Turkmens frustrated with being left to help themselves

August 18, 2014 at 2:58 pm | Posted in Turkmens | Leave a comment
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Turkmens frustrated with being left to help themselves

Turkmens frustrated with being left to help themselves

Iraqi Shiite Turkmen families, fleeing the violence in the Iraqi city of Tal Afar, west of Mosul, rest at a temporary shelter after arriving in Kanaan, Diyala province. (Photo: Reuters)

August 16, 2014, Saturday/ 18:55:23/ AYDIN ALBAYRAK / ANKARA

Turkey’s “indifference” toward the plight of Turkmens in Iraq — who have been driven away from their homes by the terrorist “Islamic State” (IS) — and the United Nations’ “international community” growing alarmed only when other minority groups face death threats in the country fully reveals how alone the Turkmens are in the war-torn country.

When hundreds of thousands of Turkmens had to flee the Iraqi towns they lived in after the IS attack in June, Turkey took no step to protect Turkmens against the move. Ankara only air-dropped and sent trucks of humanitarian aid to those Turkmens seeking refuge in the mountainous and desert areas.

The United Nations and the international community, led by the US, England and France, made no mention of the plight of Turkmens either, nor did they take any step to further protect the Turkmens.

Suphi Saatçi, a Kirkuk-born scholar of Mimar Sinan University acknowledged that Turkmens without a passport are not allowed into Turkey and recently described their situation in Iraq, saying they have no one but God to help them.

With difficulty making any sense of the Turkish government’s indifference toward the Turkmens, he added: “They are living under the harsh sun, without shade, food or water and are left to die right under our noses. We are overwhelmed.”
Although Turkey enjoys excellent relations with the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Turkmens — the only major ethnic group in Iraq which does not have a security force of its own — were not allowed to enter the Kurdish area in northern Iraq to reach the Turkish border. Those Turkmens who managed with much difficulty to arrive at the Turkish border were only allowed in if they had a passport.

It has been about two months since the Turkmens first had to flee their towns due to the IS threat and massacres, but Turkey has only recently acted — in cooperation with the KRG, which doesn’t appear to have a particularly friendly attitude toward Turkmens — to establish a campsite to host Turkmens around the KRG area near the Turkish border. The campsite has yet to be established for the Turkmens, though.

In sharp contrast, when about two weeks ago the Yazidi ethnic group came under IS attack in Sinjar, a town near the Syrian border in northern Iraq, Turkey — like the “international community” — almost immediately acted to establish, also in collaboration with the KRG, a campsite in the Kurdish area for the Yazidis.

The US, which made no mention of Turkmens being killed, immediately sent troops to help remove some Yazidis, a non-Muslim minority, out of the danger zone. The UN made several statements about the life-and-death struggle Yazidis are facing due to the IS threat.

The number of Turkmens who managed to have entered Turkey cannot be very large, as there have been no such reports about them in the Turkish media. But the number of Yazidis currently being hosted in Turkey is around 1,700, as Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay said in the past week. In media reports, it is implied that Yazidis are also required to have a passport to be allowed into the country, but it is however noteworthy that, given nearly 2,000 Yazidis were allowed to enter Turkey, they may have found it easier to obtain passports in Iraq than the Turkmens. It seems that Turkmens are being given the cold shoulder by Turkey, though their situation is just as dire as the Yazidis.

“Whatever Yazidis lived through, that’s what Turkmens have also lived through over the past [two months]. But nobody brought the issue up at the time,” Mahir Nakip, an Ankara-based Turkmen scholar from Kirkuk, has told Sunday’s Zaman. “It’s not only Turkey we reproach, but the whole world,” added Nakip, who teaches at Çankaya University.

Another example that reveals Turkey’s relative “indifference” toward the Turkmens is the country’s sensitivity toward the plight of Palestinians in Gaza under the Israeli attack.

Turkey recently sent, thanks to the ongoing cease-fire, a plane to Gaza to bring wounded Palestinians to Turkey for treatment. The number of Palestinians treated in hospitals in Turkey is reportedly over 20, while reportedly no Turkmens have been taken to Turkey so far since the IS attacks. Some Turkmens, including children, are known to have died over the past two months due to the hard living conditions in the mountainous and desert-like areas. Hundreds of Turkmen also died during the IS attacks against the towns they lived in.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s attitude toward the Turkmens seems to be a determining factor in Turkey’s “somewhat indifferent” stance regarding the ethnic group. The prime minister, who demonstrated that he has the mindset of a political Islamist, said during a presidential election rally last month that Palestine is a national issue for Turkey. But he has never uttered such a remark about Turkmens.

Turkmens in Iraq are deeply disappointed — though in general they are modestly expressing their disappointment — by the government’s insensitivity to their plight. “We hope Turkey will display from now on as much interest as needed toward the Turkmens,” Riyaz Sarıkahya, a Kirkuk-based leader of the Turkmeneli Party, told Sunday’s Zaman.

“Turkey has not backed us politically. This is what saddens us most,” he added.

The Turkish government has tried to explain its inability to help Turkmens in a more substantial way by noting that 49 Turkish citizens from Turkey’s Mosul consulate have been held hostage by the IS since June. But the opposition maintains that it was the government’s fault that those at the consulate were captured by the IS.
The terrorist organization captured the 49 people, which include Consul General Öztürk Yılmaz, some women, children and 30 security guards from Turkey’s special forces.

“Unfortunately, I do not think the government has displayed toward the Turkmens of Tal Afar the [same] sensitivity it displayed towards Gaza. I can’t make any sense of this,” Mehmet Tütüncü, chairman of the İstanbul-based Iraqi Turks Culture and Mutual Aid Society (ITKYD), told Sunday’s Zaman.

Hundreds of Turkmens have been killed by the terrorists of the Islamic State in Iraq during its ongoing bloody campaign in the civil war-torn country since the terrorist organization captured Mosul in the first half of June. The organization, the members of which declare themselves to be Muslim, ruthlessly kills anyone whose religious practices differ from their version of Sunni Islam, like Shiite Muslims.

In July, Turkey declared a three-day period of mourning for Palestinian victims killed in the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip. Erdoğan, who did not even use the word terrorist to describe the IS, lashed out at Israel for its attack against Gaza, noting that nearly 600 people, more than 100 of whom are children, were killed in the attacks at the time.

In sharp contrast, Erdoğan has barely mentioned the plight of the Turkmens, at least more than 300,000 of whom had to leave the cities and villages in which they lived in Iraq. Hundreds of Turkmens are estimated to have been killed by the IS.

Members of opposition parties also harshly criticized the government during a discussion in Parliament in July for its lack of sensitivity toward the Turkmen’s hardship. Sinan Oğan, a deputy from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), lashed out at the government for not taking proper care of Turkmens in Iraq, noting that there are Turkmen children who have recently died of hunger. Oğan said: “Why is your government so hostile to [all that is connected with] Turks?”
Yusuf Halaçoğlu, deputy chairman of the MHP parliamentary group, in the same session of Parliament demanded: “You declare a three-day mourning period for Gaza, but why don’t you also declare a period of mourning for Turkmens?”

In a report that appeared in the Hürriyet Daily News in July, Eyat Suttu, a 35-year-old Turkmen of Tal Afar, said: “There is always someone to look after Kurds and Arabs in Iraq, but there is no one to look after the Turkmens.”


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