The agenda of the period ahead: Kirkuk
As we leave the independence referendum in North Iraq behind, we can expect from now on that the arguments concerning the history and the demography of Kirkuk will cover an ever expanding area in the coming days.
Once we lift the front cover on the Kirkuk file, the first subject we can underline is the fact that this settlement was a Turkmen city for a very long period in history. At the end of World War I, Kirkuk went under the control of the British, and after 1941, it was left within the borders of the Kingdom of Iraq.
An important criterion we can use to identify the density of the Turkmens in all of Iraq and specifically in Kirkuk, is the population census where the Turkmens were counted as an ethnic group for the last time in 1957.
In this census, the Iraqi population was 6,300,000 and the Turkmens were the third most crowded ethnic group after the Arabs and the Kurds. The Turkmen population was 567,000, making up 9 percent of the total population. The Kurds made up 16 percent with a population of 1,042,000.
When we look at the results taken from the city center of Kirkuk in 1957, we see the Turkmens are a significant majority, making up 75 percent of the population and the Kurds coming in after with 20 percent.
On the other hand, the “Arabization” policy they were exposed to under the ruling of Baath starting in 1968 weakened the Turkmen majority in Kirkuk.
The regime of Baath made use of many devices to weaken the Turkmen majority in the city.
The most effective was sending the Turkmens and Kurds away from Kirkuk and making the Arabs settle in place of them.
They made it difficult for the Turkmens to own properties, forced them to take Arabic names and eliminated their cultural and educational rights.
As a result, it is possible to say that the Turkmen identity of Kirkuk was seriously damaged in favor of the Arab identity, during the period extending from the First Gulf War in 1991 and the U.S. occupation afterward in 2003.
In 2003, the American occupation of Iraq damaged this balance even more in terms of the Turkmens.
Kirkuk attracted a very big migration wave from the Kurdish population, who made use of the power vacuum created after the end of the Saddam Hussein regime.
This time, with the conscious policy of the Kurdish parties, a Kurdish settlement was supported in Kirkuk.
In a very short period of time, Kurds coming from all over Iraq and even from Iran and Syria, settled in Kirkuk and built many new neighborhoods inside the city and on its outskirts.
The offices of land titles were attacked and documents were destroyed.
Without a doubt, a segment of Kurds coming to Kirkuk were those who were expelled from Kirkuk by the Baath regime and it was their most natural right to do so.
Yet, it would not be wrong to say that an important percentage of them were not from Kirkuk. At the end, if a population census is taken in Kirkuk today, it is very likely the Kurds will be the most crowded ethnic group in the city.
The Kurdization of Kirkuk in this way after 2003 is done under the patronage of the United States.
The U.S., who reacted to Turkey when the parliament rejected U.S. entry to Iraq via Turkish soil on March 1, 2003, paved the way for the Kurds to form the new Iraq and maintained an attitude of sponsorship on this issue.
For example, Iraq’s new constitution that was written in the process and accepted in 2005 placed a strong emphasize on the identities of the Arabs and the Kurds as equal founders.
According to the constitution, the government has two official languages: Arabic and Kurdish. The Turkmens, along with the Assyrians and the Chaldeans took the status of minorities.
By contrast, the decree rejected by the parliament on March 1 included important regulations with regard to guaranteeing the rights of the Turkmens. One being on the violation of the green border, which separated the Kurdish region in the north from Mosul and Kirkuk.
The military memorandum of understanding committed the U.S. to use military force in case the regime opponents would pass this border. And if the U.S. could not do this alone, it was stated that it could take support from Turkey.
This document therefore, prevented the Kurdish groups from passing into Kirkuk.
The basic policies of the new constitution that would be prepared after the war in Iraq was included in the political document as also part of the decree.
“Every founding nation of Iraq, the Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens and along with the Assyrians, Chaldeans and other’s rights and freedom must be protected,” said the document. The Turkmens were identified as the fundamental component of the new Iraq together with the Arabs and the Kurds.
When we look at today, we can say the situation in Kirkuk, which is located on very rich oil reservoirs, has the potential to become a big crisis that can expand to the whole region in a short period of time.
Therefore, it is for the benefit of the actors who take part in this conflict, to think twice before taking any step.