Who Are The Turkmen of Iraq?

a group of Turkmen boys posing for a photo

(Pictured: A group of displaced Iraqi Turkmen boys you're helping us care for in Baghdad.)


The Iraqi Turkmen

If you're new to the situation in Iraq, you may be surprised to learn that there are not just Arabs and Muslims living in the country. Iraq is actually an incredibly diverse country, with multiple ethnic groups, religions, and sects. One of the lesser-known ethnic groups in Iraq are the Turkmen.

If you read Hatem's story you will have some background into the Turkmens' current situation, and we hope stories like these will shine more light on the need of various, sometimes forgotten minorities here.

Who are the Turkmen?

The Iraqi Turkmen are the third largest ethnic group in Iraq. As the historic and ethnic kin of Turkey, they still share close ties with the global Turkish community. Iraqi Turkmen arrived in Iraq under the Ottoman rule and have since assimiliated into Iraqi society. Reports of population size vary, Turkmen are reported to make up between 3-13% percent of Iraqi population. Iraqi Turkmen are primarily concentrated in Northern Iraq.

The Turkmen consider Kirkuk to be their capital city, and they speak a dialect called "Turkoman", which is considered a variety of either Anatolian Turkish or South Azeri. Often the Turkmen will be bilingual or trilingual, as many of the Northern provinces of Iraq have Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmen living there. The majority of Turkmen are Muslim, however there are both Sunni and Shi'ite Turkmens, with the Shi'ites representing the majority.

What is their political situation?

The Turkmen have faced severe political repression dating back to the fall of the Ottoman Empire. During Saddam Hussein's "Arabization" campaign, when he attempted to assimilate non-Arab minorities, many Turkmen were resettled from their ancestral homelands. Turkmen cities became populated with Arabs, resulting in diverse cultural locations such as Kirkuk, and, with that, an increase in ethnic tensions and violence. The Turkmen community was also affected by the political instability after the fall of Saddam Hussein. There have been tensions between the Iraqi Turkmen community and the Kurdistan Regional Government, most recently over the Peshmerga's influence in Kirkuk.

Have they been affected by ISIS?

As a vulnerable minority group, ISIS is a major threat to Turkmen communities. The Shi'ite populations in particular have been targeted due to their religious differences with the ultra-fundamentalist Sunni-ism of ISIS. In addition to being kidnapped and massacred, ISIS is also responsible for forced relocation and demolition of places of worship considered important to the Shia Turkmen.

The town of Amerli made national headlines after it was besieged by ISIS for two months. Despite limited resources, the Turkmen town heroically helped break the siege of the city. Unfortunately due to the current crisis, much of the Turkmen community is now living internally displaced.

A group of dispalced Iraqi Turkmen we're supporting in Baghdad

Are you in contact with any Turkmen?

Our team is working hard to serve as many displaced Iraqi families as we can during this crisis. In addition to providing lifesaving operations for many Turkmen and displaced families, we are also supporting hundreds of families in Kirkuk, Baghdad, and Sulaymaniyah, and that includes several hundred Turkmen families.

Stay tuned to hear more stories of the Turkmen families you're helping us serve in Iraq, and take two minutes to donate toward the relief efforts here!

If you would like to read more about the Iraqi Turkmen population, here are some helpful links:

Al Monitor: Iraqi Turkmen feel abandoned by Turkey

Human Rights Watch: ISIS Kidnaps Shia Turkmen, Destroys Shrines

Al Jazeera: Iraq breaks Islamic State siege of Amerli

Amnesty International: The plight of Iraq's civilian population

UNPO: Iraqi Turkmen

Kurdish-Turkmen tension on the rise in Kirkuk

About Elizabeth Cione

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Who Are The Turkmen of Iraq?
Who Are The Turkmen of Iraq?
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