Kirkuk Issue Made Complex by Turkmen, Kurdish Ethnic Nationalism
The Turkmen representative on the Interim Governing Council, Songul Chapouk, called Monday for her hometown of Kirkuk to be demilitarized and for weapons to be collected from all the militias. In an interview with Agence France Presse (via az-Zaman), she said that Kirkuk is “a special case, in the current Iraqi situation,” and said that the solution to the city’s problems is a representative, pluralistic and balanced approach. She said that there is “social coexistence in Kirkuk,” which currently is experiencing ethnic tension. She added, “We [Turkmen] give our children in marriage to Kurds and Arabs, and we take theirs in marriage to ours.” She said, “The Kurds consider that federalism constitutes the best solution to the guarantee of their rights. We do not reject federalism in and of itself, since it is an excellent system. But we reject the dominance of an official clique over others, just as we do not accept any change in the demography of the region and the social reality of the city.” She complained about names of streets and hospitals being changed from Arab or other names to Kurdish ones.
She also complained that a recent Kurdish demonstration in favor of Kurdish annexation of Kirkuk included armed paramilitary, whereas when Arabs and Turkmen staged a counter-demonstration they were instructed to come unarmed. She said all demonstrations should be unarmed. She also warned that if the Kurds insisted on having a loose federal system and a consolidated Kurdistan province, the Turkmen would also insist on having a “Turkmenistan” province in Iraq.
Most specialists think there are about 500,000 Turkmen in northern Iraq. Turkmen make up about a third of Kirkuk’s population of about 700,000 (some say it is larger). They are important beyond their numbers, however, because neighboring Turkey takes a keen interest in their welfare (they speak a language related to Turkish), and Ankara takes a dim view of Kurdish nationalism subordinating Turks. Given how mixed populations are in the north, a territorial Iraqi “Turkmenistan” would raise ethnic tensions to the boiling point. (Christians in the north, who mainly live in Ninevah governorate, have also sometimes spoken of wanting their own province).
The Guardian confirms earlier reports that the CPA will leave the semi-autonomous Kurdish parliament and government intact in the north as Iraq moves toward self-rule. The transitional Iraqi government and the constitutional convention will have to hammer out a compromise on Kurdish semi-autonomy. (This process will be fraught with dangers for the new Iraqi state.)