Iraqi Turkmens' Conference in Baghdad and Its Evaluation
Since 2003, the United Nations has secured the presence of a representative and an active official in Baghdad even in the most critical times, under the name of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). The UNAMI Representative in Baghdad is currently Ján Kubiš and he seems a little different. While all the former representatives met Turkmen officials, it is not possible to say that they were active in terms of Turkmens’ issue.However, as ofApril, Ján Kubiš held a series of meetings with Turkmen leading figures and has succeeded in forming a subcommittee in order to organize a comprehensive conference. Two of the members are from the Iraqi Turkmen Front, one of whom is Kirkuk Deputy Hasan Turan and the second is again former ITF Diyala Deputy Hasan Ozmen. The other two members are National Alliance deputies and former ministers Jasim Mohammed Jaafar (Deputy Leader of Turcoman Islamic Union and Dawa Party member) and Muhammed Mehdi Beyatlı (Badr Organization). The fifth member is Turkmen Commander of al-Hashd al-Shaabi and member of Turkmen Wafa Movement Yilmaz Shahbaz.
The committee performed two important duties. The first duty was to prepare a draft Turkmen declaration on which discussions would be possible and the second was to ensure that almost 60 prominent Turkmens would come together to discuss this declaration on 16 November 2017. These figures were selected from among the chairmen and deputy chairmen of all Turkmen parties, Turkmen intellectuals and certain national-international Turkmen nongovernmental organizations.Turkmen parties which are called "Signboard or Cardboard Parties" by Turkmen intellectuals and which only carry out activities in Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) were not invited to the meeting.
During the mentioned meeting, the participants expressed their opinions about the draft for 5-6 hours without entering into any polemic or discussion despite their different views and political tendency. They brought the problems of the region they were coming from to the agenda of the meeting and they demanded that these problems be included in the final declaration.
On 17 May,more than 300 Turkmen leading figures filled the biggest hall of al Rasheed Hotel in the Green Zone in Baghdad. Besides, Iraqi Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jubouri, Leader of National Iraqi Alliance Ammar al-Hakim and UNAMI Representative JánKubiš also attended the meeting. The conference was held under the auspices of Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jubouri and under the coordinatorship of the UNAMI.
Having delivered the first speech as the most senior Turkmen deputy, Mosul Deputy of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq Taqi al-Mawla indicated that Turkmens defended the integrity of Iraq, they shed their blood for Iraq by always adopting it as homeland, they would resolutely object to the understanding of random revenge after DAESH left Iraq, they owed a gratitude to all parties, notably Turkey, which welcomed Turkmen migrants leaving for different regions in Iraq or Turkey.Among the demands that al-Mawla enumerated in general, the most important issues are as follows:
- Immediate liberation of Tal Afar, return of Sunni and Shiite Turkmens to their provinces.
- As the Chief Commander, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's forming a special army of 1000 people which will include equal numbers of Sunni and Shiite Turkmens in order to liberate Tal Afar.
- Immediate reconstruction of the province with the help of the countries in the vicinity after the liberation of Tal Afar.
- Granting special vacancies for Turkmens especially in terms of appointments to ministries and other highly ranking positions.
- Fair resolution of the problem of Kirkuk which is an Iraqi province and prevention of all parties from infringing the other's rights.
The second speaker was Iraqi Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jubouri who undertook the organization of the conference.Having underlined that Turkmens had lived faithfully and devotedly in Iraqi territory for a millennium, Al-Jubouri stated that no one should try to undermine Turkmens' weight by taking into account the current Turkmen population. Al-Jubouri said:¨Those who use certain constitutional articles as an excuse and want to disintegrate and divide Iraqi territory had better find another country for themselves¨. He implicitly criticized especially Kurdish political groups that want to be separated from Iraq. Having indicated that Turkmens should be granted with their rights, taking full account of the fact that they constitute the principal element and third nation of Iraq, al-Jubouri emphasized that Turkmens who left their territory because of terrorism should turn back to their own lands.Al-Jubouri underlined the necessity of maintaining the demographic structure in the provinces where Turkmens live.
It was obvious that al-Jubouri targeted Kurdish politicians in his speech, without giving specific names. Al-Jubouri implicitly criticized especially Kurdish expansionism which trespassed on Turkmen territory. Indeed, one day later, two deputies of Kurdish political wing Ashwaq Jaf and Hoshyar Abdullah made statements, criticizing al-Jubouri's speech. While Jaf indicated that al-Jubouri targeted and threatened Kurds, Abdullah stated that al-Jubouri talked as if he were the only owner of Iraq.
The third speaker was Shiite leader and Head of National Iraqi Alliance Ammar al-Hakim.Having started his speech by indicating that Turkmens constituted the principal element of Iraq, al-Hakim strongly praised Turkmens.Al-Hakim stated that he appreciated Turkmens' sacrifices and struggles before and even after 2003.Having said that Turkmens did not only defend their own regions but also the entire country against DAESH, al-Hakim indicated that Turkmens considerably shed their blood to this end. He expressed his gratitude and appreciation to Turkmens for choosing Baghdad but not any place in other countries in order to discuss the issues between different political parties.Having also touched upon the post-DAESH phase, al-Hakim emphasized that everyone should act responsibly and attentively in order to prevent the emergence of any disorder or chaos. He underlined that more realistic steps should be taken after DAESH and this should be observed not only in Baghdad but also in Kirkuk and KRG.
Iraqi President Fuad Masum also sent a representative to the meeting, who made a short speech, indicating that Turkmens were the principal element of Iraq and they would have a bright future in a democratic Iraq.Iraqi President Haider al-Abadi did not personally participate in the meeting but assigned Turkmen Deputy of Dawa Party Abbas Bayatlı who began his speech by primarily praising Turkmens' fight against DAESH in Amirli and Bashir. Having emphasized that Turkmens were not only the third nation in Iraq but also one of the fundamental nations that formed Iraq, Bayatlı said that Iraq would lose its meaning without Turkmens. Abbas Bayatlı indicated that it was not appropriate or fair for a nation to oppress and even neglect another nation and added that a solution in Kirkuk was possible only upon the willingness of all the parties.
The last speaker was UNAMI Representative Ján Kubiš. Kubiš congratulated Turkmen politicians and intellectuals for succeeding in completing their works in a period of time as short as one and a half month and coming together around common grounds. Having stated that Turkmens served as a good example for the other divided political groups from all these aspects, Ján Kubiš emphasized that this unity would be an important source of meetings and discussions which will be shaped in Iraq in post-DAESH period. He concluded his speech as follows: ¨The United Nations will always side with Turkmens since they have gone through a very tough test in terms of Iraq's unity and solidarity. ¨
Content of Turkmen Declaration
President of Iraqi Turkmen Front and Kirkuk Deputy Ershad Salihi read the joint declaration drafted by all Turkmen parties, organizations and intellectuals. The declaration contains the following issues in sum:
In the preamble of the declaration, it is emphasized that Turkmens who are the third fundamental element of Iraq have always remained as Iraqi citizens and made efforts for unity and solidarity in Iraq even though they previously faced all kinds of injustice, tyranny, mass murders and seizure of their lands. Through this conference, it was declared that a step was taken to support the national unity project in Iraq and to combine it with Turkmens' Iraqi National Reconciliation Project.
The basic declaration consists of four headings:
- Turkmens' demands with regard to the legislative power
- Turkmens' demands with regard to the executive power
- Relations with KRG and Kurds
- Fulfillment of Turkmen project
Under the first heading, fourprincipal demands are expressed:
- Introducing the necessary legal regulations in order to return the regions reclaimed from Turkmens in Kirkuk, Tuz Khurmatu, Mosul and Diyala.
- Ensuring that Turkmens will also benefit from the oil and gas incomes which are the wealth of all people in Iraq.
- Enactment of the law regulating all the rights of Turkmens, by the parliament.
- Parliamentary approval of the long pending Federal Parliament Draft Law which constitutes the national components of Iraq and its implementation as soon as possible.
Turkmens' demands from the Iraqi central government are briefly as follows:
- Lifting unjust and unfair practices against Turkmens while distributing the highly ranking positions such as ministries, undersecretaries, directorates general and embassies.
- Ensuring that Turkmens who were forced to migrate from their regions can turn back and establishing a defense unit composed of the people of the region who were rescued.
- Attaching required importance to the education of Turkmens and meeting their needs, also removing the unjust allegations and falsifications regarding Turkmens' history in all Iraqi course books.
- Erecting a monument symbolizing the tyranny that Turkmens suffered previously.
- Restoring Turkmens' historic places such as Kirkuk and Tal Afar Citadels.
- Supporting Turkmen units of al-Hashd al-Shaabi formed in proportion to the density of Turkmen population in order to defend their own regions, also affiliating other Turkmen forces to Iraqi official armed forces by supporting them.
- Allocating quota for Turkmen students in Iraqi military and police academies and for studying abroad.
Relations with KRG
All Turkmens participating in the conference gave the following message to KRG: ¨Turkmens invite all political, ideological and cultural Kurdish institutions to open and constructive dialogue and to mutual respect, they refuse to attack or violate others' rights. ¨ It was also demanded that Turkmens living in Erbil and Kifri could be protected and they could be assigned to perform highly ranking duties.
Implementation of Turkmen Project
- A coordination board was established in order to follow the demands enumerated above.
- Communications between the parliament, the government, KRG, the parties and political groups will be enhanced and held more frequently in order to meet Turkmens' demands.
- The relations with regional and global powers will be maintained, these will grant Iraq with its regional and global role again.
- Works will be conducted with the United Nations (UNAMI) in order to ensure that Turkmen project will be guaranteed as part of Iraqi national reconciliation process.
When the US proposal to enter Iraq together was rejected in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (GNAT) on 1 March 2003, Turkmens felt seriously alone and they were excluded from the political process for a long time. Turkmen politics continued through two channels mostly for this reason. The first channel was the ITF which was established in Turkey and intensified its nationalist discourse and the parties inside it and the second channel was Islamic Turkmen parties inside the long-lasting Shiite opposition in Iran.In the political process after2003, Shiite-Islamist Turkmen partiestook part in the coalition formed by different Shiite fractions and they could both have 6-7 seats in the parliament and one minister in each cabinet. Since Nationalist Turkmens did not have a similar roof, they could have at most 3 deputies in each parliamentary term and they could take only one ministry under the second term of Maliki government. However, while there was not a serious conflict between two parties, the grassroots of Turkmen people neither basically accepted the presence of such division nor lived it.
The first sectarian conflicts among Turkmens broke out during the incidents in Tal Afar in 2004.The problems were overcome through Turkey's support and Turkmens'own internal dynamics. There were no such conflicts in the other Turkmen regions. However, the sectarian segregation across Iraq, especially the Shiite-Sunni showdown started to increase gradually in different regions of Iraq. After the US forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011; the conflicts between two Turkmen segments started to be reflected on the grassroots, if narrowly, for reasons such as the increase in Iranian influence, DAESH invasion in Turkmen territory in Iraq in 2014, the relations that Turkey strengthened with some Arab groups in Iraq and eventually the outbreak of the Bashiqa camp problem between Turkey and Iraq. Especially the refusal of Nationalist Turkmens, through a mistaken decision, to join al-Hashd al-Shaabi which was established to liberate Turkmen regions from DAESHwidened the cracks of conflicts among Turkmens.
Both political circles took serious lessons fromthese negative developmentssince Turkmen society suffered deep atrocities after DAESH.500 thousand Turkmens, that constitute one fifth of almost 2,5 million Turkmen population, were deterritorialized; the only ministry they had under al-Abadi government was taken from them; Kirkuk was completely taken under KRG control; explosions occurred frequently in Tuz Khurmatu; Turkmen lands were not given back to Turkmens in any regions. Such incidents awoke the national conscience of all Turkmens and forced them to come together around minimum common grounds despite the disagreements. It is possible to say that Turkmens generally come together around common victimizations.As a consequence, it could be seen that Turkmens who became deputies from different lists held joint press conferences from time to time, by forming a Turkmen platform in the parliament. Indeed, when the afore mentioned Turkmen Declaration is examined, it can be understood that almost all the demands are the result of a victimization and they are only the natural and constitutional rights of Turkmens.That is to say, it has been revealed that Shiite-Islamist Turkmen politicians were not pleased with Baghdad where Shiite population is denser and KRG, either.
Within this context, certain implicit compromises were achieved in the conference and the problems between Turkmen political groups seem to have been resolved by themselves. Based on this sentence, it can be said that:
- the presence of the sky-blue Turkmen flag with star and crescent on banners, invitations and in the hall shows that the conflicts between the nationalist circle and the Islamist circle have been eliminated or have at least fallen off the agenda.It is known that a part of Islamist Turkmens who are close to the Shiite do not recognize any other flag than the Iraqi flag.
- The presence of Turkish versions with the Latin alphabet under Arabic explanations can also be seen as an important step which nationalist Turkmens succeeded in having accepted.
- Turkmen national anthem can also be added to these.
- It is registered that Turkmen Armed Forces which is planned to be established besides al-Hashd al-Shaabi can take place as well. On the other hand, it can be said that nationalist Turkmens have recognized the presence of Turkmen unit of al-Hashd al-Shaabi, which shows that a balance has been redressed.
A similar initiative was taken on 6-7 December 2014 and a declaration was published.However, that meeting was held neither under the auspices of Iraqi Parliament Speaker nor with the support of the United Nations.Therefore, there were not many opportunities to implement and follow the initiative, thus leaving the meeting unsuccessful. Nevertheless, it constituted the first step of this conference. It can be easily said that this conference was much more successful and comprehensive than that meeting. In short, (as far as it was followed on the social media) Turkmen people were pleased with this conference.
There are several uncertain issues regarding the conference and the declaration derived from the conference. First of all, this declaration finally consists of the demands of Turkmens from the relevant official authorities. The declaration is not a manifesto of compromise with respect to Turkmen discourse or common values.Of course, it may be difficult to overcome the ideological segregation between two circles. However, this does prevent them from coming together around common discourses and all Turkmens should absolutely have common sacred values and sine qua non factors. From this point of view, the declaration is not a tool which can be used to solve the ideological and rooted problems between Turkmen political organizations. In this sense, it is vital to address the headings of Turkmen declaration,indicated on the website of Kirkuk Association,under the roof of a(n) (advisory) councilwhich should be essentially established in the future. These were classified under 11 subheadings:
- Ideological line of Turkmen movement
- Turkmens' views on Iraqi citizenship
- Turkmens' views on the ethnical groups in Iraq
- Turkmens' views on the issues in Arab world
- The views of Turkmen movement on the expectations of Kurdish people
- The views of Turkmen movement on the regime issues in Iraq
- The views of Turkmen movement on religious and sectarian differences
- The views of Turkmen movement on the neighboring countries and the countries of the region
- The views of Turkmen movement on women and family
- The views of Turkmen movement on Turkmens' education and the language of education
- The views of Turkmen movement on economic issues
Of course, these subheadings cannot be easily settled. There will be no discussion platform without forming a Turkmen (advisory) council where these issues can be discussed since these subheadings are really challenging. However, it is obvious that a cooperation and cohesion between Turkmen political groups will not be healthy if there is no compromise on these matters.For example, will a cooperation be possible between the groups in the elections to be held in 2018, or how will the differences of opinionsbe removed in terms of distribution of ministries after the elections?
In conclusion, it should be indicated that the conference was a historical breakthrough and Turkmen politicians such as Hasan Ozmen, Hasan Turan, Jasim Mohammed Jaafar, Muhammed Mehdi Beyatlı and Yılmaz Shahbaz played significant roles in this success. However, it should be clarified what the following stepswill be. Therefore, two important issues should be addressed by the Coordination Board which is planned to be established:
- The demands on which compromise has been made should be pursued in a serious, planned and disciplined manner.
- The Coordination Board should also check out the circumstances in order to take necessary steps for the establishment of Turkmen (Advisory) Council.