The spokesperson for Turkmen political parties in Kirkuk tells NIQASH that his people don’t want to be part of Kurdistan, that they do want a semi-independent region and they hope Turkey will help them with that.
As one of Iraq’s smaller ethnic groups, local Turkmen must work hard to make their voices heard at a national level. Nonetheless in northern provinces like Kirkuk, the Turkmen are a more important political voice.
In some smaller areas in northern Iraq, the group - who mostly feel closer to those of Turkish ethnicity and who are both Shiite and Sunni Muslim in terms of their sectarian allegiances - make up a majority of the population.
In Kirkuk, the Turkmen are represented by the Iraqi Turkmen Front, which is comprised of six Turkmen political parties. In an interview with NIQASH, Ali Mahdi, the spokesperson for the Turkmen Front, spoke about the group’s aims after the extremist group known as the Islamic State has been driven out of the northern province.
Even though the Iraqi Kurdish military, from the nearby semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, are in charge of security in parts of the province, and even though the Kurdish believe that Kirkuk should be part of their region, the Turkmen disagree. They say that they want to see Kirkuk become its own semi-autonomous region where responsibilities are equally shared between all of the different ethnic and religious groups there.
Mahdi discussed how this might happen, what kind of support his people are requesting from Turkey around the issue and his thoughts on the Kurdish flag being raised over official buildings in Kirkuk recently. The governor of Kirkuk, an Iraqi Kurdish politician, raised the Kurdish flag at the end of March this year, sparking protests by local Turkmens as well as debate in the federal Parliament in Baghdad.
NIQASH: In many of your recent press statements you have talked about the country’s Turkmen being “targeted” over the past few months. What exactly do you mean by this?
Ali Mahdi: Iraq’s Turkmen have not only been targeted physically – and especially in Kirkuk over the past six months – but they have been political targets ever since 2003. They are paying a high price for their political views.