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
(1) THE IDENTITY OF KIRKUK
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
(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
(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
(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
(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.
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.
(23) THE CULTURAL IDENTITY OF 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.
(25) PRESS AND PUBLICATION IN KIRKUK
(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.
(33) THE ARCHITECTURAL STRUCTURE AND THE
DISTRICTS OF THE CITY
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.
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
(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.
THE POETS OF KIRKUK
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.