However, to some Turkmen activists from Tuz Khormato, the peshmerga are the aggressors, trying to erase the historic Turkmen presence there. “Tuz Khormato is a strategic city where Turkmen have lived throughout modern history. … It’s 60% Turkmen,” said Mehdi Al-Beyati, the Baghdad-based spokesman for the Turkmen Rescue Foundation and a native of Tuz Khormato. His foundation campaigns for Turkmen rights throughout Iraq, and his claim that the city has a Turkmen majority contradicts the figures from Khorshed.
A report his organization compiled during the late April attacks claims that Turkmen in the Popular Mobilization Units were merely responding to attacks by the peshmerga. “On the evening of April 24, the Kurdish militia started to burn Turkmen houses in the north of the city,” read the report, titled “Tuz Khormato still bleeding.”
Beyati blames actions by Kurdish forces dating back to the start of the US invasion in 2003 for creating the current tensions in the city. “The first issue in Tuz Khormato was in August 2003, when Kurdish officials entered the city and began a terrorist operation there. There were no explosions or terrorist operations there before that,” he said. Reuters reported clashes between Turkmen and Kurds in the city at that time.
Since its incorporation into the KRG, Kirkuk has witnessed a decrease in violence. All these problems withstanding, people are out in the streets more and safety has improved, especially considering its proximity to Tuz Khormato and IS. But the exodus of citizens and tensions surrounding Tuz Khormato threaten to destabilize the greater Kirkuk area. For a disputed region in a country gripped by mass protests in Baghdad and still partially occupied by IS, this is a troubling development indeed.