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5 March 1999, Volume 2, Number 9

THE IRAQI TURKOMANS: WHO THEY ARE AND WHAT THEY WANT.

A key to understanding why the maintenance of Iraq's territorial integrity is viewed by many as critical is a knowledge of the country's enormous ethnic and religious diverity, the aspirations of these groups, and the problems they face now. One of these ethnolinguistic components is the Turkoman minority which has made a major effort to define itself both to itself and to the world community.

At the First (Iraqi) Turkoman Congress, held in Irbil from 4-7 October 1997, a "Declaration of Principles" was adopted. The second Article defines who they are and what the name "Turkoman" represents: "The name Turkoman represents a people belonging to the Muslim Oghuz branch." According to this principle, they "migrated from Central Asia to today's Turkmenistan." This migration, according to them, began in the year 53 A.H. Here they are no doubt referring to the migrations leading to the foundation of the Seljuk empires, which also brought a large part of the ancestors of the present-day Turks of Anatolia, the Caucasus, and Turkmenistan to the regions which they now inhabit. All three Turkic peoples -- the Turks of Turkey and the Balkans, the Azeris of Azerbaijan and Iran, and the Turkmen of Turkmenistan, Iran, and Afghanistan are members of the Oghuz group of Turkic languages. That means that there is a relatively high degree of mutual linguistic comprehensibility among them.

Article Three of the "Declaration of Principles" clarifies how the Iraqi Turkomans perceive their linguistic kinships among the Oghuz Turks: "The official written language of the Turkmans is Istanbul Turkish, and its alphabet is the new Latin alphabet." By contrast, in Turkmenistan, the official written language is the Turkmen of Ashgabat, and the alphabet is the modified Cyrillic script imposed on them under the Soviet regime.

When Ashgabat discovered the presence of Turkomans in Iraq in the early 1970s, a Turkmen literary newspaper published a number of Iraqi Turkoman short stories which had to be accompanied by vocabulary lists to aid readers in understanding the language. This is because, as stated in Article Three, the Turkic language in Iraq was much closer to that of Istanbul than Turkmenistan. Hence, the ambiguity of the name "Turkoman;" it is, firstly, an English rendition of a persified expression; Turkman represents an arabified term, and "Turkmen" a genuine ethnonym, although it is not ethnolinguistically accurate. The Turkomans of Iraq have been cut off from having a voice in the international community and have thus been unable to define themselves. And that has meant that others have defined who they are rather than they themselves. The convening of the First Iraqi Turkoman Congress was but the first step in reattaining an international identity; the convening of the February 1999 congress in Irbil will be a further step in this direction.

The political organization of the Iraqi Turkomans is relatively recent. The Turkman Front was established on 24 April 1995 and sought to unify existing Turkoman political structures and parties to enable them to lobby in Baghdad and elsewhere for national rights. According to the most recent Iraqi census, the Turkomans amounted to some 16 percent of Iraq's population, just behind the Kurds.

There are also some other Turkmen political groups which are not necessarily aligned with the Turkmen Front but whose goals are similar or even identical. One is the Islamic Union of Iraq's Turkomans. The Islamic Union's view of a post-Saddam Iraq is that a future regime must reflect the "ethnic and sectarian mosaic" which is Iraq's diverse population. Each side must be able "to obtain its rights within the framework of Iraq's unity and sovereignty." There must be a "pluralistic political system absorbing all components of the people within its legislative and executive mechanism according to each component's percentage of the population" (Interview with Abbas al-Bayyaty, secretary general of Islamic Union of Iraq's Turkomans, "Al-Riyadh": Riyadh: 17 January).

Following an Iraqi attack on Irbil on 31 August 1996, the offices of Turkoman political parties were raided and many Turkomans were arrested. Subsequently, a number of Turkoman political parties and organizations signed a memorandum of understanding to bring together all the Turkomans and to try to ensure unity among them. This memorandum paved the way for the convening of the 1st Turkoman Congress in October 1997.

At the congress the Executive Board of the Turkman Front was elected; four parties and organizations were then part of the Executive Board: the Iraq National Turkmen Party; the Turkmeneli Party; the Turkmen Independent's Movement; and the Turkman Brotherhood Association (Ocak). Also playing a role was an NGO called the Turkmeneli Cooperation and Culture Foundation.

In 1997 the Turkomans also had a television channel broadcasting 14 hours a day and a radio station broadcasting 18 hours a day. There were also 15 primary schools and three high schools at which Turkish was the medium of instruction. Since then, these facilities have been closed down by Baghdad.

The situation of human and civil rights in Iraq as a whole continued to deteriorate from 1997 to the present. A report by the United Nations, "Situation of human rights in Iraq," dated 15 October 1997, spells out certain other problems confronting the Turkomans. One of them is the problem of forced displacement. The report states that at present, forcible relocations continue to take place in the context of a policy aimed at changing the demography of the oil-rich sectors of Kirkuk and Khanaqin by deporting ethnic Kurds and Turkoman families. Although the practice of forced relocation and deportation by the government of Iraq to decrease the presence of the Kurdish and Turkoman population living in that area and to strengthen their hold on the important economic and strategic governate of Kirkuk is not new, the scale of these activities increased in 1997." Furthermore, "reports and testimonies received by the special rapporteur indicate that the victims of displacement are almost exclusively Kurds, Turkomans, and Assyrians living in the city of Kirkuk and its surrounding."

Also, according to this report, the expropriation of Turkoman agricultural land has become commonplace. People whose lands were expropriated were paid a sum not even equivalent to one year's yield. "Ownership of the land has allegedly been transferred to high-level officials of the regime, including some of Saddam Husseyn's family," the report says.

As it stands, the government of Iraq does not acknowledge the displacements; as a consequence, according to the UN report, "no official statistics are available on the number of displaced persons in Iraq, and there exist no remedies to address the problem."

The report filed by Special Rapporteur Max van der Stoel in 1998 did not differ from the preceding one. He found that "according to testimonies received, the practice of forced displacement from Kirkuk, Khanaqin, and Douz continues to be implemented by the Iraqi authorities. Kurds and Turkomans who settled in these places after the 1950s are the principal victims of this policy." They are required to move either to the south of the country or to the three northern governates.

Van der Stoel concluded that "during 1997, the situation of human rights in Iraq did not improve. To the contrary, based on the numerous and serious allegations of human rights violations received throughout last year, the special rapporteur concludes that the situation of human rights has rather deteriorated."

And the report notes that the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has noted reports of discrimination against certain minorities -- the Kurds, the marsh people, the Assyrians, the Shia Muslims, and the Turkomans.

The U.S. State Department's Iraq Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1998 (DOS: Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor: 26 February 1999) notes that in 1998 "there was no improvement in the government's extremely poor human rights record." Turkomans, as well as Kurds in Kirkuk were targeted to be expelled from the city as part of a government policy.

But it is not only the government in Baghdad that has overlooked or trampled on Turkoman interests. At a panel discussion held in Ankara on 10 January, the Turkmen Front complained that it had been excluded from the Washington Agreement. Professor Hasan Koni told the gathering that for all practical purposes an independent Kurdish state was being established in northern Iraq and that this new state is preventing the 2.5 million Turkomans in Iraq from exercising their rights ("Turkish Daily News," 10 January). Panelists claimed that part of the blame for this falls on Turkey, perceived as the natural protector of the interests of the Iraqi Turkomans. Panelists maintained that Ankara lacks a clear policy and that others are exploiting this situation. Some Turkomans living in areas under control of Mas'ud Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) believe that the KDP is even subjecting them to a policy of ethnic cleansing.

Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit presented a revised regional security plan in 1999 which updates the one he had presented in 1995. In the new plan the Turkomans, for the first time, are given a role to play. The Iraqi government "must guarantee human rights for all its citizens, regardless of ethnicity, and reach agreement about these issues with representatives of Kurds, Turkomans and Shiites." A second stipulation concerning the Turkomans is that "the world should be reminded of the Turkoman presence in Iraq. Baghdad should be aware of this presence and it should be noted that providing certain rights and guarantees to the Turkomans will contribute to ending the division in the country." ("Turkish Daily News," 28 January)

One of the political parties which is also a part of the Turkmen Front, the Turkmeneli Party, feels that the establishment of an autonomous region for the Turkomans would be a good way to gain back some of the rights the Turkoman have lost under the Ba'thist regime, and feel they might lose if the Washington Agreement is implemented as written. The autonomous Turkoman region would be formed between Mosul and Kirkuk, the area of the initial concentration of the Turkoman population ("Turkish Probe," 24 January).

In an earlier interview with the "Turkish Probe," Mustafa Kemal Yaycili, leader of the Iraq National Turkoman Party, said that "as it is, the plan being implemented under the Washington Agreement offers two options: the establishment of an independent Kurdish state, or a tripartite federation of Kurds, Shiites, and Arabs."

The Turkoman Council was supposed to have met in February to decide on a position to take toward the Washington Agreement. As of the beginning of March there had been no news reports that such a session had taken place, aside from a terse statement on Turkish television on 2 March that the decision had been taken to denounce the Washington Agreement. The Washington Agreement is perceived by many of the Turkoman political strategists as the basis of a movement to create a Kurdistan within the framework of a federal Iraq, or even to create an independent Kurdistan. Thus far, the experience of the Turkoman and the Assyrian ethnic minorities under Kurdish rule has not been much different than their experience under Baghdad's rule. Thus, it is no surprise that they were excluded from the process leading to the Agreement; it is a process neither minority could ever have accepted. (David Nissman)

OCALAN ADMITS ESTABLISHMENT OF MED-TV STATION. According to Anatolia on 26 February, Abdullah Ocalan admitted the role of the PKK in the founding of the controversial MED-TV station, which, until very recently was the world's only Kurdish-language television station. He said the license was obtained from a firm in Great Britain, and the satellite from France.

He also said that the appearance of "certain singers" in a concert organized by MED-TV could be interpreted as support for the PKK.

In the international media community, MED-TV's PKK affiliation has often been discussed, but the management of the station has often denied it. Only a few days earlier, Hikmet Tabak, director general of MED-TV had claimed that "our broadcasts are not partisan or ideological." (MED-TV, 22 February) Now the denials will be weaker because of Ocalan's statement. Competition with the Kurdistan Regional Government's new TV station will probably also cost MED-TV some of its audience share. (David Nissman)

OCALAN'S ARREST AND REGIONAL WATER SUPPLIES. The problems of water supply in the region of Turkey, Syria, and Iraq has long been at the center of attention of all three countries. Ostensibly this has been based on control over the flow of the Tigris and Euphrates, the major sources of the water supply in this region. A recent article by Stephen Kinzer in "The New York Times" on 28 February throws another factor into the equation -- the Kurds and the PKK.

Kinzer asks why it was so easy for Ocalan to find foreign supporters for his rebellion against Turkish rule, and why Turkey has resisted his rebellion so fiercely. Pointing out that there are many reasons for this history, psychology, and geopolitics, Kinzer says that "lurking behind them all, however, is water."

Kinzer's argument is that Syria and Iraq have both provided aid and succor to Ocalan and the PKK: Syria provided Ocalan with money, arms, and political cover, and Iraq allowed the PKK to build bases along the Turkish border to be used to infiltrate their guerrillas into Turkish territory. On the other hand, he points out, both countries brutally repressed their own Kurdish minorities. The reason is, he says, that "Syria and Iraq want water from rivers that spring from Turkish soil."

Now, there is a major problem in the pro-PKK strategy employed by Syria and Iraq to prevent Turkey from developing its water resources to the maximum extent possible. First, Turkey is the upriver country, and there are generally no international laws concerning the rights of upriver countries as opposed to downriver countries, like Syria and Iraq, with regard to water resources. Second, the PKK, while not negligible as a threat, is no longer as serious a threat; in essence, the capture of Ocalan has removed the Kurdish threat from the board. And third, last fall Syria backed down when faced with a Turkish military threat, and Iraq no longer has control of its entire northern border with Turkey.

The Kurds in Turkey are concentrated in southeastern Anatolia, occupying the territory through which the increasingly valuable Tigris and Euprates flow on their way to Syria and Iraq. The region is also the site of the huge Southeast Anatolia Project, a complex of 22 dams and 19 hydroelectric plants. When completed, and the project is within a decade of completion, it will, according to Kinzer, increase the amount of irrigated land in Turkey by 40 percent and provide one-quarter of Turkey's electrical power needs. The primary beneficiaries of this will be the population of some six million, mostly Kurdish, who live in the region. The Turkish government feels that the benefits of the project will undercut the appeal of Kurdish separatism. Syria and Iraq feel that the project will deprive them of needed water. Giving the Kurds of Turkey regional autonomy where the Southeast Anatolia Project is located would potentially deprive Turkey of the fruits of its endeavors.

Within the region encompassed by the Southeast Anatolia Project, development is proceeding apace. Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit recently described the scope of the development thus far. At a press conference on 1 March, Ecevit pointed out that "security from now on will not be the reason for private sector investments in eastern and southeastern Anatolia. Because security has been provided in the region." (Anatolia, 1 March).

Security may have been provided in the region, but Syria and Iraq still feel deprived of what they claim are needed water resources. The Kurds are left with only the region under control of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Northern Iraq. In the future, it is the KRG that will be most threatened by the water situation because they will become another downriver entity sharing the water resources of the Tigris and Euphrates. And they will be dependent on Turkey for their water, as will Iraq. Turkey's strong tacit support for the U.S. position, which was expressed during Tariq Aziz's Ankara visit, Turkey's relations with Iraq, recently warmer than at any time in the recent past, became somewhat cooler once again. Iraqi Foreign Minister Muhammad Sa'id Al-Sahhaf said in an interview with "Al-Hayah" on 25 February that Turkey's line of moving away from Iraq is tantamount to "a political deal with the United States" and that the continuation of Turkish stands against Iraq "will end all joint interests between us." That is not a factor that will contribute to the stability of the region.

Thus, the capture of Ocalan will have little effect on the region outside Turkey, and even less impact on the water supply. It will, however, affect the security of southeastern Anatolia positively by strengthening it economically. (David Nissman)

Compiled by David Nissman.

Copyright (c) 1999. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org



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