“The demonstration was in protest against the confiscation and control of Turkoman lands by some Kurds who were brought from Kurdistan because they were allegedly deported during the former Iraqi regime,” Arshad al-Salhi, spokesman of the Iraqi Turkoman Front from told Aljazeera in a telephone interview from Damascus, Syria.
“Today we are demonstrating peacefully but tomorrow we could use force to remove them from our property,” said Rasul Zain al-Abidin, from the Iraqi Turkmen Front.
Over the past three days, Kurds have reportedly stepped up efforts to muscle into predominantly Arab and Turkmen areas of the city from which they say they were expelled under Saddam Hussein’s rule.
Rival ethnic groups in Kiruk are increasingly jostling for dominance, demographically and on the ground, as a census aimed at determining the fate of the oil-rich city nears.
“No to Kirkuk becoming a Kurdish city,” read some of the banners waved by demonstrators on Sunday.
“These lands are are Turkoman and were plundered by the former regime under flimsy allegations like expanding Kirkuk airport and opening a railway network in the Turkomani Tisain (90) area,” al-Salhi said.
Turkmen in Kirkuk number 250,000 out of a total population of more than one million, according to unofficial estimates, but the figures are impossible to verify in the absence of a census.
Kurds say Saddam’s policies
The Turkmen claim they make up about 13% of Iraq’s entire population of 25 million, or slightly more than three million people, which would make them the third largest ethnic group after Arabs and Kurds.
But according to the last Iraqi census conducted in 1977, their people – who live largely around Kirkuk and the main northern city of Mosul – account for no more than 2% of the population.
Most Turkmen oppose the Kurdish groups which controlled three northern provinces between the 1991 and 2003 Gulf wars in defiance of Saddam Hussein’s government.
However, the Kurds argue that but for demographic manipulation by Hussein, they would also form the majority in Kirkuk and parts of other provinces and they are pressing for inclusion in an autonomous Kurdish region within a federal Iraq.