A Recent History of Kirkuk: The Victim City

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Sign the petition for Iraq's three-region solution May 21, 2008 A Recent History of Kirkuk: The Victim City

Kurdishaspect.com - By Karim Hasan

Historical documents and archaeological sites show that Kirkuk is an ancient Kurdish city located in the foothills of West central Zagros Mountains of Kurdistan within the pervious Kurdish province of Sharezur  (1) .  The city has been within the administrative jurisdiction of Iraq since the creation of the state of Iraq. Why a historical preoccupation with Kirkuk? Most of the 35-40 million Kurds have not seen the city of Kirkuk, but they have a sense of connection to that city. Kirkuk is an ancient city with economic value of hundreds of billions of dollars.  It is a city, which has not been known to the world through tourist attraction sites and guide travel books in major languages. It is a city that has been known to the world through its vast petroleum reserves.  It is one of the richest cities on this planet, but poor enough that cannot be compared to any of its counterparts. The city is dirty, underdeveloped and its residents are insecure because of the riches of the city. 

Kirkuk is a Kurdish city that has been diversified between 1930 and 2003  (2) . Thousands of its Kurdish residents were driven out of the city, and those who were willing to accept the identity that the consecutive Iraqi governments wanted for the city replaced the Kurds: a “Ba’sth”  (3)  identity. This has been the reality of life in the city imposed by its oil riches.  Further, Kikruk is a city that its status has been left to be determined by its citizens in a referendum stipulated in Article 140 of Iraq’s Constitution  (4)  by 31st December 2007  (5) Turkish government often has claimed that Kirkuk needs protection.  The main policy behind this rhetoric of protection is a hand in interfering in the affairs of the city.  This addition to the disparity of the city and its residents by one of the most powerful governments of the Middle East has been under the pretext of protecting the small Turkmen population of the city, while most Turkmen of the city have gradually dropped siding with such claims made by Turkish government. Kirkuk is a victim of its own historical roots, culture and its economic power. The recent proportional representative government that was elected after the 2003 liberation of Iraq has added to further victimization of Kirkuk and its people.  The government has been an inefficient proportional representation that has became a recipe for a paralysed public body that has been having hard time acting upon its own decisions in brining peace, order and good government to the city and its people.  Is Kirkuk “my city”  (6) ? No, it is not my city, but I have visited it many times, journeyed through the city and have enjoyed stories about Kirkuk told by my family elders, relatives that have been living in Kirkuk. Beyond this historical attachment, Kirkuk is not “my city”.   For those who do not have such historical attachment to the city, it may come as a surprise that power and wealth have added to the city’s disparity.  How Kirkuk’s economic wealth has determined its current “victim status”?  An investigative research of the ways in which the oil deposits of Kirkuk, as archaeological remains of human and decomposed organic living beings beneath the earth that turns into fossil fuel has given us the evidence of power, wealth, possible prosperity of the city on one hand; and it has given us the evidence of disparity, instability and misery for the city of Kirkuk and its population - in particular for its Kurdish residents.  Archaeologists study human history through excavation of physical remains of humans,  artifacts and aggregate of material civilization to determine age, periods of rise and fall of civilizations, towns, communities and so forth.  Similar to archaeological excavation, the excavation of documentary evidence of the history of the discovery of petroleum in Kirkuk shows that it has led to complication of life in the city. The ethno-religious population composition of the city is diverse.  Kurds are the main ethnic group in the city; the second largest are Arabs, Turkmen, and Assyrian.  The religious make up of the city: Sunni and Shiah Muslims are majority, Christians, and there may be a possible Jewish community.  Kurdistan Regional Government defines Kirkuk as a Kurdish territory; although Iraqi interim government was clear about the ethnic make of the city, the interim government did not agree to include Kirkuk under the administrative authority of Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).   Negotiations between KRG and Iraqi central government resulted in reaching a settlement plan through Article 140 of Iraqi’s post-liberation Constitution, which is takes its authority from Article 58 of Iraq’s Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) enacted under Paul Bremer’s authority in the interim period of the Governing Council.  Both have enshrined a plan for normalization process of the situation in the city and a referendum to determine whether Kirkuk will join Kurdistan Region for administrative purposes or remains outside its administrative authority. Since the implementation of Articles 58 of TAL and 140 of Iraqi’s Constitution - progress has not been made in such directions as specified and required by two constitutional documents. Prior to the liberation of Iraq in 2003, Kirkuk and its population were victimised by the Ba’ath regime. After liberation, Kirkuk and it population have remained victims of periodic terror

Attacks, inefficient proportional representative government, interference in its affairs from the neighbouring government of Turkey.  Life in Kirkuk has not been normalized city planning and development have not begun to take effect.  Thousands of deportees have not returned to the city.  During the Ba’ath government, Kirkuk was an important city because of its oil riches, after the liberation, the Kirkuk is important for the same reason  (7) .  While Kirkuk’s best road to prosperity and to development is to join Kurdistan Region - this process has been disturbed. This brief history teaches us two lessons.  First lesson is the ways in which Kirkuk and its residents have been victims prior to and after the liberation. This lesson opens a space of invitation to its residents and the concerned parties to end victimization of Kirkuk that begun with the discovery of petroleum in BaBa-Gur-Gur and other oil wills.  Second lesson is that the history of Kirkuk is not very different from that of Kurdistan. The history of Kirkuk is part of history of Kurdish people, and Kirkuk is located within the geographical borders of Kurdistan. This similarity has promoted the sense of connection between Kirkuk and those Kurds who have not seen it.  Thus, the relation between Kirkuk and the rest of Kurds and Kurdistan is historic-geographic.   The recent Baker-Hamilton Report has made clear indications that the province of Kirkuk has a Kurdish majority and within natural geographical borders of Kurdistan.  If Kirkuk were to be allowed to have a referendum to join Kurdistan Regional Government, the victimization of the city and its people may end.  Eighty years of policy of diversification of the city to control its wealth have not created peace, order and good government, have not elevated the status of the city to the level it deserves, but it has turned the city and its population into victims. The best possible choice is to listen to the will of the people of Kirkuk by focussing on developing the city, putting an end to the wasting of human and natural resources of all the ethno-religious groups of the city.   Kurdistan Region is the most qualified stable part of Iraq that can help end victimization of  Kirkuk. Washington Kurdish Institute, Kurdish National Congress of North America and Penn Program in Ethnic Conflict of University of Pennsylvania will sponsor a conference entitled “Article 140 and the Future of Iraq”  (8)  in Washington D. C. on 9 May 2008.  These three organizations over the years have been active in supporting human rights programs and preventing conflict.  Let us see, if they can help empower the will of the people of Kirkuk and end its victimization, free them through a referendum.

* Karim Hasan: BA (Hons.), MA, MA, and currently he is Ph.D. candidate in Sociology. Footnotes:

(1) M. R. Izady, The Kurds: A Concise Handbook (Carne Russak: Washington, 1992).

(2) N. Talabany, “The Displacement of the Population of Kirkuk Region, Especially by the Current Iraqi Regime” (Kurdistan Regional Government Parliament: 2000) Retrieved 25 April 2008  http://www.geocities.com/mykirkuk/dr.nori.htm .

(3) “Ba’ath” was the political party that headed by former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. It was in power from 1968 to 2003. It is Arabic, Ba’ath means Rebirth. (4) Kurdistan Regional Government, “Iraqi Constitution”, (2005) Retrieved 25 April, 2008  http://www.krg.org/ .

(5) December 2007 has passed; there is not a sign of implementation of Article 140 of Iraq’s Constitution and the recommended Referendum on the status of Kirkuk.

(6) R. Florida,  Who’s Your City? How Creative Economy is Making Where to Live The Most Important Decision of Your Life  (Random House of Canada: Toronto, 2008).  Kirkuk is not my city in this sense, it is not the city that I want to live in, but it is my city in the sense that it is Kurdish, it has been victimised by  its economic wealth and power.  Kirkuk can do good for its population in the region, what is needed is good-will and sharing would turn the city into one of the richest and best place to live in Iraq and the region. (7) International Crisis Group, “Iraq and the Kurds: Resolving the Kirkuk Crisis, Working to Prevent Conflict”, (Middle East Report N.  64-19, April 2007), Retrieved 30 April 2008: http://www.tepav.org.tr/eng/admin/dosyabul/upload/64iraq_and_the_kurds_ resolving_the_kirkuk_crisis.pdf

(8)  Washington Kurdish Institute

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