Ethnic origin of Iraq’s Turkmens

Brief history of Iraq’s Turkmens


According to the Encyclopaedia of Islam, the Turkmen can trace their ethnic origin to Turkic tribes who settled in Central Asia, retaining their worship of idols beyond the Mongol era and up to their first encounter with Islam. The latter, in its moral and social ethics had close affinities with traditional Turkic codes and practices.


The word ‘Turkmen’ eventually became synonymous with ‘Turk’ from about the era of Mahmoud Kashgary. It is now generally accepted as fact that Kashgary, Bayruni and other writers when referring to ‘Turkmen’ were, in fact, describing the Oguz, the Karalook and Halach: Turkic tribes who were engaged in agriculture and inhabiting territories already occupied by more advanced civilizations.


We can safely conclude from such references as the foregoing, therefore, that the Turkmen are the descendants of those Oguz tribes who originally came from Central Asia.


El-Maroozi states that the Oguz were divided into two main branches: one which settled on the plains grasslands and another which settled in the cities.


The Oguz did not leave their ancestral lands in one, massive migration. Rather, they departed in successive waves over a long period. The majority of historians say that the Quayi Khan tribe migrated with the Seljuks from the east (Sogdiana, now known by its modern name: Transoxiana) to what is today Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. They remained in the Latter territories until they were forced to move, by order of Sultan Mahmud Al- Ghaznawy,to Khurasan and Mera, eventually settling in Mohan.


 Ala-u-Deen Al Seljuky, in a letter to Sultan Osman , mentions that both tribes migrated together.


The Oguz Turks can boast an ancient history, vividly apparent, for example, in the Orkhoun paintings which proclaim their high status among Turkic peoples at that time.


These historic paintings depict members of the Oguz tribes who lived to the north of the territory of the Gok Turks.


The incursion of the Turkmen into Iraq took place in successive stages. As their numbers increased, so too did their stature rise accordingly. The Ummayid and Abbasid rulers recruited Turkmen for their armies in which they reached the highest ranks, especially during the Abbasid era.


Eventually they became rulers of Iraq, dividing their territory into numerous, independent emirates and states. During these developments, historical records also indicate that further waves of Turkmen migrants continued to enter Iraq.


 The Iraqi historian, Abdul Razzak Al-Hassani, has described the successive migrations of Turkmen tribes into Iraq. He was strongly of the opinion that the term ‘Turkmen’ applied to those peoples who had settled on lands separating Kurdish territories from those of the Arabs. He defined the limits of Turkmen settlement as stretching from a line running from the north-west at Teleafer, in Mosul Province, to an area in the southeast encompassing Altoon Kopri and Tuz Khurmato in Kirkuk Province with Kizlerbat and Mandeli in Diyala Province.


The first stage was obviously the initial migration leading to the first contacts of the Oguz Turkmen with the indigenous inhabitants of the area. These first immigrants were soldiers recruited to serve in Muslim armies. The second stage was the actual settlement of the Oguz Turkmen tribes during Seljuk rule, a development generally regarded as being the most important with far-reaching effects on the eventual realisation of the Turkic objective of the settlement of Iraq.


The third stage is considered as the final reinforcement and support stage when the magnitude of the Turkmen presence increased dramatically as additional waves of Turkmen arrived to settle in northern Iraq during the Ottoman Empire.


What follows is an elaboration of these three stages.


According to the historian, El-Taberi, the Turkmen first entered Iraq in 650 A.D. when the Muslim commander, Ubaydullah Bin Ziyad, leading an attack on Bukhara and Bikend, was faced with a strong defending force: the Turkic army of Queen Kabij Khatoon. Bin Zayid was impressed by the defenders’ loyalty and bravery as well as their skills in archery and the use of a variety of weapons. On his return to Iraq, he brought with him 2000 Turkic warriors to serve in the Muslim army. He garrisoned them in Basra, a province in Southern Iraq 16.


Turkic soldiers also served in the Umayyid army in which many rose to the highest ranks. 

The Abbasids, too, recruited large numbers of Turks for their armies because of their reputation for skill in the arts of battle and engagement. Further evidence of their prowess is provided in Caliph Mansoor’s alleged employ- ment of Turkic soldiers during the early years of his reign.


In 1055 A.D., Sultan Tugrul Bey offered to repair the road to the holy City of Mecca as a pretext for the invasion of Iraq at the head of a sizeable army. To forestall this development, the Buwayhids attempted to exploit the influence of Caliph Al-Qasim Billah, a respected religious leader. The situation became even more critical when the Caliph learned of the treachery of his own commander, Basasiri, who had secretly collaborated with the Fatimid rulers in Egypt in a plot against him. His reaction was to relinquish his authority as secular ruler while maintaining it as religious leader. On December 15, 1055 A.D., the Caliph was formally stripped of his political authority. 

Orders were subsequently issued that the prayer sermon should be read thereafter in the name of the Turkic Sultan Tugrul. Ten days later, the Sultan himself arrived in Baghdad to a rapturous reception by the city’s population.


The largest number of Turkmen immigrants into Iraq arrived with Sultan Tugrul’s army, but further waves continued to come during his reign and thereafter. They settled mainly in northern Iraq but were never isolated from the original inhabitants of the area.


This stage in the history of the Turkmen settlement in Iraq is generally regarded as that in which the reinforcement and consolidation of those Turkmen who had already settled in Iraq took place. The Turkmen Seljuk State established in Irak in addition to Musul Atabegs and Erbil Atabegs State which ruled huge parts of the Middle East, followed by Ak Koyunlu and Karakoyunlu states.


Large numbers of Turkmen from the original Oguz homelands emigrated to Iraq to join those already settled there. Another incentive for the emigrants was the more favourable economic situation in the new homeland which encouraged further waves of emigrants to arrive. In addition to these, many Oguz Turkmen came to Iraq with the various Ottoman armies which made incursions into the Middle Eastern countries.


 At this time, also, Iraq had become a battleground for the continuous wars waged between the Ottoman rulers and the Persians. By far the largest number of emigrants were those who accompanied the armies of Sultan Sulayman the Magnificent who succeeded in conquering the whole of Iraq in 1535 A.D.


Again, in 1638 A.D., when Sultan Murat V advanced on Baghdad at the head of his army a considerable number of Turkmen accompanied him.

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