of Bashir who were victims of deportation, in 2005 handed their complaints together with copies of their deeds, going back to Ottoman times, to the Property Claims Commission in order to retrieve their confiscated lands and be compensated for the destruction of their houses and for their loss of earnings since 1986.  In spite of the Property Claim’s Commission Tribunal’s decisions ordering the return of seized lands to its original Turkmen owners, and the Iraqi Government’s  agreement in 2006 to rebuild Bashir in its original location, little has been done and only few cases have been finalised for the Turkmen. There are currently still 41,874 complaints registered with the local Property Claims Commission, in Kerkuk of these complaints only 3,236 cases have been decided.

Since 2005 only approximately 2.000 out of 45.000 files belonging to Turkmens have been processed.