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Returning to Political Parties?

The Iraqi Turkmen Front

Raber Tal’at Jawhar

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A historical overview of the Iraqi Turkmen’s political responses

  • 1  Batato (1996) indicates that “in the city of Erbil, Turkmen were part of the wealthy class, and th (...)

1There’s a strong conflict of opinions regarding the origins of Iraqi Turkmen, however, it is certain that they settled down during the Ottoman rule in the northwest of Mosul, whence they spread to eastern Baghdad. Once there, they became high ranked officers, experts, traders, and executives in residential agglomerations lined up along the vast, fertile plains, and mingled with Kurds, Assyrians, Arabs, and other confessions. With the creation of the new Iraqi state in 1921, Iraqi Turkmen managed to maintain their socioeconomic status. According to Hanna Batato’s analysis (1996), the orientations of the connection between confessions or ethnic groups and classes, which marked this century’s twenties to a certain extent, have changed in the last decade of the royal era i.e. the fifties – to a great extent sometimes. Consequently, the Turkmen social superiority in the north was progressively weakened in cities such as Erbil and Kirkuk. On the other hand, the power of clannish Kurdish Aghas was bolstered at the detriment of the misfortunate, i.e. the poor villagers, as their authority expanded on the territory1.

2Currently, the Turkmen reside in the same area that connects Arabs and Kurds, namely in Kirkuk, Diyala, and Mosul, where they make up a substantial portion of the inhabitants of Tal’Afar, Kirkuk, Dakuk, Tuz Khurmatu, Kirat tabba, Barada, and Kafri.

  • 2  The Iraqi Turkmen Front states that Turkmen add up to 13% of the Iraqi population and 25% of the K (...)

3In short, Iraqi Turkmen are a unique ethnic group; they are predominantly Muslim and divided into two main sects: Shiites (40%) Sunnites (60%), and have strong cultural ties with Turkey2.

  • 3  There are three causes that are directly linked to Turkish interests in Iraq, and Turkey considers (...)

4After the Gulf War drew to a close in 1991, a safe zone was set up for Kurds under the protection of the United States and the coalition forces, and the withdrawal of the Baath’s administration and central government gave the Kurds an opportunity to establish a local administration and hold elections that led to the institution of a semi-independent Kurdish government in Iraqi Kurdistan. As a result, Turkey felt that its interests were shaken, and the Turkish3 fears are strongly linked to the direct impact of the Kurdish independence or the establishment of a strong Kurdish federation, first in Iraq on its Turkish populace, and second on its political and economic interests in Iraq.

5Several observers note that Turkey profited from the Turkmen’s anger and concern towards the Kurdish advance in the 90’s to galvanize those who support a military intervention, and that Ankara turned its attention to the Turkmen issue in 1992. Before this Turkish attention, the national Turkmen movement and Turkmen political parties didn’t exist. A report by the “Electoral Reform” organization that participated in the monitoring of the 1992 Kurdistan parliamentary elections states that the forces were divided as follows: the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the National Union of Kurdistan, the Islamic Movement, the Kurdistan Communist Party, the Iraqi Communist Party, the Kurdish Democratic People’s Party, and independent democrats. Note the absence of any Turkmen or Chaldo-Assyrian movements or lists.

  • 4  Since 1991, offices were starting to be opened by political parties such as the Turkmen National P (...)

6After this period (1991) the Turkmen nationalist tendency was born in the Kurdistan region in particular and was divided at first into two directions4: the first direction started supporting Kurdish nationalist projects seeking to implement federalism, hoping that Turkmen people get their full national rights as they are the second ethnic group after Kurds in the region, thus allowing them to enjoy greater political participation than the one they would’ve had if they were still in the Baathist Iraq.

  • 5  Military intervention was an option throughout the 90’s, and turkey started sending military horde (...)

7The second direction adopted political stances that opposed Kurdish parties and supported the Turkish state which considered that Saddam’s endurance was in the interest of Iraq and the entire region, for he was the only man who was capable of maintaining unity and centralization in order to rein in Kurdish ambitions. This is the viewpoint of Turkey that turned a deaf ear to the situation of Iraqi Turkmen during the Baath reign. However, as Baath gradually lost the control of Kurdish regions, Turkey started considering itself responsible for preserving the Turkmen people and their interests, after realizing the threat that Kurds were posing. As a result of this situation, several Turkish factions and movements emerged during that period; some of these movements were on good terms with the Kurds, while others were not5. The years 2002 and 2003 were marked by the aggravation of political tensions between the Kurdish parties and the Turkmen Front, leading to an attack on the Front’s offices and the burning of their contents. However, these offices were re-equipped, but their number was lowered in Erbil and Suleimaniyyah.

8After the fall of the Baathist regime in 2003, the political developments opened the door of political participation to the Iraqi society. Turkmen also participated in political activities, the founding of blocs and parties, the electoral process, and the formation of multiparty blocs and political alliances that encompassed people with several confessional and intellectual orientations.

9And then, Turkmen political orientations started witnessing new divisions between Islamists and Nationalists, and between Shiites and Sunnis. It was noted that Islamic tendencies were much stronger among Turkmen Shiites. The rise of Arab Shiites to the Iraqi political scene and their accession to power greatly strengthened Islamic political tendencies among Turkmen Shiites, and it is worth mentioning that strong ties link them to Muktada al Sadr, al Da’wa Party, and the Higher Islamic Council. However, the other factor is linked to the predominant rural character of Turkmen Shiites. In fact, according to the 1947 statistics, Turkmen Shiites in rural areas totaled 1.1%, while Turkmen Sunnis totaled 0.3%, which means that the majority of Turkmen Sunnis resided in towns, while most Shiites settled down in rural areas.

10 Although this percentage changed, it has its social and political connotation, i.e. the influence of the Sunni ottoman state and its interest in Turkmen Sunnis more than Turkmen Shiites. On the other hand, the city life, with its institutions, its classes, and its lifestyle that differs from that of rural areas, attracted many Sunni traders, proprietors, and professionals. This Sunni presence was mirrored in the emergence of nationalist ideas and movements among the Sunnis to a much greater extent than Turkmen Shiites. Moreover, the influence of the Sunni Turkey on Iraqi Turkmen, which grew in the early 90’s, led to a nationalist ascent inspired by a Turkish ideological methodology among the Turkmen Sunnis. On the other hand, the Shiite role came really late; it probably started with the creation of the Islamic revolution’s higher council in Iraq, which was founded in Tehran and included some Turkmen. However, the Turkmen Shiites’ Islamic action started in 2003. As we saw, the new Iraqi state with the influential Shiite majority managed to directly influence Turkmen Shiites, and this Shiite awakening in Iraq was the main reason behind the Turkmen Sunni Islamic movements that emerged as a confessional reaction.

  • 6  Some see it as a coup and not dissension, for Ahmed Kawnach was prevented from entering Turkey as (...)

11The main movement among Turkmen is the Nationalist and Ethnic orientation. The Turkmen National Party is considered the mother of all Turkmen nationalist parties. It was founded in 1990 in Turkey and emerged on the political scene during the Beirut conference in 1991 as an opposition party. Back then, it was headed by Dr. Mozfir Erslan and several other officials such as Mustafa Kamal Yayiji, Yashar Imam Uglu, Hassan Uzman, Ziad Cawtharlo, and Baha’ el Din Turkmen Uglu. The party led the Turkmen nationalist orientation between 1991 and 1995, i.e. until the Turkmen Front was founded. Among the parties that participated in the Front, we have the Turkmeneli Party, which was founded by the Shiite Turkmen politician Ahmad Kawnach from Tal Afar and experienced dissidence6 when it was overtaken by Riad Sari Kahia who profited from the president’s absence to accede to power and remain in control until today. Among the other parties and organizations, we have the Independent Turkmen’s Party, the Turkmen Brotherhood Club, the Turkmen Islamic Movement, the Turkmen Nationalists Movement, and the national Turkmen gathering.

  • 7  While collecting information and data, we relied on initial sources such as the Turkmen Front’s ne (...)

12The Iraqi Turkmen Front is considered one of the new nationalist movements, and through this study, we will try to give a historical overview of its establishment, its internal structure, and its internal organization including: the leadership model inside the institution, organizational ranks and leadership bodies, task distribution, and the decision making mechanism. We will also study its goals, political programs, and the most important issues that it raises; we will also try to study its relation with the state and the community7.

The Establishment of the Iraqi Turkmen Front

  • 8  The Turkmen Front is the Turkmen nationalism’s political institution that includes several smaller (...)

13In the mid 90’s several Turkmen parties and figures emerged in Erbil after the creation of the circumstantial Kurdish state, when new Turkmen parties and movements started multiplying. Due to this increase in the number of factions and parties, competition developed among them, and several people suggested uniting them, which paved the floor for the founding of the Turkmen Front8.

14The Iraqi Turkmen Front was officially founded on April 5th 1995 as a coalition of Turkmen parties and figures with direct Turkish support. Ihsan Dughermaji, a pediatrician from Erbil residing in Turkey, played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Front and rallying Turkish support for it; he was the first president of the Front’s guidance council as well. Among the Front’s presidents, we have Turan Kettana, Telli Snan Jelbi, Wadad Erslan, San’an Kassab, Dr. Farouk Abdullah, and Dr. Saad el Din Arkaj.

15The Turkmen Front considers itself the sole legitimate representative of the Turkmen people. Its president is dubbed “the Turkmens’ leader”, and the presidency is an important political and organizational position for the Front’s parties and leaders. This is why we notice that Farouk Abdullah, the former president of the Front, declared dissidence after failing to renew his mandate and established the Turkmen Decision Party before participating in the Iraqi national congress list that was headed by Ahmed Jalabi in the 2005 parliamentary elections. Before Abdullah declared dissidence, the Turkmen Brotherhood Club-the Erbil branch headed by Wadad Erslan declared dissidence, and a large bloc made of prominent figures withdrew from the Front due to the fact that Wadad Erslan objected what she called the escalation of the Turkish influence and the absence of a strategy for the Turkmen Front.

16The history of political relations between the Turkmen Front and Kurdish parties, namely the National Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, is packed with disputes and political hostility ever since the establishment of these parties. This situation didn’t change whether during the mandate of Sanaan al Kassab, its fourth president before the fall of the regime, or that of its next president Farouk Abdullah, all the way to its current president Dr. Said el Din Arkaj. For instance, Sanaan Kassab was unable to improve the Front’s status on the Kurdistan and Iraqi political map, because he had tense relations with the Iraqi opposition. We also notice that during the mandate of Sanaan Kassab and that of his successor Farouk Abdullah (2003-2004), the Front lost the Turkmen seat in the governing council as well as the seat of the Kirkuk deputy governor. It is probable that its strong ties with Turkey made it subject to numerous regional political commitments, and that consequently, it couldn’t keep on preserving Turkey’s interests in the complicated international equations, particularly in issues related to Kirkuk and the Kurdistan region federation.

17For example, the Front’s supporters staged a protest in Ankara on February 15th 2005 calling the Turkish government to dispatch its forces to Kirkuk immediately to protect Turkmen. The protesters held several banners criticizing Erdogan’s government for its policy towards Kirkuk, which they described as unsuccessful.

The political Discourse, the Organizational Structure, and the Popular Base

18The Iraqi Turkmen Front is a political nationalist movement for Iraqi Turkmen, which was founded as a result of the alliance of several Turkmen nationalist parties operating on the basis of a Turkmen nationalist political discourse within the framework of Iraq’s unity. Its political discourse intends to maintain the integrity of Iraqi territory while categorically rejecting all federalism projects and the partition of Iraq into regions and independent administrative entities except for Kirkuk. And in the event that the regions system is ratified, the Front claims an independent region for Turkmen or the creation of new governorates for them.

19On the national level and the Turkmen people’s level, the Front seeks to involve Turkmen along with the rest of the Iraqi factions in the executive, legislative, and judicial authorities. They also seek to claim the rights of the Turkmen, maintain national constants, allow the Turkmen to have an influential voice in the parliament, and get the government to recognize the martyrs of Turkmen movements as those of the Iraqi struggle, provide compensation for their families, and offer them pensions as is the case with the martyrs from other ethnicities. The Front also seeks to ensure the release of all Turkmen prisoners, and has other goals that are specific to Kirkuk and other cities that are considered to be Turkmen cities, including:

  • Creating two Turkmen governorates the first of which will be located in Tuz and the second in Tal Afar, and ending the suffering of the Turkmen people in this city.

  • Bringing Turkmen migrants inside and outside Kirkuk back to their original regions and helping them regain their properties and belongings, as well as restoring all the Turkmen cities that were eliminated by the previous regime and compensating their inhabitants for the damage they incurred during that period.

  • Promoting the property claims agency in Kirkuk, where the Front considers that 90% of the confiscated lands are the property of Turkmen citizens, and this is why demands that the case be decided as quickly as possible in order to help people recover their rights.

  • 9  For example: the Turkmeneli newspaper is published by the Turkmen Front. It is a central newspaper (...)
  • 10  For example, the Front has an office in Turkey that’s headed by Ahmed Maradli, another in London h (...)
  • 11  For example: the Turkmen council in Kirkuk headed by Younes Bayrakdar, is the façade of the Turkme (...)

20As for the Front’s organizational structure, it is pretty similar to that of Iraqi civil parties (Leninist or bureaucratic hierarchy). Its organizational structure is made of the leadership offices, the executive body, and the Turkmen council. The Front has a large media institution that publishes several newspapers and magazines; it also has a local and satellite TV station and websites9. It also has offices and representatives in the majority of regions where Turkmen live in Iraq, and several offices abroad10, as well as popular institutions and organizations operating in several domains and fields11.

21As for leadership patterns in the Iraqi Turkmen Front, the party is based on modern elite leadership, and the president is appointed during a general congress which is held every two years according to the internal statute. Presidency is an executive position that enables its filler to make important decisions after meeting with the political bureau.

22In the last congress (the Iraqi Turkmen Front’s fifth congress) that was held in Kirkuk between July 10th and July 15th 2008, several blocks and disagreements emerged among the Front’s leaders and prominent figures as twenty members, most of whom came from Mosul and Tal Afar, refrained from voting to elect a president. Moreover, Turkmeneli and the Turkmen Decision Party withdrew from the congress, and the Turkmen Front became a Turkmen political party instead of a Turkmen Front made of several parties. However, the other Turkmen Front, along with other parties that were under umbrella (including the Turkmen National Party, the Independent Turkmens movement, the Turkmen Justice Party, and the Islamic Turkmens Party) called themselves the Turkmen Parties’ Council. The Turkmen Front’s blocs have contradictory orientations; for example, Turkmeneli is a well-known nationalist party in the Font, which has a nationalist Turkmen project that calls for the establishment of an autonomous Turkmen zone after dividing northern Iraq into three autonomous zones (Kurdistan, Mosul, and Kirkuk).

23Parliamentary or municipal elections aren’t probably the only criterion to evaluate a party’s popularity and discover the quality of its popular base. However, they are still one of the main criteria that allow us to determine the party’s or the political movement’s capability of influencing the masses and rally votes in the electoral process which is the only means to accede to power in democratic societies. The success of any political party or entity in this process mainly depends on the psychology of its supporters, its political discourse, and its socioeconomic programs for the state and the community. Furthermore, political and regional circumstances also influence this process as well as the masses and the participating political blocs.

24In the 2005 Iraqi parliamentary elections, the Iraqi elections high commission declared that the Iraqi Turkmen Front got 87993 votes, which means that around 88.000 people voted for the Front amid the acute nationalist and confessional polarization that the elections witnessed. The fact that the Front got this rate proves that it has great influence among Iraqi Turkmen.

25Other than the numbers indicator, we have a qualitative indicator that can help us read the bases sociology (popular sociology) of the Front’s followers. Its nationalist political discourse has been fierce since the fall of the regime in 2003. According to this discourse, the Front believes that Iraqi Turkmen are facing great challenges five years after the fall, including: being prevented from entering the temporary governing council, and being marginalized in the Iraqi state temporary management law more than five years ago. Adding insult to injury, the Iraqi law issued a slow death sentence to Turkmen through article 140.

  • 12  In July 1959, during the mandate of President Abdul Kareem Kassem, a bloody civil conflict raged b (...)
  • 13  A communiqué was issued by the Front and entitled “lessons learned from the Kirkuk massacre” on Ju (...)

26To make matters worse, the Front doesn’t trust the leaders of the Kurdish parties, and accuses them of fascism and racism. The use of this political tone and discourse by the Front makes the Turkmen feel concerned, deprived, and repressed by Iraqi and Kurdish authorities. The Front also resorts to ancient history to insist that the Kurdish-Turkmen conflict is old and deep-seated; it relates for instance the July 1959 events12 in Kirkuk, pointing the finger at the Kurds as a main political side in this issue by saying: “archeology and sociology tell us that those who perpetrated the Kirkuk massacre gave birth to another anthropologic generation of people who bear the same genetic qualities and psychological habits; therefore, isn’t it probable that those who perpetrated the Kirkuk massacre might try to repeat it in Kirkuk or other places in Iraq under different pretexts, different names, and different goals?”13. Such intellectual and political orientations breed confessional tendencies in the Iraqi sociopolitical structure and divert the course of national reconciliation and peaceful coexistence.

The Iraqi Turkmen Front and Political Participation

  • 14  The Turkmen Front wasn’t satisfied with these results and considered them political deceit to Iraq (...)

27The Iraqi Turkmen Front participated in the 2005 elections, and, according to the results that were declared by the Iraqi parliamentary elections high commission, the Front got 93000 votes in the first elections that were held on January 31st 2005, which allowed it to get three seats in the founding assembly. In the second elections that were held on December 15th 2005, the Iraqi Turkmen Front that participated in the elections on its own behalf without allying with other Turkmen or Iraqi parties got 82000 votes that got it one seat in the parliament14.

28Currently, the Front holds one parliament seat occupied by its president Dr. Saad el Din Arkaj. As for ministerial portfolios, the Front holds none in the current Iraqi government. In the forthcoming parliamentary elections, the Front might be allying with other Turkmen and Iraqi factions in order to be able to affect the decisions of the future government, especially that the Kirkuk issue and the implementation of article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution (which stipulates that Kirkuk should be part of the Kurdistan region) are imminent. True to these expectations, the Turkmen Front as well as several Turkmen and Arab factions in Kirkuk already started holding conferences, taking several measures, and establishing joint organizations in order to run for the upcoming local elections (governorates council) in October 2008.

  • 15  Under the slogan “towards the reunification of the Turkmen scene”, the Turkmen Front along with ot (...)

29In a statement that was published on June 16th 2008, the Front declared that it decided to run for the upcoming governorates council elections on behalf of the Iraqi Turkmen Front, and that its electoral lists will be open to all true Turkmen political institutions and prominent Turkmen figures. The Front and other Turkmen parties will run for these elections on one list that includes members of the Front, political parties, as well as other independent Turkmen movements operating in Turkmen regions, in order to keep Turkmen votes from being scattered in all the governorates where they constitute a demographic presence, such as: Kirkuk (Ta’mim), Mosul (Ninawa), Tkrit (Salah el Din) and Diyala15.

30As for the Kirkuk governorate, which is the subject of conflict between Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen, and due to the disputes that have been taking place there from 2003 to date, the governorate remained administratively and political independent from other Iraqi regions, with its own governor and governorate council that is made of the representatives of the townsfolk, Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, and Chaldo-Assyrians. The Kirkuk governorate council includes forty-one seats that are distributed on the following lists: the brotherhood list (which includes Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen represented by the national union and the Kurdistan Democratic Party) twenty-six seats; the Turkmen Front eight seats; the Iraqi republican gathering five seats; the Turkmen Islamic alliance one seat, and the Iraqi Arab gathering one seat.

31Moreover, the police director in Kirkuk (Liwa Turhan Abdul Rahman Yusuf) is a member of the Turkmen Front, and there are many Turkmen employees in civil and government institutions in Kirkuk. Most of these employees are Shiites such as the Turkmen education director in Kirkuk Shen Omar Mubarak. As for other cities and districts in Kirkuk, the Turkmen Front has several members and representatives in municipal councils and government offices. For example, the Front has two seats in the municipal council of Altun Capri, a city with a predominantly Turkmen population that is part of the Kirkuk governorate.

The Stance Towards Federalism and Kirkuk

32Iraq’s partition into federal regions and annexing the Kirkuk governorate to the Kurdistan region according to article 140 of the new Iraqi constitution are among the most important issues on the Iraqi political scene in general, and Iraqi political factions adopt conflicting stances towards that matter.

33The Iraqi Turkmen Front is one of the political parties that are the most opposed to the implementation of article 140 and the annexation of the Kirkuk governorate to the Kurdistan region while also rejecting the federalization of the Kurdistan region, which seeks to separate Kirkuk from all other Iraqi regions, thus making it a smaller version of Iraq that includes all the categories of the Iraqi people. The Iraqi Turkmen Front’s leaders refuse to subject Kirkuk’s fate to a referendum, as they consider it an unacceptable compromise over this oil-rich city, as they fear the Kurdish attempts to seize this federation and occupy important positions in the new Iraqi State. The Turkmen Front accuses the two Kurdish parties of seeking to establish a closed Kurdish zone (the end justifies the means) by confiscating the dignity of other ethnic groups in the region, usurping the lands of Turkmen, Arabs, Chaldo-Assyrians, Yezidis, Shabak, and others, by intimidating them and stirring discord and unrest.

34The Turkmen Front considers Kirkuk an authentic Turkmen city both historically and anthropologically, and that the Kurdish parties only resort to distortion, as well as cultural, geographic, and historical fraud. Moreover, the Front accuses them of paying large amounts of money to writers, historians, political analysts, and some state officials to prompt them to support one side over the other, and of doing everything they’re doing to get away with their plan that seeks to establish a closed zone.

35We also notice that the Turkmen Front not only considers itself a Turkmen movement that looks after the Turkmens’ interests, but also presents itself as a patriotic Iraqi movement that seeks to protect the interests of other minorities such as the Shabak, the Yezidis, and the Chaldo-Assyrians from the Kurdish greed and exploitation. The Front speaks on behalf of these people about their stolen rights and their occupied zones inside the Kurdish territories; however, most of the Yezidis in Kurdistan consider themselves Kurds and hold strong ties with the Kurdish authorities in the region. Moreover, Chaldo-Assyrians have their own parties that are able to speak on their behalf; this is why they consider this kind of behavior a political attempt to create nationalist tendencies opposed to the nationalist Kurdish discourse in Iraq and the Kurdistan region. About Kirkuk, the Turkmen Front demands international and regional protection for Kirkuk’s Turkmen, and calls the United Nations to assume its responsibilities in terms of protecting the rights of Turkmen, Arabs, and Chaldo-Assyrians in Kirkuk if the Iraqi government proves to be incapable of doing it. While refusing the annexation of Kirkuk to Kurdistan and calling for making Kirkuk an independent region, the Turkmen Front and several parties that were under its umbrella had several plans, nationalist projects, and projects for Kirkuk, most of which seek to compete with the Kurds and hinder the implementation of article 140 and constitute alternative projects for Kirkuk in case the Kurds claim it. However, their new discourse calls for preserving the unity of Iraq’s territory and people- a slogan that’s usually employed by Arabs. Therefore, it seems that the Turkmen Front and some of its allies are adopting some sort of a pragmatic policy in order to win over the Arab majority, even though this might create dualism in its political discourse. For example, Turkmeneli has a project that seeks to divide northern Iraq into three autonomous zones (Kurdistan, Mosul, and Kirkuk) with three regions (North, Center, and South).

36Turkmeneli believes that this project seeks to organize the relation between the different components of the Iraqi people in the region and normalize the relation with Kirkuk. According to the project, administrative and political authorities in the north region are made of: the presidency board (three members: one Kurd, one Arab, and one Turkmen) for a seventy years mandate; the executive authority (Kurdish Prime Minister as well as Turkmen and Arab deputies), as well as 12 to fifteen ministries that are divided as follows: 40% for the Kurds, 25% for Turkmen, and 25% for Arabs. Moreover, the project includes the judicial authority that is made of nine members: four from Kurdistan, three from Mosul, and two from Kirkuk), the legislative authority (100 members with a four-year mandate and the members are divided as follows: 50 from Kurdistan, 30 from Mosul, and 20 from Kirkuk). This is a summary of the project along with the definition of the power of each of the four authorities. According to the project, Kirkuk will be a Turkmen autonomous zone in the north region. Moreover, in terms of geographic partition of autonomous zones, the project relies on another map that the Turkmen Front uses to prove that Kirkuk and other areas in northern Iraq are the legal property of the Turkmen.

37We conclude that the Turkmen Front’s stance towards federalism and Kirkuk isn’t just about refusal, but also competition with Kurdish factions in these areas that the Front claims as its own since they are Turkmen regions. We also notice that in order to counter the Kurds, the Front resorts to the same nationalist logic and political discourse that they use. This discourse is mainly based on the following guidelines: historical legitimacy, stolen rights, deprivation, displacement, the Arab rush, and after the fall, the Front added the Kurdish rush.

38We notice as well that in its current political discourse, the Front is focusing on a United Iraq in a bid to attract Arabic factions with a central orientation in order to bolster its stance towards the Kurds; however, on the other hand, it calls for Turkmen autonomy, and this contradiction is obvious.


39In the early 90’s, Turkmen parties and nationalist movements emerged and tried to uphold the Turkmen identity before other nationalities and identities, especially after the emergence of the Turkmen identity as opposed to the Kurdish identity and the ambitions of its political movements. During that period, several Turkmen nationalist parties took a reconciliatory course with the Kurdish identity and political parties, while other clashed with them. The Iraqi Turkmen Front is the most important of those parties that followed a course which contradicts the Kurds’ projects and ambitions, and the Turkish state played a pivotal role in supporting Turkmen nationalist movements and nurturing nationalist tendencies by profiting from the Turkmen card to meddle with Iraqi internal affairs and protect its strategic interests, i.e. eliminating the PKK and preventing the establishment of a Kurdish state in Iraq.

40After the 2003 events, the Turkmen identity suffered confessional dispersion due to the rise of Turkmen Islamic movements and the rise of political Islam among Shiite and Sunni Turkmen.

41Islamic parties first emerged among the Turkmen Shiites as a reflection of the rise of Shiite Islam in Iraq in general, and Islamic parties among Turkmen Sunnis emerged as a confessional reaction to the emergence of Turkmen Shiite parties. Therefore, the situation of the Turkmen is quite similar to that of the Arabs in terms of the crumbling of the Iraqi identity into confessional components (Shiites- Sunnis) and Iraq’s division into several ethnic identities Arab, Kurdish, and Turkmen) as well as the use of the Iraqi culture’s characteristics by factions against each other.



Sheth Jerjis, 2006, The Turkmen of Iraq. Underestimated, Marginalized and Exposed to Assimilation, Nijmegen, Benda Print House.

Batato Hanna, 1990, Iraq: Social Classes and Revolutionary Movements from the Ottoman Rule to the Rise of the Republic, Translated by Tarraz Afif, 1st ed., Beirut, Publishing house.


International Crisis group, 2005, Iraq: Calming Turkish Fears about Kurdish Ambitions, Middle East report n° 26-35 January.

Barky Henry J., 2005, Turkey and Iraq, Neighborhood Dangers and Capacities, American Peace institute, special report n° 141, July.

Iraqi parliament, 2008, The Investigative Committee’s Report on the Turkish Military Invasion of the Kurdistan Region, Iraq, Bagdad, May.


The Iraqi Turkmens’ Encyclopedia, 25/6/2008,

Massood Al Barzani’s Speech before the Kurdistan Parliament, September 4th 2007, website of the Kurdistan region presidency, press release from the Kurdistan region premiership, October 23rd 2007, the region’s government’s website.

“The Iraqi Turkmen Front’s political discourse”, 25/6/2008, 27/6/2008.

“The Turkmeneli party’s internal statute”, on the party’s official website, 27/6/2008.

Press release by the Iraqi Turkmen Front in June 16th, 2008, published on its official website, 26/6/2008.

Press release by the Turkmen Front entitled: “Kirkuk and other coveted territory”, on June 23rd 2008., 26/6/2008.

The Turkmeneli party’s official website, 27/6/2008.

One of the Turkmen Front’s websites 2/7/2008.


1  Batato (1996) indicates that “in the city of Erbil, Turkmen were part of the wealthy class, and their residences were built on the summit of a circular hill that stands 150 feet (around 50 meters) high, while the Kurds, who constituted 75% of the populace and represented the poor class, generally lived in houses surrounding the eastern and southern hillsides”.

2  The Iraqi Turkmen Front states that Turkmen add up to 13% of the Iraqi population and 25% of the Kurdistan population. As a result, according to this report, the number of Turkmen will increase to around 4 millions. Nevertheless, according to western research centers, the number of Turkmen in Iraq varies between 1.5 and 2 millions, which amounts to 2 to 3 % of the population of Iraq.

3  There are three causes that are directly linked to Turkish interests in Iraq, and Turkey considers them the most important points that must be present in any political protocol or agreement with Iraq. These causes are: 1- preventing the partition of Iraq on a confessional or ethnic basis, which could lead to the creation of an independent Kurdish state or confederation (with Kirkuk as capital) and prompt the numerous Kurds in Turkey to develop similar aspirations to a similar entity. 2- Protecting the Turkish-speaking Kurdish minority residing mainly in Iraqi Kurdistan. 3- Wiping out the Kurdistan Workers’ Party that sought refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan after the arrest of its president Abdullah Öcalan.

4  Since 1991, offices were starting to be opened by political parties such as the Turkmen National Party, the Turkmen Unity Party which became later the Turkmeneli Party, and the independent Turkmen movement.

5  Military intervention was an option throughout the 90’s, and turkey started sending military hordes through the Iraqi-Turkish borders to deter any Kurdish plans to create a Kurdish state or control the Kirkuk governorate, or to counter the PKK that commenced its military activities in the border zone since 1999. Some sources indicate that 1500 to 3000 Turkish Special Forces troops are present in Iraqi Kurdistan, and that the Turkish Army has several outposts and camps in the Iraqi heartland, such as the Bamerni region that’s under Kurdistan’s authority. The region’s government officially confirms this Turkish military presence by stating that the existence of such camps is part of a political agreement with the government of Turkey since 1996, i.e. since the internal conflict between the Kurdistan National Union and the Kurdistan Democratic Party.

6  Some see it as a coup and not dissension, for Ahmed Kawnach was prevented from entering Turkey as he was living in Turkish Cyprus, and Riad Sari Kahia took the helm of the party.

7  While collecting information and data, we relied on initial sources such as the Turkmen Front’s newspapers and periodic publications as well as its websites. We also interviewed several Front cadres in Altun Capri, Kirkuk.

8  The Turkmen Front is the Turkmen nationalism’s political institution that includes several smaller parties that change every once in a while. For example, several parties left the Front such as the Turkmen Brotherhood Club headed by Wadad Erslan, the Turkmen Decision Party headed by Fsrouk Abdullah, the Turkmeneli Party headed by Sari Kahia, or the Turkmen Islamic Movement headed by Dr. Sami Donomz.

9  For example: the Turkmeneli newspaper is published by the Turkmen Front. It is a central newspaper (published in both Turkmen and Arabic); the brotherhood magazine is published by the Turkmen Brotherhood Club in Baghdad; the Kirkuk newspaper is published by Turkmen writers in Kirkuk; the Turkmeneli satellite channel is the Front’s channel; moreover, there is a Turkmen local TV station and a radio, and both broadcast from Kirkuk and Baghdad.

10  For example, the Front has an office in Turkey that’s headed by Ahmed Maradli, another in London headed by Assef Seret, as well as several offices in Germany headed by Ghanem Osman, offices in Syria headed by Arched Mokhtar Uglu, and other offices.

11  For example: the Turkmen council in Kirkuk headed by Younes Bayrakdar, is the façade of the Turkmen Front in the city. It is made of 71 members including the Front’s president and the members of the executive committee; the Turkmen women union, the Turkmen students union, the Turkmen teachers union, the Turkmen culture and endowment, and the Turkmen inquiry center. Women have a high rate of participation in these political and popular organizations. Moreover, youth and students are sent to Turkey to participate in education and social activities and to finish their higher studies at the baccalaureate, masters, and PhD levels.

12  In July 1959, during the mandate of President Abdul Kareem Kassem, a bloody civil conflict raged between Kurds, Turkmen, and Armenians in Kirkuk, leaving a death toll of dozens of bodies.

13  A communiqué was issued by the Front and entitled “lessons learned from the Kirkuk massacre” on June 21st 2008 on the 49th anniversary of the events. 26/6/2008.

14  The Turkmen Front wasn’t satisfied with these results and considered them political deceit to Iraqi Turkmen because it believes that the Iraqi Turkmen Front’s political weight awards it a much higher score. An interview with Jamal Chan, one of the Turkey’s officials on 16/7/2008. The Front was dealt a severe blow when Turkmen Shiites voted for the Shiite coalition instead of the Front after Sayyed Ali Sistany ordered them to do so.

15  Under the slogan “towards the reunification of the Turkmen scene”, the Turkmen Front along with other Turkmen parties (such as the Turkmen National Party, the Turkmen Justice Party, and the Independent Turkmens’ Party” held a conference in Kirkuk between June 15th and July 15th 2008 in order to unite the Turkmen political discourse in Iraq and Kirkuk and form a united electoral list to participate in the upcoming parliamentary and governorate councils elections.


Raber Tal’at Jawhar is a political scientist at the Iraq Institute for Strategic Studies, Beirut.

Le texte et les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont sous Licence OpenEdition Books, sauf mention contraire.


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