Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu paid a visit to Erbil on 1 August 2012 to hold talks on the developments taking place in northern Syria, and he talked to the leader of the Kurdish Regional Government Massoud Barzani. In the same day, he attended the fast-breaking meal of Erbil Turkmens, and the next day he paid a surprise visit to Kirkuk. Besides the fact that it has been the first visit made by Turkish officials since the then-Foreign Minister İhsan Sabri Çağlayangil's visit in 1976, also the fact that Davutoğlu paid this visit in a very critical period increases its importance. On the other hand, Ahmet Davutoğlu also welcomed a group of high-level officials from the Iraqi Turkmen Front and hosted a fast-breaking meal on 7 August 2012. These consecutive mutual visits bring the Turkmen strategies to the fore. This study aims to assess the recent developments over Turkmens and to put forward the Turkmen strategies.
Thus, it would be good to first of all touch on the details of Ahmet Davutoğlu's Kirkuk visit. Firstly, Ahmet Davutoğlu visited the Provincial Assembly in Kirkuk and held a short talk with the officials. Then visiting the Iraqi Turkmen Front, Davutoğlu made a statement to the press along with the Iraqi Turkmen Front officials, and he gave an important message by mentioning the unity and solidarity among the Turkmen and by stating that it is necessary to react against those, who want to cause unrest in Kirkuk, through fraternity. Besides Davutoğlu also called the Turkmen population to protect the Iraqi Turkmen Front and laid an emphasis on the fact that Turkey has always supported the Turkmen and will continue to support in the future as well. Actually, the fact that Davutoğlu only visited the Iraqi Turkmen Front as a political party during his Kirkuk visit is such to be a message given both to other ethnic and religious groups and also to Turkmens. More clearly, the aforesaid visit can be considered as a sign for the other ethnic and religious groups that the Turkmen have a special place for Turkey, but it could also be an emphasis on the Iraqi Turkmen Front for Turkmens. On the other hand, the fact that Davutoğlu did not pay visits to other Turkmen parties except for the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF) despite having been criticized by some Turkmens, shows Turkey's support for the Iraqi Turkmen Front.
On the other hand, Davutoğlu's visit also underlined the balances in Iraq, and especially the political structure in Kirkuk. Because despite the fact that Davutoğlu's Kirkuk visit was welcomed by Turkmens and Kurds, it was criticized through a statement issued by the Arab Political Group created by Sunni Arabs in Kirkuk. It is known that this formation, which is especially comprised of Arabs from Hawica, has had close relationships in the recent period. Thus, the fact that the Arab Political Group made such a statement following the strong criticism of Maliki on the aforesaid visit draws the attention. This situation is regarded as a polarization in Kirkuk. In Kirkuk, Arabs have been accusing Turkmens for allying with Kurds against themselves approximately for a year now. Especially after Hassan Turan was elected as Head of the Kirkuk Provincial Council on March 2011, Arabs boycotted the Kirkuk provincial council and started to take a stance against the Turkmen. As it is known, Turkmens and Arabs displayed a common attitude in the face of Kurdish groups' pressure on Kirkuk in the post-2003 period, and especially the Kirkuk provincial council was boycotted for a long period of time. However, Turkey's developing relationship with Kurdish group within the last couple of years, the change in the approach of Kurdish groups and also the efforts of some Turkmens to produce pragmatic politics brought along the approach between Turkmens and Kurds. As a matter of fact, while reopening the Erbil office of the Iraqi Turkmen Front in the beginning of 2012, the ITF was invited to the congress held by KDP on December 2011 and the mutual relations have been promoted.
At this point, the debates regarding what kind of strategy Turkmen might pursue in Iraq, where 2013 local elections and 2014 general elections will be held in the forthcoming period, started to slowly light. Because it is especially known that especially Shiite Turkmen parties joined their forces and formed a coalition to prepare for the elections. But it wouldn't be wrong to say that in general terms there is an ambiguity especially on the Turkmen strategy. The general opinion is that is right to prepare strategies particular to each election due to the difference in the structure and system of the local and general elections in Iraq. Therefore, preparing a pragmatic and rational policy and protecting the maximum benefits of Turkmens is the first goal at this point. Even though Turkmens followed different election strategies in former elections, we can say that the major axis is the opposition to Kurdish groups. Nevertheless, it is considered that the major factor here is to prepare political strategies in line with the conjuncture and on the basis of periodical change. Because it might be suggested that after the 2010 elections the politics in Iraq started to become normal and that interest-oriented politics has been followed by slightly going beyond the ethnic/religious politics. Particularly the fact that Nujaifi Group and Kurds in Mosul, coming to the verge of conflict in the past, reached an agreement is one of the best examples to be given for this situation. Having the control of the Mosul Provincial Administration, Nujaifi group also has an influence over the other regions controlled by Kurds as a result of their agreement with Kurdish groups. There is a mutual “political trade” in this relationship.
So, it is believed that this politics should also involve Turkmens. “No permanent friend and permanent enemy in politics” phrase, which has become a classical discourse for the political science, also applies to Iraq. Therefore, it is quite important to draw policies without making concessions in terms of values and priorities in order to maximize gains. For instance, the normalization in the relationship between Turkmens and Kurds in Kirkuk in the recent period grabs the attention. Whether this normalization will be carried a step further or not might define the future of Turkmens in Kirkuk. First of all, determining what Turkmens want for Kirkuk is important in terms of the strategies to be implemented. At this point, the alliances to be formed by preserving the red lines such as not affiliating Kirkuk to any region, evenly distributing the provincial administration among Turkmens, giving the Turkmen properties and lands usurped back to Turkmens would maximize the interests of the Turkmen. So that, it would be good for Turkmens to consider the alliance which would preserve their interest at maximum level. It is believed that producing policies by sticking with the historical traumas won't do good for Turkmens anymore. Therefore, even allying with Kurdish groups could be thought, if the Turkmen interests will be at maximum level by preserving the national values. There might be some groups which would make Turkmen politicians' negotiating with Kurdish groups look like “betraying the Turkmen nation”. Nevertheless, it wouldn't be nationalism, but to “maximize the interests of the Turkmen nation”. Thus, if it will do good for Turkmens to ally with Kurdish groups, for instance in the local elections to be held in Kirkuk, they can form alliance with Kurdish groups. It is necessary to take the reality into consideration while making policy. Even if they did it unfairly by force within the disturbed balance, the dominance of Kurdish groups in Kirkuk is apparent. The alliance to be formed with Kurdish groups in possible local elections to be held in Kirkuk by making no concessions in terms of basic national values and sensitivities might be useful for Turkmens. As another option, the potential consequences of the alliance, which would be formed with Arabs, for Turkmens should also be considered in detail. For example Arabs do not have any dominance in Kirkuk provincial council. Thus, there might be a bargain on the Turkmen lands, which are mostly controlled by Arabs in particular. In fact, Turkmens might act more strategically and act in unison with some of the Kurdish and Arab groups – if not all of them – by making a joint list. Thus, while Arabs and Kurds might be negatively affected, Turkmens can take advantage of this situation. Because even if the chance is low, it is known that especially Kurdish parties have been going through problems in the political rivalry in Iraq. In the rivalry between the Kurdish Regional Government and the Iraqi central government, it is said that the groups which do not want Barzani's becoming powerful act in unison with Maliki. Thus, it might be suggested that Turkmens can take advantage of this situation. For instance, the advantages, provided especially in the leadership of the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF) for Turkmens in the parliament by taking advantage of the instability and authority vacuum in the Iraqi politics, are quite important.
In conclusion, it is thought that Turkmens' goal is to obtain and preserve their national interests at maximum level. It is important to choose the group to cooperate in reaching that goal. However, it is necessary to indicate that unilateral polarization wouldn't do any good for Turkmens. Besides it is also believed that sticking with the historical problems as with Kurds wouldn't do any good for Turkmens either. What is meant here is not Turkmens' forgetting or ignoring their past or their national history. Nations survive with their historical and national remainders, and they struggle to preserve them forever. Keeping all these in mind, it is believed that rational and pragmatic strategies could bring Turkmens success by preventing emotional politics in order to preserve the national identity forever.