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Iraqi Turkmens
Total population
500,000[1] by most Western sources, to 2,500,000[2][3][4][5][6]

- 3,000,000[7][8][9] by other sources.

Regions with significant populations
Kirkuk, Erbil, Tal Afar, and Mosul

South Azerbaijani (spoken language), standard Turkish (written language), Arabic as second language


Shia and Sunni Islam

Related ethnic groups

Oghuz Turks (Turks, Azeris, Syrian Turkmens), other Turkic peoples.

The Turkmeneli flag used by the Turkmen in Iraq

The Iraqi Turkmens or Iraqi Turks (commonly misspelled[10] as Turcomans, Turkomens, and Iraqi Turkmans) (Turkish: Irak Türkmenleri/Irak Türkleri) are a distinct Turkic ethnic group, the third-largest ethnic group (after Arabs and Kurds)[11] in Iraq, living mostly in northern Iraq, in an area which they call "Turkmeneli", notably in the cities of Kirkuk, Arbil, Tal Afar, and Mosul. There are also significant numbers of Turkmen in the central provinces of Baghdad, Wasit. Estimates of their numbers vary dramatically, (in accordance with Iraq's assimilation policies no realistic and independent census results have been revealed regarding the Iraqi Turkmen population) from 500,000 by most western sources[12][13][14] to 4,500,000 by other sources.[11][12][15][16][17][18] They have been undergoing decades of assimilation campaigns in Iraq.

The Iraqi Turkmen form a distinct group within the Oghuz Turk classification, which includes the Seljuk Turks, Ottoman Turks, modern Turkish people, Azeris, and the Turkmens of Central Asia.[19][20] The language spoken by the Iraqi Turkmens is South Azeri, not the Turkmen language spoken in Turkmenistan.[21] Turkmens live in Iraq and Syria since the Seljuk period, as the ruling class of the Seljuks were Turkmens, including Toğrül Beg, the founder of the dynasty.



The official term "Turkmen" for Iraqi Turks seems to have been created during the course of the discussion on the Mosul issue in the third decade of the last century, in order to isolate the Iraqi Turks from Turkey.[22] This was used as a factor against Turkey during negotiations, in order to join this oil rich Ottoman province to the newly founded Iraq by Britain. The term Turkmen may also refer to Oghuz Turks who migrated to the west, and Muslim Turks which includes Turks of Turkey, Azerbaijan, Balkans, Cypriot and Syria.


Information regarding the Turkmen demographics has been kept secret for various reasons by the Iraqi administration. In accordance with the state’s assimilation policies no realistic and independent census results have been revealed regarding the Iraqi Turkmen population like the other ethnic groups.

Most of the Western sources indicates that Iraqi Turkmens make up from 1% to less than 5 % [23] of the Iraqi population while Turkmen scholars generally tend to claim higher [24][25] numbers for their people in Iraq.

The American administration, and the Western world in general, has underestimated the Turkmen presence in Iraq[citation needed]. Orhan Ketene, an ethnic Turkmen and the U.S. representative for the Iraqi Turkmen Front, argues that the basis for the erroneous estimates originates from various sources that provide false information regarding the Turkmen population. The United States uses two sources: the CIA’s World Fact Book and the Library of Congress. Both sources miscalculate the population of Turkmens in Iraq. They indicate that the Turkmens are less than 5 percent of the population. Ketene argues that both sources represent the information gathered by the Saddam Hussein government, which sought to eradicate the Turkmen presence in this oil-rich and strategic region. Consequently, the American administration in Iraq does not see Turkmens as a significant group in the reconstruction process. Iraqi Turkmen Front also argues that the American government should implement a comprehensive study on the demography of Iraq, in order to ensure a better position in the conflict. However, ITF, usually gains from 0.7% to 1.11% of votes throughout Iraq [26].


Iraqi Turkmens speak a variety of South Azeri, "Turkmenelian", which contains some Arabic and Kurdish words.[27][28] For their written language, they use standard Turkish.[20] They have used a modified version of Arabic alphabet in the past.

The Turkish language is one the official languages in Kerkuk, the capital of "Turkmeneli"[29].


The majority of Turkmens are Muslims, but there are also about 30,000 Christian “catholic” Turks and some Jews living in Iraq.[30] One of the most important historical places in the city of Tuz Hurmatu (Turkmeneli) to visit is the Gawer Kalasi, which means ´Christian castle´ in the Turkmen language.

The Turkmens didn't own any hatred or any kind of racial or religious discrimination, hostility or perception of inferiority towards the Jews when they were living in Tuz Hurmatu, contrary to what is happening in the most advanced countries and in Western countries. There are also a sizeable number of Jews living in Turkmeneli in general and in Tuz Hurmatu in particular. Some Turkmen Jews have left for Israel after 1950. The Yahudiler Mahallesi (which means Jewish neighbourhood in Turkish) is located near the Temple Torah (synagogue), and is still referred to as the Yahudiler Mahallesi today. However, the presence of Muslim neighbours near the temples was not an obstacle or problem for the Jews. The Jewish Synagogue in Dooz is located next to the Buyuk Arkh – which means ´the Big Stream´ in the Turkish – on the east of the Tuz Hurmatu district.

Iraqi Turkmen Muslims are split between Sunni and Shia Islam by faith.[31] There is no difference at all between the Sunni and Shiite Turkmen in the dialogue, language or culture, and the same can be said about all kinds of Turkmens. Intermarriage between the Turkmen, especially Sunni and Shiite Turkmen is very common.

Most sources indicate that the Iraqi Turkmens are Sunnis and Shiites in equal parts[31]. According to Talip Büyük, Shiites are 65% of the population and Sunnis make up the rest.[32] Juan Cole says that they practice a ghulat form of Shiism (cf. Turkey's Alevis).[33] There are numbers of Turkmen mosques in Iraq, like The Ottoman Mosque.[34]


Turkmen boy wearing Turkmeneli traditional folklore costume in a Turkmen museum


Iraqi Turkmens are most known for folk songs, especially the "qoyrats", longplay songs with nearly twenty different melodious voices forming rich literary texts are typical Turkmen musical works, and make up an important part of Turkish music. The songs often are prostest-like expressing sorrow and resenment over unjustice. Hoyrats are a form of uzun hava built on quatrains which often contain allusions and plays on words. They are sung throughout Eastern Anatolia, Southeast Anatolia and Turkmeneli.

The level of education of the Turkmen people living in Iraq was high (except for the last 10 years of the Saddam regime), they had a liberal mentality and they supported peace. They were humanists; they respected laws and were progressive, yet they were falsely accused for working for another state, and have been exposed ethnic cleansing.


Iraqi Turkmens are the descendants of the Oghuz Turks who originally were from Central Asia. They started to settle in Iraq after being brought by the Abbasids in 835 where they established 8 different Turkish ruled states and empires which ruled the region for nine centuries (from 1055 to 1918)

The Turkmens are a Turkic group with a unique heritage and culture, as well as linguistic, historical and cultural links with the surrounding Turkic groups, such as those in Turkey and Azerbaijan. Their spoken language is closer to Azeri but their official written language is similar to the Turkish spoken in present-day Turkey. The Turkmens of Iraq settled in Turkmeneli in three successive and constant migrations from Central Asia, and increased their numbers; this enabled them to establish or play an important role in six states in Iraq:

Most of the Turkmens living in the region settled in northern Iraq during the early Seljuk Empire period, when Turks migrated from Central Asia (Turkestan) to Anatolia, Iran and Iraq. Most of present-day Iraq became part of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th Century. The empire was divided into administrative provinces called vilayets. Mosul Province, which comprised the five present-day Iraqi provinces of Mosul, Kirkuk, Erbil, Duhok and Suleymaniyah, had a diverse population of Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, Assyrians, and others. The Turkmen communities of northern Iraq were supplemented by the Ottomans, who brought Turks from Anatolia to the region to secure and transport mail from Baghdad to Istanbul and vice versa in the 18th century. Others were sent to the region by the Ottomans to repel tribal raids.[35] These groups settled at the entrances of the valleys that gave them access to Kurdish-dominated areas. This historic role of pacification has led to the development of strained relations between the Turkmens and the Kurds.[13]

At the end of World War I, the Ottoman Empire was partitioned by the victorious Allied powers. The United Kindgom had occupied Iraq towards the end of the war. In 1920 Treaty of Sèvres established the present-day border between Iraq and the Republic of Turkey, and Iraq became a League of Nations Mandate under British control. The British established Faisal I, of the Sunni Arab Hashemite dynasty, as King of Iraq. The Kingdom of Iraq became independent in 1932.

The Iraqi Turkmens were branded unjustly as working for another state, Turkey: they were removed from the administration, pushed into isolation and ignored. Then, their fundamental human rights in culture and education were violated by the closure of their schools between 1933 and 1937.

The Iraqi monarchy was overthrown in a military coup on July 14 1958, and Iraq was declared a republic. Under the government of General Abdul-Karim Qasim (1958-1963), the Turkmens suffered marginalisation and discrimination from both the Kurds and the Iraqi communists who dominated the regime in Iraq. They faced internal deportation, exile, arbitrary arrest and detention, confiscation of properties and agricultural land. In Kirkuk, a rally to celebrate the first anniversary of the 1958 revolution degenerated into a three day long massacre of ethnic Turks by the Kurds. At least 30 were people were killed, and over 100 injured. The event was later named the 1959 Kirkuk Massacre.[36]

With the rise of Saddam Hussein and Ba'ath domination over Iraq a policy of Arabization was imposed on the Turkmens and the rest of Iraq's non-Arab minorities. It was declared in the constitution that schools were prohibited from using the Turkish language and banned Turkish-language media in Iraq. In the 1980s, Saddam prohibited the public use of the Turkish language completely.

Assimilation Campaigns

Iraqi Turkmens suffered from various degrees of suppression and assimilation that ranged from political persecution and exile to terror, massacres and ethnic cleansing. During the British and monarchy era, despite 1925 constitution and 1932 League of Nations declaration, cultural rights were gradually taken away, activists were sent to exile.

Arab tribes were settled west of Kirkuk. During the early republican era, Communist and separatist groups committed the Kirkuk Massacre of July 14, 1959 which aimed at terrorizing and ethnically cleansing the Turkmens from the city.

During the Baathist era, the Iraqi administration granted some cultural rights to the Turkmens on January 24, 1970, including education in the Turkish language in primary schools, daily radio broadcasting for two hours and TV broadcasting for half an hour in the Turkish language, these rights were gradually taken away by the authorities and by 1972, all Turkish schools were closed.

The assimilation of the Turkmens already became a state policy in 1971 when the General Assembly of the Baath Party decided to complete the Arabization of Kirkuk by 1980. Administrative boundaries were changed in 1974 to divide Turkmen concentrations. Since the mid 70s, Arabs enjoyed special incentives and rights encouraging them to move to historically Turkmen areas including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. In the latter half of the 1970s, the names of several villages and places were changed.[16]

Present status

Although some have been able to preserve their language, the Iraqi Turkmens today are being rapidly assimilated into the general population and are no longer tribally organized.[13] With the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003, tensions between the Kurds and the Turkmens grew substantially. As a result, Kirkuk soon became the only violent non-Arab city in Iraq during the Iraq War.

Iraqi Turkmens have also emerged as a key political force in the controversy over the future status of northern Iraq and the Kurdish Autonomous Region. The government of Turkey has helped fund such political organizations as the Iraqi Turkmen Front, which opposes Iraqi federalism and in particular the proposed annexation of Kirkuk to the Kurdistan Regional Government.[37]

Tensions between the two groups over Kirkuk, however, have slowly died out and on January 30, 2006, the President of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, said that the "Kurds are working on a plan to give Iraqi Turkmen autonomy in areas where they are a majority in the new constitution they're drafting for the Kurdistan Region of Iraq."[38] However, it never happened and the policies of Kurdification by KDP and PUK after 2003 (with non-Kurds being pressures to move) have prompted serious inter-ethnic problems.[39]

Between ten and twelve Turkmen individuals were elected to the transitional National Assembly of Iraq in January 2005, including five on the United Iraqi Alliance list, three from the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF), and either two or four from the Democratic Patriotic Alliance of Kurdistan.[40][41]

In the December 2005 elections, between five and seven Turkmen candidates were elected to the Council of Representatives. This included one candidate from the ITF (its leader Sadettin Ergec), two or four from the United Iraqi Alliance, one from the Iraqi Accord Front and one from the Kurdistani Alliance.[41][42]

The Turkmens of Iraq have made considerable contribution to the region of Mesapotamia and to the Iraqi society in general. Unfortunately due to political differences, Turkmens in Iraq faced numerous prosecutions during the English invasion after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and subsequent regimes that followed, especially during the devastating reign of Saddams' era, which stripped many Turkmens from their right to express their Turkish culture and educate their children in their mother tongue.

Iraqi Turkmens continue to face assimilation and misrepresentation even after the invasion of Iraq. Kurdification of the Turkmeneli capital Kerkuk and Erbil being one of the main problems.

Notable Iraqi Turks

See also


  1. ^ Bill Park (2005). Turkey's Policy Towards Northern Iraq. Taylor & Francis. pp. 36. ISBN 9780415382977. 
  2. ^ J. Atticus Ryan, Mullen, Mullen, Christopher A. Mullen (1998). Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 92. ISBN 978-0275976088.,M1. 
  3. ^ Kirkut. "Definition of the Turkmen". Retrieved 2009-02-13. 
  4. ^ KerkukNet. "Turkish Settlement Areas In Iraq". Retrieved 2009-02-13. 
  5. ^ The JamesTown Foundation. "Iraqi Turkmen Announce Formation of New Jihadi Group". Retrieved 2009-02-13. 
  6. ^ Mofak Salman Kerkuklu. "BRIEF HISTORY OF IRAQ TURKMEN". Retrieved 2009-03-08. 
  7. ^ News World Communications, Inc.. "Turkmen Should Be Given Human-Rights Protections". Retrieved 2009-03-08. 
  8. ^ Ibrahim Sirkeci PHD. "Turkmen in Iraq and International Migration of Turkmen" (PDF). Retrieved 2009-03-08. 
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b
  12. ^ a b [1]
  13. ^ a b c Helen Chapin Metz and the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. Iraq: A Country Study, p. 86.
  14. ^ Turkey: Facing a New Millennium : Coping with Intertwined Conflicts, By Amikam Nachmani, page 11, Published 2003, Manchester University Press, 264 pages, ISBN 0719063701
  15. ^
  16. ^ a b
  17. ^ Roraback, Amanda (2004). Iraq in a Nutshell. Enisen Publishing. p. 36. ISBN 978-0970290861. Retrieved 2008-05-05. "Most of the nearly 2000000 Turkomans in Iraq live in the Kirkuk and Mosul... web link" 
  18. ^ - Iraq
  19. ^
  20. ^ a b The Iraqi Turkomans: Who They Are And What They Want, Radio Free Europe
  21. ^ Hendrik Boeschoten. 1998. "The Speakers of Turkic Languages," The Turkic Languages (Routledge, pp. 1-15).
  22. ^
  23. ^ [1,2% of the population are Turkmen.]
  24. ^ [Iraq: People, History, Politics, By Gareth Stansfield, Edition: illustrated, revised, Published by Polity, 2007 ISBN 0745632262, 9780745632261 (see page 71)]
  25. ^ [2]
  26. ^
  27. ^ Ethnologue report for Iraq
    David Dalby. The Linguasphere Register (1999, pg 346).
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^ a b
  32. ^ Kerkük, 'Kerbela'mız / Güncel / Milliyet Gazete
  33. ^ Juan Cole, "Iraq must be Kept together as a single state," from Informed Comment, 9/20/2003
  34. ^
  35. ^ Helen Chapin Metz and the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. Iraq: A Country Study, p. 85.
  36. ^ Phebe Marr, The Modern History of Iraq (Westview Press, 2004), p34
  37. ^ Kurds Accused Of Rigging Kirkuk Vote, Al Jazeera
  38. ^ Cevik, Ilnur (2006-01-30). "Talabani: Autonomy for Turkmen in Kurdistan". Kurdistan Weekly. Retrieved 2006-05-20. 
  39. ^ Stansfield, Gareth. (2007). Iraq: People, History, Politics. p71
  40. ^ Interesting Outcomes in Iraqi Election, Zaman Daily Newspaper
  41. ^ a b The New Iraq, The Middle East and Turkey: A Turkish View, Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research, 2006-04-01, accessed on 2007-09-06
  42. ^ Turkmens Win Only One Seat in Kerkuk, Iraqi Turkmen Front

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