Iraq’s Turkmen mobilize for a post-ISIL future

When fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group captured Kirkuk last October, hundreds of people poured onto the streets to help security forces fight back in the northern Iraqi city.

Among them were dozens of fighters under the blue-and-white Turkmen banner, representing a rare occasion when Iraq’s third-largest ethnic group united to defend the community.

Fighters representing the roughly two to three million Iraqi Turkmen – approximately 10 percent of Iraq’s population – are part of a wider mobilisation to defend what they call Turkmen Eli, or “Land of the Turkmen”. This thin swath of land extends northwest to southeast along the frontlines between ISIL, the Iraqi army, and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

Since 2014, thousands of Turkmen have signed up to fight against ISIL, including with the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMU), a group of predominantly Shia militia that have provided vital momentum to Iraq’s war effort but have been also repeatedly accused of committing human rights abuses.

The anti-ISIL Turkmen fighters find themselves facing other Turkmen who have joined ISIL – a dark twist in a war that has seen many communities pitted against each other.

Arshad al-Salihi, head of the Iraqi Turkmen Front, has called for the establishment of an autonomous zone following the retaking of Turkmen regions around Mosul. But many doubt the feasibility of such a zone, particularly given the sectarian divisions that have torn Iraq’s Turkmen apart since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Iraq’s Turkmen have suffered immensely since ISIL’s emergence. Mehdi al-Beyati, a spokesperson for the Turkmen Rescue Foundation and former Iraqi minister of human rights, estimates that 600,000 Turkmen have been driven from their homes and scattered into refugee camps. Another 1,200 Turkmen women and children are still being kept as hostages.

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Turkmen leader demands equal rights to Arabs, Kurds in Syria

The head of the Syrian Turkmen Assembly Emin Bozoglan spoke on Friday with the Iraqi Turkmeneli TV about his assessment of the Syrian peace talks in the Kazakh capital Astana in which he participated as part of the opposition. He sees the welfare of the Turkmen minority as being closely linked to neighbouring Turkey’s power and influence in Syria, Eurasia News reported.

Bozoglan indicated that the Turkmens had been among the Syrian opposition’s diplomatic mission attending the Astana peace talks.

“We expressed our views as the Syrian Turkmen Assembly…It was hoped that the ceasefire would be applied [and] that those who violate the ceasefire are sanctioned, and that the relevant guarantor states guarantee [the ceasefire] and demands were made to this end,” Bozoglan said.

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Turkish PM Urges Unity Among Iraqi Turkmen

During a two-day visit to Iraq and the Kurdistan Region, Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim urged unity to a Turkmen population divided by Sunni-Shia sectarian lines and shifting political allegiances.

In a meeting on Saturday in Baghdad with several prominent Turkmen leaders and politicians, Yildirim reiterated Turkey’s support to his ethnic kins.

According to a press release on the Turkish Prime Ministry website, Yildirim stated Turkmens “would give no chance to those who try to ignite strife among themselves and between Turkmens and Turkey.”

It was not clear who the Turkish PM was referring to.

Mostly Muslim by religious affiliation, the Turkmen of Iraq are split between the Shia and Sunni denominations; a situation which corresponds to allegiance with Iran and Turkey respectively.

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OPINION – The fate of Iraq’s Turkmens and Turkey’s role

The ongoing Iraqi offensive to oust Daesh from the northern city of Mosul has brought Iraq’s Turkmen population into the spotlight.

Turkmens are a Turkic ethnic group based largely in Iraq and Syria, where they live alongside large Arab and Kurdish populations. The Turkmen community, which includes both Sunni and Shia Muslims, shares close cultural affinities with the Turkish people.

The Iraqi Turkmen community has felt the largest impact from Daesh’s seizure of vast swathes of territory in northern and western Iraq in 2014.

Geographical change 

Before Daesh’s emergence in Iraq, Turkmens used to live in northern Iraq, in cities like Mosul, Kirkuk, Erbil, and Diyala. Their land, however, began to shrink, particularly in Mosul and Kirkuk, when the militant group overran Mosul and other cities in northern and western Iraq.

Many Turkmens were forced to flee their homes and took refuge in other areas due to the Daesh militants.

The predominantly Turkmen areas of Tal Afar and Tuz Khurmatu topped the list of cities that saw the biggest Turkmen exodus since the Daesh emergence in Iraq. Read the rest of this entry »

Iraq’s Turkmens call for independent province

BAGHDAD — Iraqi Turkmens, who are citizens of Iraq with Turkish origins, have been calling for their own independent province in the Tal Afar district west of Mosul, located in the center of the Ninevah province. The Turkmens’ demands coincide with calls for the establishment of other new provinces in Ninevah, such as the Ninevah Plain province for Christians and Sinjar province for the Yazidis.

All of these projects are based on religious or ethnic division, whether among Turkmens, Kurds, Arabs, Sunnis or Shiites. Some see these proposals as the solution to the sectarian, religious and ethnic diversity problems that have caused so much killing and displacement of minorities since the Islamic State (IS) took over the areas in June 2014.

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Iraqi Turkmen Front denounces Demirtas visit to Kirkuk

Kirkuk, Kurdistan Region – Kirkuk’s Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF) has denounced Selahattin Demirtas, head of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), for visiting the city, saying Kurdish parties should not bring their issues into multi-ethnic Kirkuk.

Demirtas’s visit, the ITF charged, was part of an attempt to “erase the Turkmen identity” of Kirkuk.

“Kirkuk does not have to be part of the political rivalries since it is the heart of the Iraqi Turkmen,” read a statement by the party.

The Turkmen party sees the HDP’s visit to Kirkuk as a conspiracy against the Turkmen. It said in a statement that “nothing could erase the Turkmen identity in Kirkuk.”

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Arab, Kurdish influence threatens Iraqi Turkmen

An Iraqi Turkmen leader has warned that predominantly-Turkmen areas in Iraq are at risk due to increasing Arab and Kurdish cultural influences.

Erset Salihi, leader of the Iraqi Turkmen Front, cited as an example the Turkmen city of Tal Afar, a district of the northern city of Mosul.

Mosul, provincial capital of the Nineveh province and Iraq’s second largest city, was overrun by the ISIL extremist group in 2014. Read the rest of this entry »

Turkmen Create Tribal Force for Mosul Operation

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s Turkmen bloc is preparing a tribal force to participate in the liberation of Mosul, the bloc’s president said on Saturday.

The President of the Iraqi Turkmen bloc, Arshad Salhi, met with the policy director of the U.S. embassy in Iraq in Baghdad on Saturday to exchange views on the Mosul operation. Salhi announced the plan to create the tribal force to join the Mosul operation. Read the rest of this entry »

Syrian Opposition Forces Try to Retake Strategic Turkmen Area

The opposition reportedly mounted an offensive in a bid to retake villages in the predominantly Turkmen teritory near the coastal province of Latakia, the stronghold of Assad’s regime.

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Turkmen continue to suffer in Syria, Iraq

Turkmen continue to suffer the most due to lack of security and clashes in Syria and Iraq, Ersad Salihi, president of Iraqi Turkmen Front and Kirkuk parliamentarian, said Monday. Read the rest of this entry »