Kerkuk (Kerkük)-Türkman-Az

Turkomans: Diasopra of Azerbaijanian Turks in Iraq- Günéy Azerbaycan, Quzéy Azerbaycan və İraq Türkmanları bir bütövün parçalarıdır

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Southern Azeri - Iraqi Turkoman Connection

David Nissman

Note: All the "Turkmen"s in this article, have been replaced with "Turkoman" which is Azerbaijan Turks in Iraq. M.B.

The connection, or actual relationship between the southern Azeris, while it has been the subject of both southern Azeri and Iraqi Turkoman literature, has rarely, if ever, been highlighted outside of areas where the two peoples reside. If the southern Azeris and their difficulties with Iran have often been the subject of academic literature, the Iraqi Turkoman have not. The primary question, then, is who are the Iraqi Turkoman ?

There are some 3.5 million Iraqi Turkoman in Iraq, generally concentrated in Northern Iraq near the oil-city of Kirkuk. They are the third-largest ethnic minority in Iraq behind the Arabs and Kurds, and just ahead of the Assyrians.

The region (known commonly as Kurdistan) they inhabit has often been the subject of regional geopolitical struggles, primarily between the Ottomans and the Iranians, largely because it was situated at the junction of trade routes leading from the Ottoman Empire and Iran to Baghdad and the Persian Gulf. Long before oil became a significant geopolitical determinant, the area was a zone of conflict, both real and potential.

The Kirkuk region has been the subject of a monograph by Nouri Talabany, "Iraq's Policy of Ethnic Cleansing: Onslaught to Change the National/Demographic Characteristics of the Kirkuk Region" (London, 1999). In the late 19th century, Talabany notes that "one may consider the time of occupation of Kurdistan by the Saffawis during the reign of Shah Ismail as the point in time at which the enforced settlement of Turkomans in the area began. The Saffawid tried to impose the Shi'ite Qizilbashi' faith on the Kurds in an attempt to replace the Sunni Muslims whom they did not trust."

The Turkoman , thus, have been given the role of a microgeopolitical component in regional power struggles. It goes without saying that if Baghdad were able to remove the Turkoman component from the region, they would essentially be removing a future threat, not from the Turkoman, but from those who would protect them. In all this, it is then relevant to ask how the Iraqi Turkoman defines themselves. The first steps toward a self-definition were taken in the earlier efforts of the Iraqi Turkoman to form a modern political organization.

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 Turkomanistan." This migration, according to them, began in the year 53 A.H. Here they are no doubt referring to the immigrations 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 Turkomanistan to the regions which they now inhabit. All three Turkic peoples -- the Turks of Turkey and the Balkans, the Azerbaijanis of Azerbaijan and Iran, and the Turkoman of Turkomanistan, 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 3 of the "Declaration of Principles" clarifies how the Iraqi Turkoman perceive their linguistic kinship 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 Turkomanistan, the official written language is the Turkoman of Ashgabat, and the alphabet is the modified Cyrillic script imposed on them under the Soviet regime.

When Ashgabat discovered the presence of Turkoman in Iraq in the early 1970s, a Turkoman 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 3, the Turkic language in Iraq was much closer to that of Istanbul than Turkomanistan. Hence, the ambiguity of the name "Turkoman;" it is, firstly, an English rendition of a Persianified expression; Turkman represents an Arabified term, and "Turkoman" a genuine ethnonym, although it is not ethnolinguistically accurate. The Turkoman 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 reacquiring an international identity; the convening of the February 1999 congress in Irbil was a further step in this direction.

Some questions arise from their definition of themselves: if their officially accepted language, their language of education is Istanbul Turkish, then, in a world without politics (or geopolitics), their language would be Turkish, not Turkoman. Their language is clearly Oghuz but the Turkoman elements in it are vestigial, but there. The key to the solution is buried in their extremely complex history, especially in the period during and after their arrival in Iraq.

According to the noted regional history "Iraq's Policy of Ethnic Cleansing" by Nouri Talabany (London, 1999), the first stratum of the present-day Turkoman arrived during the Omayyad and Abbasid periods, where they were in demand by the rulers because of their prowess in battle. Very little is known about the language(s) they used during this period because there seem to be no surviving traces.

It is commonly believed that the period of a lasting settlement began during the Seljuk period in the 9th to 10th centuries. These Turkoman may indeed have been ethnically similar to the Turkoman of Turkomanistan in Central Asia.

The third stratum can be said to be that which arrived during the Mongol invasions of the regions. These Turks spoke a dialect closely akin to Azeri, something quite perceptible in the language and literature now. Religious differences also help in isolating dialectical elements: Talabany notes that "...Shi'a Turkomans have their own culture and have rituals of their own which differ from those of the Sunni Turkomans. The two sects have different dialects also; the Shi'a Turkomans' dialect is more akin to that of the Azeri Turks."

This strong Azeri influence may explain the close literary relations between the Azeris and the Iraqi Turkoman. At the beginning of 2000 an Iranian Azeri scholar, Qaybali Sakina, published an article in the southern Azeri journal "21 Azar," published by the Sweden-Azerbaijan Federation on "Iraqi Turkoman -- Southern Azeri Literary Relations" in which she highlights the works of the prominent Iraqi Turkoman writer, poet, literary historian, and folklorist Abdullatif Benderoglu. He has translated a number of modern Azeri writers (Northern and Southern) into Turkoman, and has analyzed the origins of Azeri poetry in his book "Azeri Poetry," published in Baghdad in 1989. He also wrote a response to the masterwork of the southern Azeri poet Memmedhuseyn Shahriyar, "Heidar Baba'ya selam." Benderoglu's poem is called "Gur-Gur Baba." Heidar Baba is a mountain dividing north (or independent) Azerbaijan from Iranian Azerbaijan; Gur-Gur Baba is a mountain in Kirkuk, which symbolizes the national aspirations of the Iraqi Turkoman.

Iraq's viewpoint is largely conditioned on two factors: the view of the Ba'th Party, which is promoting the ethnic cleansing effort directed against the Turkoman, and Baghdad's approach to relations with Turkey. In an interview with the London-based Arabic newspaper "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" of 23 September 2000, Iraq's former Prime Minister Adnan Al-Pachachi referred to talks he held with the Turkish foreign minister in 1966: He said that "three factors have always dictated our relations with Turkey. They are water, the situation of the Kurds, and the situation of the Turkomans in Iraq."

While water is irrelevant to the present topic, the Kurds have achieved a measure of autonomy, which some of the Turkoman share with them, but the Turkish relationship remains strong. Iraqi Turkoman relations with Turkey have not always been strong. When, in 1932 the British gave up their mandate over Iraq, the Iraqi prime minister at the time, Nuri Al-Sa'id, stated in his declaration (issued on 30 May 1932) that Iraqi minorities would receive "full and complete protection of life and liberty, without distinction of birth, nationality, race or religion." In this respect, it has been downhill ever since.

Turkoman were able to lobby successfully for inclusion in the Turkish regional security plan, and then Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit presented a "revised security plan," updating his original security plan presented in 1995. It stipulated that the Turkoman play a role in a post-Saddam, or new Iraqi government, and that "the world should be reminded of the Turkoman presence in Iraq. Baghdad should be aware of this presence and it should be noted providing certain rights and guarantees to the Turkomans will contribute to ending the division in the country" (quoted by Kemal Balci in the "Turkish Daily News" of 28 January 1999).
Yet, despite the Turkish efforts to help the Turkoman of Iraq, ethnic cleansing continues, education is lamed because the current Iraqi Constitution forbids the use of any script save Arabic (the Turkoman use Latin).

It should be noted that the Turkoman living in Iraqi Kurdistan north of the 36th parallel are not exposed to Baghdad's efforts to destroy their identity. In the south, however, which includes Kirkuk, they are exposed to constant efforts by Baghdad to expropriate their land and property and liquidate their nationality.

The pressures on them are at least as great as those on the Iranian Azeris to conform to the demands of Iranian ethnic, political, and religious pressures. And yet this is not what unites the two peoples: it is that they share the same language and, in part, the same traditions. It is these elements which unite Heidar Baba and Gur-Gur Baba.


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