Call for the restoration of human rights to the non-ruling indigenous peoples of Iraq
A unique moment of co-operation
towards restoring human rights in Iraq
European Syriac Union – Iraqi Turkmen Front – Federation of Yezidi Associations
in co-operation with the Christian Political Foundation for Europe
- MEP Branislav Skripek
- Dr. Hassan Aydinli, Iraqi Turkmen Representation to EU
- Lahdo Hobil, President European Syriac Union
- Fikret Igrek, Head of Foreign Affairs Federation of Yezidi Associations
- Johannes de Jong, Christian Political Foundation for Europe.
MEP Elmar Brok, Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the European Parliament received a joint delegation representing the Turkmen, Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrian and Yazidi peoples of Iraq at his office at the EU Parliament on 4th November 2014.
The delegation was composed of:
- Dr. Hassan Aydinli, Iraqi Turkmen Front EU representative and Ms. Merry Fitzgerald, President of Europe-Iraqi Turkmens Friendships Association, representing the Turkmens.
-Mr. Lahdo Hobil, President of the European Syriac Union andMs. Rima Tüzün, ESU Head of Foreign Affairs, representing the Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrians.
- Mr. Fikret Igrek, Head of Yezidis Foreign Affairs in Europe, representing the Yezidis of Iraq.
The delegation had requested an urgent appointment with Mr. Elmar Brok in order to inform him personally -as an MEP and influential member of the largest political group in the European Parliament (EPP) as well as in his capacity of Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the European Parliament - of the dire situation and the bleak future facing the Turkmen, the Chaldean, Syriac, Assyrian and Yazidi peoples living in the north of Iraq, caused by the terrorist group ISIS, following their attacks on Mosul city on 10th June 2014, immediately followed by planned targeted attacks on towns and villages inhabited by and belonging to these non ruling indigenous peoples of Iraq, where ISIS caused absolute chaos and devastation, terrorising the people, violating their dignity and their human rights, committing crimes against humanity: mass killings, rapes, kidnappings, lootings, ethnically cleansing and forcing these defenceless peoples to flee from their towns and villages.
A joint declaration prepared earlier by the members of the delegation was presented to Mr. Elmar Brok at this meeting, asking for his support and that of the European Union to this declaration which is essentially calling for the restoration of human rights to the non-ruling indigenous peoples of Iraq.
Each member of the delegation introduced him/herself to Mr. Elmar Brok and made a brief presentation of the political organizations they represent and of their people’s history and actual situation in Iraq, saying that each of their peoples has suffered under the fact that their existence has not been adequately recognized in Iraq and in the international community for many decades. That they have all experienced discrimination, persecution and ethnic and cultural cleansing due to this lack of adequate recognition of their ethnic, cultural and religious identity and the right to be as they are in their country, Iraq.
The Turkmens, Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrians and Yazidiswho have now been driven from their homelands in Iraq by ISIS have united themselves to work towards a common future in which each of their peoples are recognised as part of their country (Iraq) and will be able to preserve the existence of their ethnic, cultural and religious identities. They declare that it is their aim to maintain and contribute to the rich diversity of their land and to support in this effort those peoples who are their neighbours and who share the same wish for a common peaceful future.
Dr. Aydinli informed MEP Mr. Brok that since 10th June 2014, ISIS has attacked several Turkmen towns and villages, in the provinces of Mosul, Kirkuk, Salaheddin and Diyala. ISIS terrorists have attacked the Turkmen localities of Tal Afer, Beshir/Taza, Biravcili, Kara Naz, Chardaghli, Bastamli, Amerli, Kifri, Kara Tepe, Jalawla, Salman beg, and many villages belonging to the Turkmen Bayat tribes of Turzhurmatu district, killing over 500 innocent Turkmens and causing the displacement of more than 350.000 Turkmens.
The displaced Turkmens are living in very dire conditions and they are now scattered all over Iraq.
As an example of Turkmens’ sufferings, Dr. Aydinli mentioned the tragedy of his native village, Bashir, in Kirkuk Province, which was attacked by ISIS, saying that all the members of his family together with the 1.200 families living in the village had been obliged to flee to save their lives after defending their village against ISIS during three days. Unfortunately, they were overwhelmed by the heavily armed and better trained ISIS terrorists and 59 villagers were killed. ISIS is now occupying the village and they have destroyed most of the houses.
At the end of the meeting Dr. Aydinli handed a copy of Mr. Erşat Hürmüzlu’s book ‘The Turkmen Reality in Iraq‘ and a copy of Dr. Suphi Saatçi’s book : ‘The Urban Fabric and Traditional Houses of KIRKUK‘ to MEP Elmar Brok who thanked him for this.
03.11.2014 – BasNews, Brussels –
The European Union has created a special group in its parliament to support the Kurdish cause and make the world aware of Kurdish development in the Middle East. According to a Kurdistan Regional Government representative in the European Union, Delavar Ajgeiy the European Friends of Kurdistan is a cross-party informal intergroup of the European Parliament. He told BasNews that the group has been created with the aim of increasing awareness about the Kurdish people in the EU political arena and to enhance relations between European Union institutions and those of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq (KRG).
“The group is open to any member of the European Parliament who has an affiliation with or sympathy for the Kurdish cause,’ said Ajgeiy. The European Friends of Kurdistan will hold regular meetings inside the Parliament, both in Brussels and Strasbourg. These meetings will provide opportunities for the group’s members to exchange views with officials from the Kurdistan Regional Government, the Kurdistan Parliament, and representatives of religious, ethnic and community groups from the Kurdistan Region, as well as members of its civil society.
The Group will organize study trips to the the Kurdistan Region, in cooperation with the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Mission to the European Union, in order to allow members to interact directly with high-ranking officials of the KRG and its people.
“The KRG is a vital part of Iraq, a country which is close to the borders of the European Union. A stable and strong Kurdistan will benefit the security of Europe”, added Ajgeiy. He pointed out that there are approximately three million Kurds living within the European Union. There is need for more cultural interaction and understanding with the people of Europe.
Ajgeiy explained that the KRG has promising economic potential thanks to its strong institutions, educated workforce and large reserves of natural resources. Kurdistan can therefore be an important economic partner for the European Union. “The KRG is a positive example of a flourishing, secular democracy that is rooted in tolerance. It is a place where different ethnic and religious groups co-exist peacefully. The EU’s support would therefore help to sustain and build on these qualities,’ concluded Ajgeiy. Meanwhile, its expected on Tuesday that Masrour Barzani, the head of KRG’s intelligence services, will give a speech to the European Parliament in Brussels. He will talk about EU military support for Kurds in their fight against the Islamic State.
Brussels, 16th October 2014.
Debate on: The critical situation of all ethnic and religious components of the Iraqi society, facing the “Islamic State” threat, with particular focus on minorities.
ITF EU representative Dr Hassan Aydinli and Mrs Hassan Aydinli were invited by H.E. The Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey Mr Hakan Olcay and Mrs Mehveş Olcay at a reception on the Occasion of the 91st Anniversary of the Proclamation of the Republic of Turkey.
The reception was held at the prestigious Cercle Royal Gaulois in Brussels.
With Ms. Döndu Sarıışık, representative of TRT Radio Télévision Turque
Dr Hassan Aydinli with H.E. the Ambassador of Ukraine to the EU
Dr Hassan Aydinli spoke at length of the situation of the Turkmens in Iraq with Mr Thomas Mergenthaler, Permanent Representation of the Federal Republic of Germany to the EU and with Mr. Jean-Paul Mues, Advisor at the Belgian Ministry of Justice.
He also talked with Minister Emir Kir and several other Turkish VIPs.
Mr. Hüseyin Dönmez, Kanal Avrupa Media GmbH – Dr. Hassan Aydinli, ITF EU representative – Mr. Ayhan Demirci, Azerbaijan-Belgium Friendship Association.
The conference was organized by Mr. Willy Fautré, Director of Human Rights Without Frontiers who presented the fact-finding mission report about 15 ethnic groups in Azerbaijan.
Mr. Willy Fautré, Director of Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF) based in Brussels presented the report he has recently published: AZERBAIJAN – Ethnic Diversity – Peaceful Co-existence and State Management.
As a British official in Iraq reported in April 1919, “No sooner has one area been subdued than another breaks out in revolt and has to be dealt with by aeroplane…all these tribal disturbances have been dealt with from the air… thus the Army has been saved from marching many weary miles over bad country and sustaining casualties.”
That Western air forces are still bombing the same countries based on the same rationale a century later is a staggering failure of politics, humanity and the rule of law.
The history of bombing Iraq is as old as the history of bombing itself. The first planes of the U.K.’s Royal Flying Corps arrived in Mesopotamia (Iraq) in 1916, as British forces fought the Turks in World War I. Originally used for reconnaissance, they were soon adapted to bombing, as on other fronts.
Despite its position on the frontier of the Ottoman and Persian Empires, Iraq was a peaceful place through most of the 18th and 19th centuries by comparison to the blood-soaked history of Europe and North America. But the bloody climax of Western militarism in the First World War soon engulfed it. After a humiliating defeat and surrender at Kut in 1915, British forces took Baghdad in 1917, and were granted a League of Nations mandate to govern Iraq, Jordan and Palestine in 1919.
Bombing soon became an integral feature of British rule. Secretary of War Winston Churchill drew up a plan to base squadrons of biplanes in well defended bases, from where they could attack rebellious tribes in the surrounding areas. ighty-three years later, Donald Rumsfeld would imitate Churchill’s plan, coining the term lily-pads for the U.S.’s Forward Operating Bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. Air Marshall Hugh Trenchard sold British leaders on this new “no boots on the ground” technique of colonial policing, writing, “if the Arabs have nothing to fight against on the ground and no loot or rifles to be obtained, and nobody to kill, but have to deal with airplanes that are out of their reach… there will be no risk of disasters or heavy casualties such as are always suffered by small infantry patrols in uncivilized countries.”
Trenchard’s “no boots on the ground” strategy was irresistible to British leaders for the same reasons that President Obama has embraced a doctrine of covert war based on bombing, drones, special forces and proxy wars. As the Washington Post noted in 2010:
“For a Democratic president such as Obama, who is criticized from either side of the political spectrum for too much or too little aggression, the unacknowledged CIA drone attacks in Pakistan, along with unilateral U.S. raids in Somalia and joint operations in Yemen, provide politically useful tools.”
As the RAF assumed its role as the fiery arbiter of politics in Iraq, British officials soon began asking the tricky questions that have bedeviled Western policy ever since. Colonial officers complained that, although bombing was politically useful to officials in London, it was an ineffective substitute for addressing local grievances and resolving political problems in Iraq, leaving victims enraged and underlying problems unresolved. There was a popular “Quit Mesopotamia” movement in the U.K. and Labour MP George Lansbury spoke out against “this Hunnish and barbarous method of warfare against unarmed people.” But the U.K.’s first Labour government elected in 1924 applied the same political calculus as Obama, and the bombing continued.
The British originally planned to administer Iraq on the Indian model, with British political officers assigned to tribal leaders around the country, but the Iraqi rebellion in 1920-1 led them to revise their plans. Former Ottoman military officers had brought military expertise to a revolt launched by Shias and Persian mullahs that soon spread throughout Iraq. Like their American successors, the British adopted a “divide and rule” strategy to split Iraqi resistance. But, in contrast with the Americans, they co-opted the Sunnis instead of the Shiites and Kurds. They brought in Faisal, originally tapped to rule Syria, as King of Iraq, surrounded him with a ruling class of Sunni Arab ex-Ottoman officers, and deported the Persian mullahs to deprive the Shias of leadership.
The Ottomans had struggled to impose taxes on Iraq’s fiercely independent tribal society, but the British were determined to succeed where the Turks had failed. British fire-bombing quickly became a form of collective punishment for non-payment of taxes, even against tribes that showed no other signs of rebellion. Four squadrons of RAF bombers were stationed in Iraq, and tribes who failed to pay taxes were ruthlessly fire-bombed. A well-documented bombing campaign against Samawa in 1923-’24 burned at least 144 people to death.
One squadron was led by Arthur Harris, better known to history as Air Chief Marshall “Bomber” or “Butcher” Harris, and for fire-bombing on a far larger scale as the head of RAF Bomber Command in World War II. After a mission in Iraq in 1924, Harris reported, “The Arab and the Kurd now know what real bombing means, in casualties and damage. They know that within 45 minutes a full-sized village can be practically wiped out and a third of its inhabitants killed or injured.”
Later, as a senior officer in Palestine during the 1936 revolt, Harris wrote that “one 250 lb or 500 lb bomb in each village that speaks out of turn” should take care of the Palestinian problem. Harris justified his war crimes in Iraq and Palestine by the same kind of racism that is drummed into American soldiers today, boasting that, “The only thing the Arab understands is the heavy hand.”
During WWII, all sides studied the effects of bombing more seriously in a desperate quest for a winning strategy. The German bombing of the Basque city of Guernica in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War shocked a Western public who had largely ignored Britain’s air-launched massacres in Asia and Africa. Far from breaking the morale of its people, the bombing of Guernica had the opposite effect, bringing together previously divided Republican factions and unifying popular resistance. Both the Luftwaffe and more sympathetic analysts concluded that bombing was politically counterproductive.
The people of London were likewise united in resistance to German bombing in 1940, but this did not stop British leaders making wrong assumptions about the psychological effects of bombing German cities. The 1941 Butt Report led the U.K. to give up “precision” bombing in favor of mass carpet bombing after it found that only one bomb in three was striking within five miles of its target. After the first mass air raid on Hamburg, Bomber Harris wrote:
“The aim of the Combined Bomber Offensive… should be unambiguously stated: the destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers and the disruption of civilized life throughout Germany…. the destruction of houses, public utilities, transport and lives, the creation of a refugee problem on an unprecedented scale, and the breakdown of morale both at home and at the battle-fronts by fear of extended and intensified bombing, are accepted and intended aims of our bombing policy. They are not byproducts of our attempts to hit factories.”
U.S. bombing since 1991 has been supported by a propaganda campaign based on the mythical properties of a new generation of “precision” weapons. The corporate media have collaborated with the Pentagon to fetishize U.S. weapons technology and persuade the public that American bombing is now so accurate that it can target enemy positions or “terrorists” without killing and maiming large numbers of civilians.
By 2003, as the U.S. and U.K prepared to launch a war that probably killed a million Iraqis, a deluded Christopher Hitchens claimed, “It can now be proposed as a practical matter that one is able to fight against a regime and not a people or a nation.” The cynical pretense that today’s bombing is qualitatively different or less destructive than Guernica, the Blitz in London or the devastation of German and Japanese cities in WWII is one of the core myths of modern Western propaganda.
This propaganda campaign was tested during the first Gulf War, beaming bomb-sight video of “precision” weapons destroying “targets” to TV screens around the world. My friend Anatole Turecki, who piloted Spitfires over London and Wellington bombers over Germany in WWII, was so angered by the U.S. propaganda campaign that he took the trouble to analyze the Pentagon’s bomb tonnage figures. He concluded that Iraq was being as indiscriminately carpet-bombed as Germany had been. He was proved correct when the Pentagon later revealed that only 7% of the bombs and missiles raining down on Iraq were in fact “precision” weapons. A UN reportdescribed the damage as “near apocalyptic,” and that it degraded what “had been a rather highly urbanized and mechanized society” to “a pre-industrial age nation.”
In March 2003, the Pentagon classified 68% of the 29,200 bombs and missiles it unleashed on Iraq as precision weapons, but even these weapons were far from 100% accurate. The U.S. Air Force defines accuracy for such weapons as striking within a 10-40 foot (3-13 meter) radius of a target, but they have blast radii up to hundreds of feet, based on the size and type of the weapon, building construction and other factors, so even “accurate” air strikes are deadly and dangerous to people hundreds of feet from their impact.
But Rob Hewson, the editor of the arms trade journal Jane’s Air Launched Weapons, estimated that only 75-80% of U.S. “precision” weapons in its “Shock & Awe” bombardment of Iraq performed with even those degrees of accuracy. With at least 4,000 precision weapons missing their targets and 9,000 that weren’t precision weapons in the first place, almost half of Shock & Awe was effectively conventional carpet-bombing. Western propaganda also disparaged themost thorough epidemiological surveys in Iraq, which suggest that about a million Iraqis have been killed and that U.S. bombing has been a leading cause of violent death and the single leading cause of violent death for children in Iraq.
In 1985, a tapestry reproduction of Picasso’s Guernica was hung at the entrance of the UN Security Council chamber, to remind diplomats of the horrors the UN Charter’s prohibition on the use of military force was enacted to prevent. In February 2003, at the request of the United States, the tapestry of Guernica was covered with a blue curtain to spare Secretary of State Powell and Ambassador Negroponte the discomfort of trying to justify more Guernicas beneath a tapestry of Guernica. In 2009, the tapestry was removed.
This seems symbolic of the journey that U.S. foreign policy has traveled in that time. In 1986, soon after the tapestry of Guernica was hung at the Security Council, the International Court of Justice at the Hague ruled on the case of Nicaragua vs the United States of America. It found the United States guilty of aggression against Nicaragua and ordered the U.S. to pay reparations. The U.S. rejected the ICJ ruling, in violation of Article 94 of the UN Charter, and declared it would no longer recognize the compulsory jurisdiction of the court. As law professor Anthony D’Amato wrote in the American Journal of International Law:
“…law would collapse if defendants could only be sued when they agreed to be sued, and the proper measurement of that collapse would be… the necessary restructuring of a vast system of legal transactions and relations predicated on the availability of courts as a last resort. There would be talk of a return to the law of the jungle.”
This was clearly not just the effect but the intent of the U.S.’s rejection of ICJ compulsory jurisdiction. Since 1986, as the United States has committed increasingly systematic international crimes, it has ensured that its actions will be governed, not by the UN Charter, international law and the rulings of international courts, but by, and only by, the law of the jungle, as D’Amato suggested. The U.S. vetoed Nicaragua’s motion to enforce the ICJ judgement in the UN Security Council, and it stands defiantly ready to veto any resolution holding it accountable for any of its crimes.
Newly confident in the ability of the monopolistic U.S. media system to provide political cover for even the most serious international crimes, American leaders have made a deliberate choice to renounce the rule of law and embrace the law of the jungle. Americans and people everywhere are now living with the consequences of that decision.
A million victims of 95,000 U.S. air strikes and other war crimes have paid with their lives since 2001, while millions more suffer disability, disfigurement, pain, dislocation, disease, poverty and illiteracy. A hundred years of bombing has left countries in ruins and fragile societies torn apart by unprecedented fissures and violence. The diversity of ethnic and sectarian groups in the Middle East is a testament to a long history of tolerance that has been savagely ripped apart by a century of Western “regime change” and “divide and rule” strategies. At every turn, Western powers have recruited and unleashed repressive, anti-democratic forces to serve their own interests, only to justify further intervention and mass destruction when those forces escape external control and turn against the West. ISIS is only the latest case in point.
The roots of this crisis lie in illegitimate and barbaric Western policies, not in the desperate responses of victims in the regions affected. It is we Americans who hold the key to resolving the crisis. It is no defense to plead that our leaders are constrained by a corrupt “political reality” in Washington. We must insist that they meet their obligations to peace and the rule of law—that they stop bombing and start listening.
As Hannah Arendt wrote in The Origins of Totalitarianism in 1950, “We can no longer afford to take that which is good in the past and simply call it our heritage, to discard the bad and simply think of it as a dead load which by itself time will bury in oblivion. The subterranean stream of Western history has finally come to the surface and usurped the dignity of our tradition. This is the reality in which we live.”
A journalist once asked Mahatma Gandhi what he thought of Western civilization. He replied, “I think it would be a good idea.” It may be an idea whose time has come.
Iraqi Turkmens say they are left alone against ISIL
Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITC) officials attend a news conference in Kirkuk on Saturday. (Photo: Cihan)
Iraqi Turkmens who have been the target of the terrorist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) for months said on Saturday in a press conference in Kirkuk that they have been abandoned, especially by the Western world, to face the atrocities of ISIL.
The press conference was held by the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITC) to call for help against ISIL attacks on Turkmen areas. ITC Kirkuk represent
ative Mehmet Saman said Turkmens did not receive the same interest from the United Nations and the Western world that Yazidis and Christians received in the face of ISIL attacks. He said the Iraqi government has also abandoned them.
The ITC called for a campaign to provide immediate relief for Turkmen areas that are under ISIL control. According to Saman, Turkmens are forced to migrate under very difficult conditions.
In June, ISIL captured a predominantly Turkmen town in Iraq, Tal Afar, which alarmed the country’s Turkmen community, half of which are Shiites — the extremist group’s stated target
The Turkmen across Syria and Iraq are stuck between sectarian conflict and Kurdish nationalism.
Unlike the Kurds — the largest stateless ethnic group in the region — the Turkmen are not armed and are now struggling for their survival. Their continued existence is important because, as traditional moderates and natural links to Turkey, the Turkmen could be vital in building peace after the dust settles.
Who are the Turkmen?
Though the Turkmen are culturally and linguistically similar to their kin in Turkey, their tribes first settled in the region in the 9th century. Renowned for their horsemanship and soldiering, Turkmen tribes, in one way or another, were part of the military elite up until the early 1900s. They became part of the Ottoman Empire with the Battle of Chaldiran in 1514, the Ottoman’s legendary victory over the Safavid Empire. The Ottomans took care to settle Turkmen along the cities on route to the Hijaz — present-day Saudi Arabia — to secure the pilgrimage path.
As the Ottoman Empire disintegrated in the wake of World War I, the Turkmen found themselves as a minority in the two Arab-majority Kingdoms of Syria and Iraq. The past century then brought de-colonization, Arab nationalism and war. Yet Turkmen have managed to preserve their way of life. They speak a dialect of modern Turkish at home, but many are more comfortable with Arabic. Their practice of Islam remains close to the moderate Anatolian tradition.
Syria’s Turkmen are located in the Levantine Latakia province and the northern regions of Aleppo and Raqqa, close to the Turkish border, as well as the central city of Homs. The Syrian regime, headed by President Bashar al-Assad, has often fudged their population numbers, leading experts to think of the Turkmen as a tiny minority. The true figure of Syrian Turkmen is likely to be much higher. Turkmen leaders claim they number 3.5 million. No reliable census exists to verify these claims, but taking a number of known Turkmen-majority villages into account, these authors estimate that there are between 2-3 million Turkmen in Syria.
The Turkmen had a good start in Syria. Two of the Arab Republic’s early presidents were Turkmen, including the two-term President Hashim al-Atassi, whose family remains influential in Homs. Starting in the 1960s, however, the pan-Arab Baathist movement sidelined non-Arabs from politics. Then-President Hafez al-Assad’s rule was devastating to the Turkmen. He banned Turkish-language education, eradicated traces of Turkmen culture and redistributed the community’s land. Squeezed out of their possessions and way of life, the Turkmen identity was pushed out of the public eye.
Syria and Iraq are now one battleground involving local militants, governments and foreign jihadists. In this mix, ethnic Turkmen are the largest population that is seldom talked about.
The civil war in Syria of the past three years has rekindled Turkmen politics. At the beginning of the conflict in 2011, most Turkmen joined the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a moderate rebel group. As more Syrians took up arms, they formed their own brigades under the FSA umbrella. What is certain is there are currently more than ten armed Turkmen groups defending their positions against the Assad regime or IS. Despite being Sunni-majority, very few Turkmen seem to have joined IS ranks — certainly the least of all other Sunni groups. “They couldn’t find people among us because the Turkmen way of life is different from theirs,” Abdurrahman Mustafa, the president of the Syrian Turkmen Assembly said. “That made us ISIL’s [IS] number one target.”
The Iraqi Turkmen
Iraq’s roughly 2 million Turkmen are spread over a strip of land between the Kurds and Arabs, ranging from Mosul to Diyala province. Their recent history has not been easier than their kin in Syria. Starting in the late 1950s, the Iraqi regime massacred Turkmen elites, closed their schools, renamed their villages and, in many instances, forced them to change their names under a policy of Arabization. This was done by the communist regime, as well as the Baathists and Saddam Hussein later on. Despite the merciless campaign, however, they held onto more of their wealth and social standing than Syria’s Turkmen. Nouri al-Said, a former Iraqi prime minister and the son of a Turkish Pasha, and many of his colleagues who served before the coup in 1958 were Turkmen. More recent notables include journalists Nermin el-Mufti and Abbas Ahmet, or the poetess Munevver Molla Hassun.
In 1995, Iraq’s Turkmen founded the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF) with Turkey’s assistance. The ITF served as an umbrella group for regional Turkmen political leaders, which allowed them to organize in the wake of the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. That stands in contrast to Syrian Turkmen, who only formed political organizations at the onset of the civil war. By the time Iraq formed its first government in 2005, the Turkmen had a civil body of elected leaders, representatives in the Iraqi parliament and offices in foreign capitals, including Ankara, Washington DC and London. But the organization lacked one critical element to wield power in Iraq: weapons. To this day, its lightly armed militia can barely protect its leaders from assassination attempts.
This inability to take and hold territory has come at a high price to the Turkmen community during the IS surge this summer. The Turkmen suffered terrible blows in Tuz Kharmatu, Tel Afer, which is their biggest territory, and Amirli, a city between Kirkuk and Baghdad. Most affected Turkmen tribes had no choice but to flee from IS advances. Shiite Turkmen were subject to the worst massacres, but Sunni tribes have also fallen prey to IS. One Sunni Turkmen leader allegedly killed his two daughters with poison upon IS’ approach. The only group strong enough to put up a fight have been the Abbasiyun, the largest of Tel Afer’s Sunni Turkmen tribes.
Yet the sectarian division in Iraq’s Turkmen tribes has become undeniable. Sunni Turkmen, who make up roughly half of its community in Iraq, were a double minority during Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite-majority rule. When IS called for Sunni tribes to rise up against Baghdad, some of them answered. Sources suggest that a number of Turkmen are now in high-ranking positions in IS. The group might also be taking advantage of its Turkmen members for its contacts with Turkey. When IS attacked the Turkish consulate in Mosul and took 46 citizens hostage, it was the jihadist group’s Turkmen members who communicated with the captives, according to some accounts.
But the ITF remains devoted to its founding principle of including both sects among its members. Ersad Salihi, the ITF’s leader, pointed out in a talk in Ankara that three of its candidates for Mosul’s elections were Sunnis and have been kidnapped by IS. The ITF, he says, has been the jihadist group’s main target in Mosul, despite the entirely Sunni makeup in the city.
Turkmen: Kurdish Relations in Iraq
One important dynamic for Iraqi Turkmen’s future is their relationship with the Kurds. Nominally, the two communities are allies. The Turkmen occupy a handful of seats in the Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament, and Turkmen forces have fought alongside the Peshmerga — Kurdish armed forces — against IS. Under the surface, however, things are more complicated.
The Turkmen do not receive the protection Christian minorities get, nor do they have the institutional makeup to defend themselves the way the Kurds have. They are alone on the frontlines of the IS onslaught and their numbers are thinning by the day.
The Kurds have held up better against the IS onslaught than the Iraqi army, giving them more sway in the country’s future. When the army fled the city fearing an IS attack, Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), ordered his forces to seize control of Kirkuk, which Kurds see as their historical capital. For Turkmen, this was a serious encroachment on their presence.
Kurdish and Turkmen territories overlap across several critical territories. Turkmen leaders like to point out that half a century ago, most of Erbil’s population was Turkmen. More importantly, however, the Turkmen were the majority in Kirkuk’s center before 2003. After the Saddam regime was toppled, Peshmerga troops stormed into the city’s downtown area and vandalized many Turkmen and Arab properties. They also had the foresight to burn land deeds from Kirkuk’s Land Registry Office, to prevent Turkmen from taking back their property in future lawsuits. The Turkmen who remained in Kirkuk have been struggling to hold onto their place ever since. Now that the city is entirely in Kurdish hands, the Turkmen fear they will be forced out entirely.
Yet Salihi has not abandoned hope of Turkmen-Kurdish cooperation. He wants to negotiate with the Kurdish leadership to lend Kirkuk a special status that would allow it to flourish as a pluralistic city after the war. “We shared the suffering and prison of the Saddam years with our Kurdish brothers,” he said at a meeting in Ankara, “but we wish that we had been included in the political process after 2003, just like they were.”
Part of the Turkmen’s dire situation is due to the lack of foreign aid. The US and Europe have been timid about arming rebel groups, much less identifying the Turkmen specifically as a community in need of protection.
In August, when IS laid siege to Amirli in Iraq, the only aid the Shiite Turkmen town had for nearly two months was a helicopter that carried supplies in from Baghdad twice a week. For months, the only foreign power to help them during the siege was Iran, sending its famous Gen. Kassim Suleimani to the Shiite Turkmen’s aid. Only in September did US drones provide enough air cover for the population to be evacuated. That stands in stark contrast to the sensitivity Western countries have showed for Christian and Yazidi minorities.
At least part of this is due to the assumption that Turkey stands as a natural ally to the Turkmen and will provide any aid necessary. However, that has not entirely been the case. Ankara does have good relations with the Turkmen, donning out generous educational scholarships in the past and, more recently, humanitarian assistance.
But the big brother to the north has proved timid when it comes to war. Syrian Turkmen lament that Turkey has provided little beyond a trickle of light weaponry — none more, according to Turkmen leaders, than it gave to Sunni Arab groups. “If we had received the weapons we desperately asked Turkey for,” a Turkmen commander said, “the majority-Turkmen areas would have been free of the ISIS [IS] threat.” The president of the Syria Turkmen Council, Abdurrahman Mustafa, said: “As ISIS [IS] parades around with the scud missiles and tanks it got from its Raqqa raid, we have to worry about how to save ammunition for our rifles.”
The matter has become a sore point with Turkey’s AK Party government. The Nationalist People’s Party (MHP), the country’s second-largest opposition party, has repeatedly called on the government to increase its aid to the Turkmen. Ahmet Davutoglu, then-foreign minister and the current prime minister, periodically assures them that his government has been helping the Turkmen as much as possible. Yet the MHP does not seem convinced. This summer, parliamentarians got into a fistfight when Sinan Ogan of the MHP gave a fiery speech condemning the government’s inaction. More recently, leftists such as the Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP), have also accused the AK Party of neglecting the Turkmen.
That leaves the Turkmen in a precarious position. The Turkmen do not receive the protection Christian minorities get, nor do they have the institutional makeup to defend themselves the way the Kurds have. They are alone on the frontlines of the IS onslaught and their numbers are thinning by the day.
If that continues, it will significantly impoverish the region. The Turkmen have much to offer by helping to rebuild Syria and Iraq — whatever shape those territories will take. Economically, they are a natural link to the commercial centers across the border in Turkey. More importantly, the Turkmen are moderates with a tradition of local, representative government. That is why anyone with a stake in the region’s stability should be concerned about the Turkmen’s predicament between Arab sectarianism and Kurdish nationalism today.
Huseyin Rasit Yilmaz is a Turkish analyst on ethnic conflict, terrorism and nationalism. He has been a researcher at the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV) since January 2011 and is a graduate student of politics and social sciences at Gazi University. Yilmaz has authored three books: “Being a Turk in Turkey ,” “Breaking Points of Turkish History” and “The Turks and Kurds/The Project of a Social Rehabilitation”
Selim Koru is an Ankara-based researcher on energy markets and foreign policy. He has worked and interned with various media institutions such as the Turkish daily Sabah, Al Jazeera’s Arabic and English offices in the US, and The Hill newspaper in Washington DC. He is currently a researcher at the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV). He holds a Bachelor’s in History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a Master’s in International Relations and Economics from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).