Magazine article Insight on the News

Turkmen Should Be Given Human-Rights Protections

Magazine article Insight on the News

Turkmen Should Be Given Human-Rights Protections

Article excerpt

The suffering of 3 million Turkmen under the Iraqi dictatorship of Saddam Hussein has been as acute as the privations of the Kurds and Shiites, as well as compounded by Kurdish persecution. The latter, nevertheless, are protected under the wings of the United States and enjoy its exclusive anti-Saddam political backing. In contrast, the doubly oppressed Turkmen have been cold-shouldered and left to the tender mercies of both Saddam and the Kurds. That aloofness tarnishes America's humanitarian mission. It also makes dubious U.S. national-security hopes for a stable and enlightened Iraqi dispensation in the post-Saddam era indispensable to ensuring access to Persian Gulf oil, which triggered our 1991 military opposition to Saddam's adventurism in Kuwait.

The ordinary reader and maybe even the Middle East expert probably knows less about the Iraqi Turkmen than of the ancient Sumerians of 4000 B.C. Their ethnicity and culture separate them from the Kurds and Arabs of Iraq and have consigned them to a much bleaker history. Iraq's 1925 constitution offered equal dignity to Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen. But the latter soon plunged into a silenced and oppressed minority. Iraqi textbooks taught that Turkmen were responsible for the Mongol and Tamerlane plunderings of Mesopotamia, for the destruction and corruption of the Arab civilization and for espionage and secessionist aspirations as agents of TUrkey. Despised as nomads and barbarians, Turkmen were excluded from government offices and subject to political and cultural isolation by the ruling Arab dynasty.

Turkmen fared little better in the hands of Iraqi Kurds. After a 1958 military coup toppled the King Faisal dynasty, communist Arab and Kurdish parties massacred the Turkmen of oil-rich Kerkuk on July 14, 1959, and relations between the two peoples spiraled downward in the aftermath. At present, Iraqi Kurds regularly insult and intimidate Turkmen and deny them political space in their plans for Kurdish autonomy or independence.

The Arab Ba'ath Party of Saddam Hussein climbed to power in 1968 and negotiated a treaty in March 11, 1970, creating three northern Kurdish autonomous provinces of Duhok, Erbil and Sulaimaniah. Turkmen were granted "cultural rights" in their own areas, which soon were dishonored by the Iraqi government bent on flooding the oil-rich land with more politically reliable southern Arabs, a form of ethnic cleansing. Turkmen can neither buy property nor repair their houses in their homeland, nor speak their language on the streets or on the telephone, nor choose Turkish names for children, cities, towns or streets. …

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