Iraqi Turkmens: Middle East’s little actors

 

With hot conflicts, uprisings and geopolitical confrontations in the Middle East, where many actors pursue their own goals, the Iraqi Turkmens stayed in the middle of these turbulences. We had an interview with Dr. James M. Dorsey, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, a syndicated columnist and the author of the blog -The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer about the current situation, recent developments and future possible moves of Iraqi Turkmens.

  

Abbas Zeynalli: How did the recent developments in the Middle East – Arab Spring, ISIS, Iraqi Kurdistan – shape Iraqi Turkmens and their national consciousness? Do you think they can also claim at least some self-governance within the ever-weakening Iraq in the foreseeable future?

James M. Dorsey: Well I think that, you know essentially Turkmens have seen what is happened in the Middle East and they do not want the repetition of that. They were particularly concerned in the period prior to the riots of Islamic State in 2014 when the IS took over significant parts of Northern Iraq. Because the Kurds essentially gained the control of Kirkuk, which is one of the Turkmen strongholds and that concern has somehow faded since because the Kurds were forced to withdraw from Kirkuk. And what we have now is that the Turkmens want to ensure a significant say in whatever structure is going to emerge in Kirkuk. At the moment, for example, they are demanding the new mayor of the Kirkuk be a Turkmen. They have seen the response to Kurdish independence referendum last year and I do not think they want to see the repeat of that. 

 

Abbas Zeynalli: How can Kurdish sovereignty claims affect the Iraqi Turkmens? Is there any potential for future territorial confrontations? If yes, what type of conflict could it be and which actors could it involve?

James M. Dorsey: A lot is going to depend on if the Kurds where to go for the independence and where to be successful and in that attempt a lot would depend on what the Kurdish territory would be. So with other words in the mind of the Turkmens Erbil,Sulaymaniyah – the Kurdish areas – that is not the issue to them, that is not in dispute. What is in dispute is Kirkuk, which is certainly of great importance due to its oil fields.

 

Abbas Zeynalli: What role do the Iraqi Turkmens hold in the Middle East geopolitics? Can they be one of the main actors of Middle East (like the Kurdish people) either to pursue their own goals and/or to be used by powerful actors? 

James M. Dorsey: I personally do not think that the Iraqi Turkmens are a major player as they do not possess big numbers or international consciousness  even in Kirkuk; the Turkmen groups must first unify to be able to speak with one voice. If they gained the control of Kirkuk – which means also significant oil fields - that would probably make a difference. 

Among the external powers interested in Iraqi Turkmens, the most obvious one is Turkey. Turkey’s major concern at this point has always been the Kurds. Also for the domestic reasons as in Turkey itself Kurds are already a substantial minority, holding powerful positions. Meanwhile, Ankara`s other concern is Syria. 

The main question is how much power Turkey would spend on the behalf of the Turkmens. Until now it hasn’t been all that much.