question of Kirkuk's final status remains among the touchiest
issues concerning Iraq's future. The Iraqi Kurdish political
parties seek to include Kirkuk in a federal Kurdish state, an
outcome at odds with Iraqi Turkoman sensitivities. The Turkomans
consider Kirkuk to be their own ancestral capital and cultural
center. Understanding the Turkoman claim to Kirkuk is essential
to defuse a potentially explosive problem.
Policymakers and commentators outside Turkey often ignore the
Turkomans. Literature about them is scarce in Western languages;
the little that exists is limited in academic rigor and
utility. Furthermore, in terms of enunciating their concerns
and interacting with Western officials, the Turkomans themselves
have not always been effective spokesmen for their cause.
For centuries, the Turkomans have been part of the urban elite
in cities such as Baghdad, Mosul, and Kirkuk. They remain an
integral part of Iraq although their population is debated. It
is hard to come by adequate population numbers in Iraq. After
the 1958 revolution and the Baath Party coup ten years later,
successive Iraqi governments embraced Arab nationalism and
worked to subvert the rights of the Kurdish and Turkoman
communities. The last reliable census in Iraqand the only one
in which participants could declare their mother tonguewas in
1957. It found that Turkomans were the third largest ethnicity
in Iraq, after Arabs and Kurds. The Turkomans numbered 567,000
out of a total population of 6,300,000. Later polls dropped "Turkoman"
as a category. Basing his estimate on the 1957 census data and a
growth rate of 2.5 percent annually, Erşat Hürmüzlü, a
Kirkuk-born Turkoman scholar, estimated Iraq's Turkoman
population today at no less than two million Turkomans, out of a
total population of 25 million.
The City of Kirkuk
The status of Kirkuk remains one of Iraq's major flash points. A
city of more than 750,000 in the center of northern Iraq, it
sits adjacent to oil fields holding 40 percent of Iraq's
reserves and is surrounded by some of Iraq's richest
agricultural land. Kirkuk's history is complex, replete with
competing claims to suzerainty.
Kirkuk's history dates back thousands of years. The Ottoman
Empire incorporated Kirkukand much of what is now Iraqinto its
domains in 1534. Kirkuk grew in importance in the eighteenth
century when it became the capital of the Ottoman sanjak (county
or sub-district) of Şehrizor, comprising the areas of Kirkuk,
Arbil, and Sulaimaniya. With the reforms of Midhat Pasha,
Baghdad's governor between 1869 and 1872, the name Şehrizor was
given to the sanjak of Kirkuk (corresponding to the present
areas of Kirkuk and Arbil). In 1879, the Ottoman government in
Istanbul created the Mosul vilayet, which incorporated most of
what is now northern Iraq. Kirkuk remained an important garrison
town and, for reasons of language and the composition of the
population, a valuable Ottoman recruiting center for civil
servants and gendarmes. Ottoman culture thrived in the city.
The Turkomans dominated the merchant class and provided economic
stability to the city.