Iraq has been home to numerous civilizations in the course of history. The most important community in those lands, after the Arabs and Kurds, are the Turkmens.
Turkmens settled in the region with the Seljuks in 1055 and adopted the land as their homeland.
The days of peace for the Turkmens, who lived trouble-free under Ottoman administration in Iraq for 400 years, came to an end with the defeat of the Ottomans in the First World War. The Ottoman Empire contracted as far as Mosul during the First World War, and surrendered by signing the Armistice of Mudros. However, the British occupied Mosul despite the armistice. Although the Turkish Republic objected to this occupation, it left the future of the region to the Lausanne Conference in order to avoid fighting the British again. Following lengthy negotiations, Turkey was forced to renounce its rights over Mosul under the Ankara Agreement of 1926.
Following the demise of the Ottoman Empire, the Turkmens were subjected to assimilation, massacre and migration. Large numbers of Turkmens were killed in the three-day ‘Kirkuk massacre of 1959.’
Under the policy of Arabizing the Turkmens during the Ba’ath period in 1975, large numbers of Arabs were settled in the area and were given various incentives to do so. Under a decision taken by the Ba’ath regime in 1980, the Turkmens were to be forced to migrate to three separate regions and thus dispersed. However, that decision was never enforced due to the Iran-Iraq War.
For our Turkmen brothers, the period after the First World War was one when oppression, exile, mistreatment and executions became routine matters. During that time, Turkmens were not permitted to start businesses without an Arab partner, or even to buy property or commercial vehicles.
Following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1991, the regime of Saddam Hussein savagely put down an uprising by Kurds and Turkmens in the north of Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of our Kurdish and Turkmen brothers fleeing these incidents sought shelter as refugees in Turkey and Iran.
Turkmens enjoyed greater freedom between the First Gulf War and the invasion of Iraq in 2003. In that period up to 2003, Turkish-language schools began operating (in Kirkuk in particular) and Turkish-language magazines and newspapers and radio and TV channels began operating.
Although the Turkmens experienced a number of difficulties after 2003, especially in Kirkuk, little attention was paid to them. However, they reappeared on the agenda with ISIS’ attacks in Iraq as of early June this year.
Today the Turkmens do not have any territorial integrity and are living dispersed among Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish areas and a majority of them are Shiites.
Living in the region since Seljuk times and having adopted this land as their homeland, the Turkmens do not harbor any separatist ambitions and neither do they have any armed forces of their own.
ISIS is particularly interested in those parts of Iraq inhabited by the Turkmens. The Turkmens live in Sunni majority areas, the main targets for ISIS, which also possess the country’s richest oil fields. ISIS has now joined the long-standing power struggle in these oil-rich regions between the Baghdad government and the Iraq Kurdistan Regional Government (IKRG) .
ISIS’ operations in the region are seriously impacting on the presence of the Turkmens. ISIS is now implementing a policy starkly reminiscent of the earlier Ba’athist regime’s strategy of “ethnic cleansing” the Turkmens from the area. Many Turkmens have been driven out of the region, and those who have been unable to flee have been detained and executed.
Iraq is in a state of turmoil with the presence of ISIS. The country is on the brink of falling apart.
The area where the Turkmens live in Iraq is exactly in the middle of the lines of partition between the different populations in the country. If the country is split up, the Turkmen lands will be dispersed; some will be left in Shiite territory, some in Sunni and others in Kurdish geography.
In the face of all these developments, we once again see how important Turkey’s policies aimed to maintain the territorial integrity of Iraq are, for both the Iraqi people and for our Turkmen brothers.
It is very important for the Turkmen, Arab and Kurdish populations of Iraq to live together in political union, maintaining their territorial integrity irrespective of sectarian differences and preserving their social, political, cultural, legal and economic rights for Iraq and other countries in the region.
Under the umbrella of the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF), our Turkmen brothers have important responsibilities in resolving the problems between the Baghdad government and the IKRG, particularly of late, and in the sectarian conflicts in the country.
Throughout history, the Turkmens have sought to bring peace, tranquility and brotherhood to Iraq, instead of tension and instability. What the Turkmens desire is not the division of Iraq along ethnic lines, but the maintenance of Iraqi territorial integrity and the establishment of collaboration between different ethnic and religious groups on the basis of justice and tolerance.
In the present state of affairs in Iraq, the fact that the Turkmens have not established relations based on self-interest with other communities represents an advantage for the future of Iraq; the present situation of the Turkmens means that they are the only community capable of acting as an intermediary to hold Iraq together.
Turkey fully and strongly supports the Turkmens in their role as intermediaries in the region, and the Turkmens are seeking to establish dialogue between Arabs and Kurds. The maintenance of Iraq’s territorial integrity is exceedingly important for the peace of the peoples of the region.
It must not be forgotten that the Islamic world will grow stronger, not through every Muslim group with its own ethnic or sectarian identity founding a state of its own, but by their coming together, uniting their forces and collaborating together. Division is the way that leads only to loss of strength while unity is the way forward to success, well-being and stability.
Adnan Oktar's piece on Voix Magazine&Riyadh Vision: