Shia Turkmens in Iraq alienated by Turkey

SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association) Turkey’s “indifference” to the plight of Turkmens in Iraq seriously risks pushing Shiite Turkmens away from Turkey, as Turkey did not move to protect them against the terrorist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

“All Turkmens are angry at Turkey, but the Shiite ones are even more so, as Turkey did not offer them protection from ISIL,” said Serhat Erkmen, head of the Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies in 21st Century Turkey, when speaking to Sunday’s Zaman.

Although the terrorist ISIL, which has the backing of some Sunni groups in Iraq, has been cruel to members of all religions in their bloody campaign in the country since early June, those Sunnis who bowed to the terrorist organization managed to save their lives. The radical Islamist organization has so far been brutal to members of other sects of Islam and other religions.

When Tal Afar, a Turkmen city with a population of nearly 400,000 in northwestern Iraq, was confronted with immediate ISIL occupation in mid-June after Mosul fell into ISIL hands, Turkey did not lift a finger to offer Turkmens protection from the terrorist organization. Turkey just provided humanitarian aid to Turkmens who had to flee to the mountainous or desert area around in fear for their lives.

Hundreds of Turkmens, possibly more, were killed in the ISIL attack on Tal Afar, while most of the city’s population, around half of whom were Shiite Turkmens, fled the city. Turkmen girls captured by the terrorists were reportedly raped or sold at the market by ISIL terrorists, as was also the case for Yazidi women later.

“Turkey has long somewhat kept its distance from us, but it had never ignored us as much as it does today,” said Erkmen, who is also a professor of international relations at Ahi Evran University, quoting Shiite Turkmens.

The Turkish government explains its position with the fact that 49 Turkish citizens, most of whom served in Turkey’s Mosul consulate, have been held captive by ISIL since the terrorist organization invaded Mosul in June.

Despite being warned about the approaching ISIL threat ahead of the fall of the northern Iraqi city, the Turkish government reportedly instructed Consul-General Öztürk Yılmaz to remain in the consulate in Mosul.

“Shiite Turkmens feel anger and resentment toward Turkey,” Mahir Nakip, a Turkmen scholar from Kirkuk who is based in Turkey, told Sunday’s Zaman.

Noting that Turkmens demand that Turkey offer them not only humanitarian aid, but also political support, he added, “A significant number of Shiite Turkmens don’t feel affection for Turkey anymore.”

Possibly nearly half a million Turkmens are displaced in Iraq because of the ISIL threat. As Turkey did not allow Turkmens to seek shelter in Turkey, in contrast to Yazidis, most Shiite Turkmens migrated to the Shia-dominated south of the war-torn country. They reportedly struggle to live in very difficult conditions.

Turkey, a secular country, has a Sunni-dominated population and the Turkish government has also been criticized for adopting a sectarian policy in Iraq. ISIL’s advance in Turkey’s southern neighbor was even described by some leading government officials, who have thus far avoided calling ISIL a terrorist organization, as Iraqi Sunnis’ reaction to being excluded from the administration of the country, as if to legitimize ISIL.

ISIL activity is seen as an attempt to carve out a Sunni region of Iraq while driving away Turkmens and other religious minorities in the region stretching from Mosul province in the north to Bagdad.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu once claimed in August, when he was minister of foreign affairs, that the clashes in Tal Afar were not just fighting between ISIL and Turkmens, but that Sunni and Shiite Turkmens were also clashing among themselves. Davutoğlu was possibly referring to a few radical Sunni Turkmens in Tal Afar who joined ISIL.

“Most Shiite Turkmens have adopted an anti-Turkey attitude, as they believe Turkey is behind ISIL,” Riyaz Sarıkahya, a Kirkuk-based leader of the Turkmeneli Party, told Sunday’s Zaman.

Then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said when Tal Afar was under ISIL siege that there were Sunnis and Shiites there, implicitly bringing to the fore the sectarian issue in the ISIL attacks.

Shiite Turkmens have also been deeply frustrated by the Turkish government’s “sectarian” discourse. “They [Shiite Turkmens] perceived that [Erdoğan’s remark] as a reference to their sectarian identity. They will never forget that,” Erkmen commented.

Turkmens are in a particularly vulnerable position in the face of ISIL attacks, as the towns they live in stretch from northern Iraq toward Bagdad, precisely the area in which ISIL is active in the country.

“Turkey has not backed us politically. This is what saddens us most,” Sarıkahya added.

Until recently, Amirli, a Shiite Turkmen town with a population of around 15,000 that is near Bagdad, remained under siege by ISIL for around a month-and-a-half. The townspeople defended themselves, under very tough conditions, against the ISIL terrorists until, at long last, the Iraqi central army, supported by US air forces, Kurdish peshmerga forces and military units from some other countries such as Iran broke the ISIL siege.

Reportedly, Turkey just sent humanitarian aid to the town after the siege was broken. Turkmens were once again deeply frustrated at not seeing Turkey at their side when they were struggling for their lives.

“Shiite Turkmens now feel closer to the central Iraqi government, which is dominated by Shiites, and to Iran, as it was those two who rushed to help them,” Erkmen said.

It has been three months since Turkmens were driven from their homes by ISIL forces, but the Turkish government has not even managed to establish a campsite to provide shelter for Turkmens in Iraq, let alone in Turkey. The Cumhuriyet daily reported in mid August that there was no trace as yet of a refugee camp having been established by Turkey in the Kurdish region, despite an earlier report by the state-run Anatolia news agency that Turkey was building a camp near the town of Dohuk in the Kurdish region.


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