Identity of Kerkuk

Prof. Dr. Mahir Nakip’s Speech at

Columbia University Turkmen Symposium 1 MIM & TSA-CU on 11.20.2004

 Numbers in (#) refers to Power Point Slide presentation used during the speech


 Prof. Dr. Mahir Nakip

 Kirkuk is one of the oldest cities in Iraq. There is very little

information about its history before Islam. It is mostly known after

the Abbasis. The city has had a specific identity for almost six

hundred years.

(2) A Short Glance at the History of the City

(3) It is possible to say that Turks started to settle down in

Kirkuk after 835. Tugrul Bey the ruler of the seljuks, entered Iraq in

1055 with his army that was composed of mostly Oghuz Turks.

Kirkuk had remained under the control of the Great Seljuk Empire

for 63 years.

Arslantaş’s son Kipchak took the control of Kirkuk and he

became the only powerful ruler in the region in 1130. İmadeddin

Zengi, Prince of Mosul, captured Kirkuk in 1139. The most famous

member of this dynasty was Muzaffereddin Gökbörü who lived

between 1154-1232.

 (4) This Turkish hero had a lot of art works

built, most of which have survived. After Gökbörü’s reign, The

Jalairies, a Mongolian tribe, took the control of Kirkuk. The region,

inhabited by the Turks, was open to the Mongol clans who were

turkified. Therefore, we can say that Kirkuk and Erbil were turkified

in the middle of the 14th century. Turkish started to be used as the

official language in Iraq.

It is known that Timur visited the Kirkuk Castle in 1393.

(5) The Black Sheep state captured the castle 18 years later. The White

Sheep state dominated northern Iraq and Kirkuk in 1470. Today, the

White Sheep (Akkoyunlu) and the Black Sheep (Karakoyunlu) are

the surnames of two well-known Turcoman families who live in

Kirkuk and Erbil.

The Safavies became a Shi’i Turcoman State in 1508 and they

governed Iraq until 1534.

(6) When Süleyman The magnificent went

for Irakeyn Campaign in 1534, Turkish Poet Fuzuli,

(7) who was from Kirkuk and a member of Bayat tribe, presented the famous

Baghdad Kasida to the sultan. Kirkuk was called “Gökyurt” in the

Ottoman records.

(8) “Gökyurt” means, “blue homeland” and we

don’t know why this Turkish name was used instead of “Kirkuk”.

This act of the Ottoman Empire may show that Kirkuk was a Turkish

city. However, this name was not used for a long time.

(9) Murat The IV started his Baghdad campaign in 1638. Baghdad was taken from

the Safavi State and Kirkuk became a city of the Ottoman Empire

again. The Ottoman Empire dominated Kirkuk until 1918.

(10) As we understand from this review, Kirkuk embraced the

Turkish culture centuries ago. Batatu, who is originally an Arabian

writer, accepts that Kirkuk is a Turcoman settlement. Edmonds is

another researcher who studied the ethnic structure of the region.

This author, whose book entitled “Kurds, Turks and Arabs,” states

that the population of Kirkuk was about 25.000 and most of them

were Turcoman in 1922.

(11) Kirkuk under the control of Britain

England aimed to control oil reserves in Kirkuk by entering Iraq

at the beginning of the 20th century. They fought against the Ottoman

army until they captured Kirkuk. The government in Baghdad

accepted the existence of Turkmens. The Education and Health

Ministries were consigned to İzzet Pasha, who is a Turkmen from

Kirkuk, in the cabinet that was assembled by Abdul-Rahman El-

Geylani in October 1920. The settlers of Kirkuk refused the kingship

of Prince Faysal in the referendum that was held in July 1921. They

showed clearly that they were against the British regime. Some

prominent people were asked to support the new Iraqi Constitution

that was being prepared in 1923. These people, however, put forward

four conditions for supporting the British regime.


1. Not to interfere in the government formation process after the


2. To protect the Turkish identity in the local government of


3. To accept Turkish as an official language in Kirkuk.

4. To give responsibility to the Turkmens in all the cabinets that

will be assembled in Baghdad.

Iraq Prime Minister Abdül-Muhsin Al-Sadun responded to these

conditions with a letter written in Turkish in July 1923 and informed

that the second and the third conditions were accepted.

The first conflict between the Turkmens and the British

government in Kirkuk occurred in May 1924. A lot of Turcomans

died in the fight between the Teyyaries, the supporters of the British

regime, and the Kirkuk’s Big Market Tradesmen.

(13) Kerkuk Governorship announced in the Necme newspaper in February 1924

that they would indemnify the loss and damages of the individuals,

families, and tradesmen. This newspaper was being published in

Turkish in Kirkuk. The names and professions of 199 people who

suffered from this fight were published in the newspaper and they

were all Turkmens. The Gavurbağı massacre took place in July 1946.

The Iraqi police fired on workers who started a protest march from

an oil company. As a result, a lot of Turkmens were either wounded

or killed in this incidence.


(14) Kirkuk’s Political Identity during the Period of Republic

(15) Abdülkerim Kasım’s coup of July 1958 eliminated the

Kingdom in Iraq. The Turkmens were pleased of the declaration of

republic. However, the Turkmens in Kirkuk were worried about the

Communist Party’s activities for coming to power.

(16) Especially, Kurdish leader Molla Mustafa Barzani’s attempts to make Kirkuk a

city of Kurdistan and his cooperation with the Communist Party

disquieted the citizens. The headquarters of the Second Division was

in Kirkuk.


(17) General Nazım Tabakçalı, the commander of the Second

Division, sent a secret report to Kasım in September 1958.

 (18) In his report he said, “Although the citizens of Kirkuk are not Kurdish,

there is the intention to include Kirkuk in Kurdistan. The purpose

here is to dominate petroleum, which is the national wealth of Iraq.

Establishing the headquarters of Kurdistan Directorate of Education

in Kirkuk and appointing a Kurdish, as a director is absolutely

wrong. The Director of Education that will work in Kirkuk, besides

being an Arab, must be neutral and must deal justly”. Tabakçalı sent

another report in January 1959 and revealed the secret activities of

Kurdish officers in the army.

(19) He telegraphed in February 1959 and said, “Please pay attention to

 the reports that we previously sent to you; otherwise, the Kurds will include

 Kirkuk in Kurdistan even if the majority of the citizens in Kirkuk are Turkmen.

 This conflicts with the national interests of the newly established Republic of Iraq”.

Tabakçalı was discharged because of his reports against Communist Party and Kurds.

(20) Maruf Berzenci, who was a Kurd originally, was appointed as the mayor

of Kirkuk. In July 1959,

during the celebration of the first anniversary of the Republic, some

unpleasant incidents occurred and many Turkmens were arrested.

(21) (22)

Twenty-five Turcoman citizens were brutally killed and

many Turkmens’ houses and shops were looted and destroyed. The

Kurdish mayor buried the Turkmens, who were killed by communist

Kurds, in a mass grave in the city. General Kasım accused the

Communist Party and Kurdish political groups of the massacre.

Baath Party came into power in 1968 and tried to change the

identity of Kirkuk in the 1970s. Saddam, who became the Vice-

President in 1974, changed the name of Kirkuk. He took some

Turcoman cities such as Tuzhurmatı and Kifri back from Kirkuk and

joined them with Arabian cities. He forbade Turkmens to buy any

properties in the city. He exiled the Turkmens to the South. He had

the historical castle demolished. He also sentenced a lot of Turkmens

to death in Kirkuk.


While investigating the identity of a city, it is not enough to take

into consideration only the demographic or the ethnic structure of

that city. What is important is the value that the community of that

city contributes to its cultural heritage.

The Kirkuk massacre in 1959 led to the migration of many

Turkmen families to Baghdad. Though Kirkuk continued to be a

Turkmen city until the beginning of the 1960’s in terms of

population, there had been considerable political interferences in the

ethnic structure of the city. During the reign of Saddam, the city was

tried to be arabized; yet after the war in 2003, an excessive

Kurdification activities began with the support of the United States.

Apart from the Turkmen population, another thing that

continues to maintain the city’s Turkmenity is the cultural structure.

The old historical works of art, mosques, inns, public bathes,

bazaars, bridges, home architecture, press and publication, music and

literature in the city are the significant indicators that reveal the

identity of the city.

(24) As long as these indicators exist, it will be impossible to change

 the identity of the city.




(26) The first newspaper published in Kirkuk was the journal of


(27) Ahmed Medeni Kudsizade, was the owner and the

editor of the newspaper. This Turkish newspaper was published in

February 1911 for the first time and closed by the English in 1918. In

Kirkuk, another newspaper published in Turkish was “Ajans

Journal.” Its publication started in May 1918 and it was closed by the

English administration too.

(28) The first Turkish magazine was

called “Maarif”. It was published in April 1913 and closed at the end

of the same year and rearranged for publication in 1915 under the

name of Kevkeb-i Maarif. All the writers of mentioned publications

were consisted of Turkmens.

(29) The first newspaper published in Kirkuk after the start of

English occupation was Necme. This newspaper also published in

Turkish and its publication continued between 1918 and 1926.

In 1926, after Nemce newspaper was closed, Kirkuk newspaper

began to be published in Turkish. The publication of this newspaper

lasted until 1953. On the other hand; we come across another

newspaper titled “ileri.” It was published twice a week in Kirkuk in


(30) Turkish and Arabic Afak newspaper, which started its

publication life in 1954 and closed in 1959, has been considered to

be an important newspaper in Kirkuk. After the 1950s, it is possible

to see Arabic newspapers and magazines such as El-Şebab, El-

Vahde, Sada El-Şimal, El-Thekafa, and El-Hadithe. The majority of

the staff who wrote for either Turkish or Turkish-Arabic newspapers

was consisted of Turkmens.

(31) The first weekly newspaper in the republic period was Beşir.

It was published in both Turkish and Arabic in July 1958 following

the declaration of republic. Despite its relatively short publication

life, it had become the voice of the Turkmens during the Republican

era. Yet, after this date, we don’t see an autonomous Turkish

newspaper or magazine as a result of political pressures.

Until the beginning of the 1970’s, there was not any autonomous

Kurdish newspaper or magazine published in Kirkuk. The only

Kurdish magazine published for a short time in 1972 was known as

El-Buzuğ. Moreover the first magazine published in Arabic-Kurdish

in Kirkuk was entitled “El-Şafak”. Its publication started in 1958 and

it was closed in 1959. The first Arabic-Kurdish newspaper was Rey

El-Ehali. Its publication started in 1959 and it was closed in 1961.

Azadi newspaper in 1959 and El-Talia newspaper in 1960, both of

which were published in Arabic-Kurdish, were short-lived



(32) It is possible to draw four important conclusions from this


1. The newspapers published in Kirkuk until the mid-1940’s were

all in Turkish.

2. All the staffs of those newspapers were consisted of Turkmens.

3. Kurdish publication in Kirkuk started only after the declaration

of the Republic.

4. In general, Kurdish publications were short-lived.




A considerable number of Turkish art works existed in Kirkuk.

Yet, Baghdad governments and Saddam demolished most of them.


(34) A number of palaces that were built during the reign of the

Ottoman Empire and the stone bridge of Kirkuk are among the

demolished works of art. The Kirkuk Castle, which has become the

symbol of Kirkuk, safeguards the oldest historical works of arts,


(35) The “Danyal Peygamber Mosque,” considered holy by

the Turkmens, was originally a Jewish temple, and (36) The Great

Mosque was originally a Christian church. Moreover, the Turkmens

showed their respect and affection to Christianity by calling this

place of worship as Virgin Mary Mosque. Also, the respect of

Turkmens toward Christian or Jewish graves was so boundless that

they buried their corpses next to them. The graveyard of this place

may be regarded as the first cemetery in Kirkuk. The corpses of the

small cemetery next to the Mosque were all Turkmens.

(37) Another

Turkish work of art, which survived up until today, is Blue Vault

(Gök Kümbet). Its construction occurred during the reign of

Ilkhanate in 1361. That is to say; Kirkuk’s oldest works of art were

located in Castle where the majority of the Turkish population lived

until the day of its destruction.

Either pashas or Turkmens built all of the art works located in the

outer part of the Kirkuk Castle during the Ottoman reign. (38)

Nakışlı Minare Mosque, (39) Covered Bazaar, Hacı Numan Mosque,

Kırdarlar Mosque (1885), Neftçizade İbrahim Bey Mosque

(demolished), Şeyh Baki Lodge (demolished), İncili Palace

(demolished), Mecidiye Palace (demolished in 1971), (40) Aziziye

Barracks (1854), Stone Bridge (1875), (demolished in 1954), Molla

Kavun Mosque (1876), Arsalan Mosque are important Turkish art

works in Kirkuk.

An old and original Turcoman civil architecture in Kirkuk attracts

attention. Especially, a small part of houses located in the Castle that

belongs to the well-known Turkmen families has survived. Among

these are(41) (42) (43) (44) (45) (46) (47) Sıddık Allaf House, Ali

Ortakçı House, Kadı Abdurrahman Nakip House, Tayfur House,

Toma House, Gülhanlar House, Mustafa Ağa House, Mullah Sıdık

Terzibaşı House.

(48) (49) (50) (51) Not only the owners but also the creators of this

civil architecture were also Turkmens. Among the Turkmen masters

of architecture are Hadji Halil İbrahim, Hasan Resul Nakkaş, Osman

İbrahim, İzzet Mahmut Bayram, Sıdık Bende Gafur, and Mehmet


The first districts of Kirkuk were established in interior part of the

Castle. Because of the population increase, they began to constitute

new districts around The Castle. The Turkmens, however, populated

all of these districts.

(52) The oldest districts in The Castle are:

1. Topkapı (entrance of The Castle) 5. Hamam

2. Helvacılar 6. Ağalık

3. Cüt Kahve 7. Zindan

4. Yedi Kızlar 8. Kılcılar (katma) Bazar


(53) The most important and oldest districts of Eskiyaka

that is placed next to The Castle are:

1. Ahi Hüseyin 8. İmam Kasım

2. Avcılar 9. Karakaç

3. Bulağ 10. Musalla

4. Büyük Bazar (çarşı) 11. Piryadi

5. Çay 12. Sakahane

6. Çukur 13. Seyit Kızı Slope

7. Gedikler 14. Zeve

The oldest districts in the other side of Kirkuk (Karşıyaka)


1. Begler 2. Şaturlu 3. Sarıkahya

The districts mentioned above were constituted naturally

without any administrative interference. If we investigate

linguistically; we realize that the names of the majority of

these districts are Turkish names. For example, Sarıkahya,

Avcılar, Gedikler, Karakaçlar and Begler are not only the

names of the districts but of Turkmen families. These families

have maintained their existence. We can observe that the

names of the other districts are either Turkish and Arabic or

semi Turkish and semi Arabic. The situation in villages and

towns around the city is not different.



One of the most considerable things that reveal a city’s

identity and the cultural heritage over the historical course is

the poets, writes, and authors who lived in that city.

İmamüddin (54) Nesimi is the oldest poet of Iraqi Turkmens.

Nesimi, the pioneer of Turkish Sufism, lived between 1370

and 1417. He is famous for his hurufism and well-known and

respected by the Bektashies. Yet, he was accused of atheism

and murdered. His fame spread to the Balkans, Azerbaijan and

Turkmenistan. A splendid statue of Nesimi was erected in

Baku by the Soviet government.


(55) Another poet who might be only compared to Nesimi

was Mehmed Süleyman Fuzuli. He was arguably born in

Kirkuk. He died in 1556. A house and a mosque are registered

in his name in the records of the Kirkuk Castle. Undoubtedly;

he is the greatest poet of the Oguz-Turk literature. Also an

excellent statue of him was erected in Baku. Moreover one of

the biggest squares in Baku is named after “Fuzuli.”


(56) Moreover, the poems of forty-four Turkmen poets are

included in “Iraqi Contemporary Turks Poets Anthology”

which was prepared and published by the Turkish Ministry of

Culture. In this anthology; the earliest poet’s date of birth is

1880 and the latest poet’s date of birth is 1959. The

observation on these poets reveals that thirty-seven out of

forty-four poets are from Kirkuk. When we classify the poems

of these poets, we can observe that thirty-one out of these

forty-four poets wrote at least one poem on Kirkuk.


(57) The book which was entitled “Contemporary Poets

of Turcoman Women” and published in 1993 by the Iraqi

Ministry of Culture is yet another example of Turkmen

literature. In this study, we gather critical information about

twenty-six female Turcoman writers. The oldest woman

included in this anthology was born in 1932 and the youngest

was born in 1972. Seventeen of these female poets are from

Kirkuk, eight of them are from other Turkish cities.


(58) Also, there are a lot of Turcoman researchers who

study Kirkuk Culture. Ata Terzibaşı is the most prominent of

them. Terzibaşı wrote 276 essays and 26 books. (59) All of the

books and 77 percent of the essays are on Kirkuk Turcoman

culture. It is important to note that in Iraq there has been no

other person or institution that wrote such many works of art

on a city.



As it should be clear from this review; Kirkuk has culturally

been a Turkish city for a long time. Also the majority of its

citizens have always been Turkmens within the natural

progress of the city. After the 1920’s the political interferences

in the identity of the city started; after 1960’s these

interferences increased and after 1970, it become serious.

Cultural erosion in Kirkuk became more intense and a planned

activity of the government during the reign of Saddam. In the

Iraq-Iran war; people of the city were either squandered or

exiled. The embargo imposed on Iraq after 1991 proved to be

a disaster for the city.


(60) Saddam’s fall, unfortunately, didn’t solve the

problems. On the contrary, the erosion continued in a different

style; only the actors have changed. Arabization ended and

this time a fast Kurdization activity began. Therefore Kirkuk,

which was occupied by the English in 1918, not only failed to

blend its rich culture with contemporary values; but also faced

the risk of losing its identity completely.

Saddam tried to arabize the city by changing its name as El-Tamim,

and now the Kurdish political leaders announce that they regard this

city as the heart of Kurdistan and that they will fight for the

city, if necessary.

A question that comes to mind is: in which century are

these people living? Is it easy to change the identity of any

city only by occupying it by force? Also, why did Saddam try

to Arabize Kirkuk, but not Süleymaniye?

The answer is clear to me: because Kirkuk is an oil-rich city.

And now why do Kurdish leaders proclaim not Duhok but Kirkuk

as the heart of the so-called Kurdish land? The reasons for English

occupation in Kirkuk and Saddam’s desire to arabize the city

today are all the same. The struggle is not for Kirkuk or

Kirkuk’s inhabitants, but for Kirkuk’s oil.

Now we, as Turkmens, would like to ask some questions:

Turkmens have contributed the values mentioned above to the

cultural heritage of Kirkuk for centuries. But the Kurdish

people occupied the city in 1991 and in 2003. (61) (62) (63)



They looted the shops and stores; lit the official title

deeds and the population registers. If Kirkuk is really a

Kurdish city, why did they lit and loot title deed and offices of

vital records? Have those who are claiming that Kirkuk is a

Kurdish city and the heart of the so-called Kurdistan been able

to contribute anything to the culture of this city throughout the

history? Let us know the values, if any, they contributed to the

city. How many newspapers and journals have they been able

to publish up to now in this city? We know tens of Kurdish

writers, artists, and musician from north of Iraq. How many of

them were born in Kirkuk? Also, how many mosques, covered

bazaars, barracks, stone bridges and palaces did they build in

the entire history of Kirkuk? Did any group other than the

Turkmens live in the Kirkuk Castle? How many Kurdish poets

write poems for Kirkuk? How many Kurdish musicians

composed music for Kirkuk? How many historical

architectural works do they have in Kirkuk? The answer to

these questions is obvious and everybody knows it.


(65) Final Conclusion

Despite all these facts, the Turkmens are not saying that

Kirkuk is the heart of Turkmenistan but insisting that Kirkuk

is a city that belongs to all Iraqi people and the oil income of

this city should be fairly distributed among the Iraqi people.

On the other side the Kurdish political groups have dared to

claim that Kirkuk is situated in the so-called Kurdistan and

they should exclusively have the oil income.


(66) The problems exist partly because of the fact that the

U.S. has followed wrong policies in the region. No doubt that

the Iraqi people, including the Turkmens, are grateful to the

American people due to the fact that they saved us from

Saddam. However, not only that the Iraqi people did not

receive the justice, democracy, freedom and welfare promised

by the U.S. government, but also the previous order, though it

was a bad one, disappeared with the arrival of the American

soldiers. The U.S. has not been able to create a new order yet.

Moreover, it has ignored the injustices and wrongful

behaviours in the region.

All of these indicate that the case of Kirkuk should be

internationally debated and certain parameters such as cultural

contributions should be determined. This would be the most

appropriate way to reach lasting solutions on the question.

Natural sources of this city should be under the control of

central government in Baghdad; not under the control of any

single ethnic group.

 (67) Kirkuk should have a special status

that would give Turkmens, Arabs and Kurds equal

representative rights and ensure that no group will be in a

position to dominate other groups.


(68) The real owners of Kirkuk have done their best for the

city. Today, without a just arbitrator; Kirkuk cannot find its

real owner. Kirkuk should be the heart of Turcoman, Arab,

and Kurdish peoples’ brotherhood, not the heart of the so-called

Kurdistan. Without abandoning of fanatic approaches, it

is impossible to establish the peace in Iraq.


(69) The cultural heritage of Kirkuk should be survived.

Thank you very much.

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