“It’s maybe not as powerful as a law, but it opens a door,” Mahir Nakip, an Iraqi Turkmen from Kirkuk who has been living in Turkey for a long time and spokesperson of the İstanbul-based Kirkuk Foundation, commented to Sunday’s Zaman. Despite admitting that this represents a very positive step for the Turkmen he also added, “But the real success would be to put the content of the report into law.”
Hicran Kazancı, the Iraqi Turkmen Front’s representative in Turkey, is a little more cautious. “The adoption of the report is of historic importance, but we need to see what the practice will be,” he told Sunday’s Zaman. Noting that the Iraqi constitution already bestows on Turkmen many of the demands brought together in the report, he added, “But Turkmen have not been allowed to enjoy those rights until today.”
After the American occupation began in 2003, Turkmen were victimized, facing discrimination in Iraq, as the Turkish Parliament rejected a motion allowing US land forces to enter Iraqi territory by way of Turkey in the days leading up to the occupation. The Turkmen people in Iraq are estimated to make up nearly 10 percent of the population, but they were not considered to be one of the constituent elements of the Iraqi state together with the Arabs and the Kurds, and thus have been underrepresented in politics and government office. And in provinces such as Kirkuk, Arabs, in accordance with an Arabization policy that was in effect before the occupation, and Kurds, after the occupation, were allowed to seize pieces of land that officially belonged to Turkmen.
The adoption of the report by the Iraqi parliament is actually just an elementary step because, as Kazancı noted, a high committee on Turkmen affairs needs to be established first, and then the committee will set about studying the demands of Turkmen enumerated in the report. Kazancı prefers to be a little cautious because in recent years the Turkmen people were also entitled to a share of the national budget, but that money has never materialized.
Still, Turkmen are hopeful. “This is a festival day for us,” Necat Hüseyin, a Turkmen member of the Kirkuk City Council, said at a press conference in Kirkuk last Sunday. Noting that Turkmens in Iraq have been waiting for this day for eight years, he added: “We used to be a second-class people in Iraq, but now have become a first-class people. And that’s made us very happy.”
It is noted in the report that the Turkmen, previously usurped rights are to be reinstated and that Turkmens are to be allowed to have representation in public institutions in accordance with their population. That means quite a lot for the Turkmen. In Kirkuk, which was historically a Turkmen city, there are today 32 directorates for public institutions, of which only one, the directorate of national education, is headed by a Turkmen, while Turkmen in Kirkuk, in spite of a large-scale Kurdish migration to Kirkuk in the years following the occupation, make up at least one-third of the total population.
Similarly, in the provincial governing board in Kirkuk, Turkmen have only nine chairs out of a total of 41. Not only in Kirkuk, but also in cities such as Tuzhurmatu, Tal Afar, Altunkopru, to some extent in Musul city, Arbil and Hanekin, Turkmens now have the expectation that they will, in public institutions, be entitled to occupy a considerable number of posts of which they are presently deprived to a great extent.
A designated amount of money from the state budget will also be allocated to the Turkmens, which would allow them to promote their culture, should the Iraqi government act in accordance with the report. “Getting a share of about 6 percent would be a success for the Turkmen,” said Mehmet Tütüncü, a Turkmen who came to Turkey in 1991 after the First Gulf War and who is now chairman of the Iraqi Turks Culture and Mutual Aid Association based in İstanbul.
With the new step, underrepresentation in politics is also expected be eliminated. In the Iraqi parliament, there are today only nine Turkmen deputies, and with Turkmens benefitting from a national quota in the election system, the number of seats to be occupied by Turkmen deputies would be considerably higher. Another significant benefit of the report for Turkmens will be in the area of education. “Schools Turkmen children go to are in a very bad shape,” Tütüncü told Sunday’s Zaman. But from now on, Turkmen schools will get financial support from the state as other state schools do. Last but not least, in the area of education, Turkmen schools will be able offer courses for Turkmens in an alphabet which is suitable to the nature of their language, which will be the Latin alphabet and not Arabic script, thanks to which education in Turkmen schools will be able to utilize curricula from Turkey.
Tütüncü is optimistic about the step the parliament has taken. “It’s promising being described as the third constituent people,” he stated. He is hopeful that this new step will allow many expectations of the Turks in Iraq to be met. “We’ve been getting signals in this direction,” he remarked.
The adoption of the report by the Iraqi parliament may be a move by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is on bad terms with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in the north of the country, to have Turkmen on his side in the Iraqi equation. “This is certainly an effort by Maliki to get Turkmen on his side,” said Kaan Dilek, general coordinator of the International Middle East Peace Research Center (IMPR). The same move may also be interpreted as an olive branch held out by Maliki to the Turkish government. “Maliki may be giving a message by way of the Turkmens to improve [deteriorating] relations with Turkey,” he commented to Sunday’s Zaman. It’s noteworthy that Maliki, appearing on a Kurdish television station in Iraq, said about a week ago that the problems Iraq and Turkey have are only at the level of discourse and that problems between Turkey and Iraq are not insurmountable.
Turkmen in Syria may face similar fate
It’s feared that Turkmens in Syria, whose population is estimated to be around 1.5-2 million, with another 1.5 million Turkmens having already been assimilated into the Arab ethnic identity, may face similar problems to the Iraqi Turkmen in the days after the regime of President Bashar al-Assad falls, given that Syrian Turkmen are even more widely scattered throughout Syria than the Turkmen are in Iraq.