Iraq one of the few diverse ethnic and religious nations in the Middle East, has one way or another served to be the heart of the Middle East. As some refer to them as the “Mesopotamian Kings” in reference to their predecessor ancestors and their historical empire. Moreover, in modern day Iraq the living conditions are testable, ethnic crimes have increased and an overall non-confidence in the current political order is an reoccurring topic.
There was a time when the dictator Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq with an Iron Fist. Even though the international community questioned his authority, the Iraqi people now believe that their life to a certain extent was better when he was in power. Such case is true depending on your scope of analysis of him, as some saw him to be decisive, true realist mentality ruler and other saw him as racist and corrupt ruler. This article will strictly engage with the scope of the Iraqi Turkmens and the horrified events of the Turkmen martyrs at Altunkopru in 1991. Before I go any further, I will briefly indicate who the Turkmens are and then I will indicate the geographical importance of Altunkopru for the Turkmens. Then I will indicate the Martyrs and relevance of the event from a domestic and international political aspect.
Who are the Turkmens? Where is AltunKopru?
So who are the Turkmens? For one, historians agree that the terminology of Turkmen, Turkoman, Torcoman, Turkcoman and Turkmen does not specify something different from Turkish ancestors but specifies the same as that of Muslim Oguz Turk who accepted Islam as their faith. Some scholars indicate that the Turkmens first migrated with what is now Iraq around 10th century and other affiliate then with the Ottoman Empire. The existence or the whereabouts of the Turkmens in Iraq has been a persistent issue in the past and in the present. Iraqi Turkmens claim to live in the areas extending from northwest to southeast of Iraq, which they call Turkmeneli. They live in Mosul-Yunus Prophet, Arbil, Altunkopru, Kirkuk, Tazehurmatu, Kifri, Karatepe, Kızılarbat, Hanekin, Mendeli, Bedre and Sahraban regions towards the east and southeast starting from the town of Telafer in the west of Mosul and the villages around it. Altunkopru along with Kirkuk are the middle point cities/townships on the geographical map of Turkmeneli (Refer to Map Below).
Altunkopru is a town with an estimated population of 20,000 people. It is known for its fishery, fruits and vegetables gardens, and it is a joint township with Kirkuk. Furthermore, it is a town which is completely Turkmen. It has a monumental bridge. It is also has a rich Turkmen folklore culture. Its people are very welcoming, and are well known for their handmade baskets. Lastly, Altunkopru due to its natural resources like fishery and vegetation’s attracts a lot of visitors that travel between Arbil and Kerkuk. The name of the city is enshrined due to its monumental bridge (the metaphorically translation of Altunkporu is “The Golden Bridge”.
March 28 1991: Altunkopru Genocide
On March 28th 1991, a town with so much love and culture was darkened due to the massacre of over 100 people (List of names of the Martyrs are found below). The massacre was directly inflicted by the head of the Iraqi government in Saddam Hussein. During the time of the massacre, Hussein had unleashed a full attack on its neighbouring country of Kuwait in trying to regain position of the nation, which he claimed it to be a part of the greater Iraq and formerly apart of the city of Basra which is located in the south of Iraq. The families that resided in Altunkopru were trapped in their homes in Northern Iraq with the uprising of Iraq had infiltrated by bombing Kuwait. Back in Altunkopru It was evident that some of the bodies of the martyrs were untraceable and some were found in public graves and places. Furthermore, Erşat Hürmüzlü a notable writer on Turkmen issues suggested that the Iraqi government was intently initiating a ‘racial cleansing’.
A few weeks after the incident, the bodies of the martyrs were found in vast holes interpreting a bulk grave. The actions of Altunkopru was nothing new in history, a similar example is how Hitler tried to wipeout the Jewish ethnicity in Germany and the Greater Europe and then disposed of their corpses by burying them in vast holes. Amongst the martyrs of Altunkopru were Turkmens from Kerkuk, Tazehumat, and Altunkopru, they were unfortunate in the case in which they could not escape from indiscriminate bombings, and hangings. In addition, on 28th March, 1991, military forces arrested large number of citizens who were then sent to unknown destinations. Their families were given no details of their whereabouts or their ultimate fate. Then, about three weeks later, mass graves were discovered and, when they were opened, were found to contain piles of dead bodies. All in all the ages of the martyrs ranged from 10-66 and amongst them were children, seniors, and handicapped people.
Analysing the domestic political role in the Genocide
Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait was strategically of the biggest mistakes as it drew a lot of precautionary attention from the West and European allies that a state like Iraq might try to enhance its power by militarily imposing its authority over neighbouring countries and the greater Middle East. However, the attention the Saddam and Baathist regime drew upon itself was counterproductive to what they wanted to achieve and in act he weakened his regime and his strategy of gaining Kuwait back further by unleashing attacks on its own civilians, case and point the massacre at Altunkopru.
Moreover, Saddam Hussein wanted to indicate to the people of Iraq that Iraq was his country and everyone and everything would have to abide by his rules and thinking, all put into effect by his regime. Saddam Hussein was cautious in his action and wanted to eliminate two issue which he thought was persistent and challenging his authority as a rulers, the first being the diverse ethnicity in Northern Iraq and second the populace dominance of the Shiites in Southern Iraq. The Turkmen town of Altunkopru was one of the many targets in the North as his soldiers raided the town seizing all weapons, barraging their homes, and killing them without any hesitancy. Saddam’s Baathist regime believed that they needed to wipe out all Turkmens in a case of ethnic cleansing so that Turkmens would seize to exist and never again would they be a threat to Saddam’s Regime.  The obvious case was that the Altunkopru massacre was a starting point for Baathist party, by which their next plan was to raid and massacre other populace cities and towns that the Turkmens and other ethnicities like the Kurds, and Assyrians inhabited.
Why the International Community eluded the Altunkopru Genocide?
Iraq at the end of 1980’s saw the end to an eight-year war with their neighbours in Iran. The international community along with the US were prevalent to engage with Iraq due to their aggressive history since Saddam Hussein was at the helm. Not long removed from the Iraqi-Iranian War, Saddam’s Baathist regime found itself in the thick of another war with another nation much smaller in power in comparison to the Iranians, with the Kuwaiti’s. In 1990, Iraq officially invaded Kuwait, prompting what became known as the first Gulf War. A massive US-led military campaign forces Iraq to withdraw in February 1991. In 1991, the Shiites in the South and the Kurds in the North encouraged by Iraq’s defeat upraised against the government to gain their independence. However, such uprising only angered Saddam and thus he unleashed a massive attack on its own citizens, thus creating the genocide of Altunkopru in March of 1991. The Turkmens were considered a minority in comparison with the other Iraqi ethnicities like with the Kurds, and Shiites, in such they did not place atop of important topics amongst the international community.
As such, the actions of the international community were clear and to the point, in April 1991 the UN-approved safe-haven establishment in northern Iraq to protect the Kurds. Iraq ordered to end all military activity in the area. The importance of this analysis is that there is not one form of recognition or realization of the existence of Turkmens whom where effected by the raids of Saddam. More importantly, the international community neglected to reflect on recognize the Turkmens in Tazehurmatu and Altunkopru having witnessed one of the most brutal attack on their ethnicity since the creation of independent Iraq in 1932.
Furthermore, the International community turned it face against the massacres with the exception of Turkey. For which the Baghdad administration instigated against the Turkmen caused thousands of Turkmen to migrate to the borders of Turkey and Iran, (at the beginning of April 1991); Nearly 17.000 Turkmen reached the Turkish borders, under difficult circumstances. Due to the fact that Turkey granted the right of refuge to Turkmen and Kurds who escaped from Iraq, nearly 15 thousand Turkmen were settled into Semdinli, Yüksekova, Sivas, Kangal, Kayseri, Günesli and Halkalı regions, and about seven thousand Turkmen had to take refuge in Iran. During the 1991 insurgency, the number of Kurds who escaped to Turkey and Iran was nearly 25 or 30 % of the total population. The rate of Turkmen who escaped from places where the bloodiest assaults was experienced, primarily Kirkuk, Altunkopru and Arbil, did not exceed 1 %. Hence, there never was any legitimate intent on behalf of the international community to punish or even try to prevent Saddam massacre on the Turkmens.
On another point, since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Turkmens due to their Turkish heritage have always been manipulated and weakened ethnically and politically either by western colonial powers the likes of Great Britain at the end of World War I or by its own domestic politicians like Saddam Hussein. They have constantly been placed on the backseat in terms of having any relevancy or influence on Iraqi politics/heritage and are interpreted to be a dying ethnicity in Iraq. However, the Turkmens of Iraq have endured great hardship but still have maintained and continued their cultural and ethnic lifestyle even with the troubles they face today. For one they commemorate the death of those at Altunkopru every year to remember them as they stood firm against the evil of Saddam regime and would not detach from their love for their land of Turkmeneli.
I will end the article with a couple of what the Turkmens call Siir/Hoyrat meaning rhythmic poetry about Martyrs and Altunkopru.
Mezarda daşım ağlar (In the grave my friend cries out)
Gözümde yaşım ağlar (When you look into my eyes you can see my age)
Men öldüm Köprü için (I died for Altunkopru)
Türkmen kardeşim ağlar (My Turkmen brother will cry)
Şenif, Altun, köpürü (Golden, Bridge)
Çok erler şehit verdi (So much people were martyred)
Türkmen’çin, Altunköprü (For Turkmens cause, Altunkopru)
Names of the Martyrs at Altunkopru:
Citizens of Kirkuk:
- Ahmet Enver Abdullah- (Date of Birth 1942)
- Turan Ahmet Enver -(Date of Birth 1974)
- Atilla Ahmet Enver – (Date of Birth 1976)
- Tarik Bayız Hurşit-(Date of Birth 1963)
- Adnan Bayız Hurşit-(Date of Birth 1964)
- Adil Bayız Hurşit-(Date of Birth 1972)
- Şahap Ahmet Farac-(Date of Birth 1961)
- Cemal Ahmet Farad-(Date of Birth 1962)
- Eyüp Salah Sait -(Date of Birth 1975)
- Abbas Salah Sait-(Date of Birth 1973)
- Nevzat Kadir Rahman-(Date of Birth 1968)
- Eyad Kadir Abdurrahman-(Date of Birth 196)
- Mehmet Reşit Veli-(Date of Birth 1925)
- İmat Mehmet Reşit-(Date of Birth 1960)
- İsam Osman Cemil-(Date of Birth 1964)
- Salah Sait Salih-(Date of Birth 1938)
- Fazıl Cihat Fettah-(Date of Birth 1954)
- Nihat Abdülkerim Ali-(Date of Birth 1965)
- Cebbar Sıdık-(Date of Birth 1957)
- Halil Fithi Mehmet-(Date of Birth 1956)
- Celil Fethi Mehmet-(Date of Birth 1945)
- Şükür Hamdi Mehmet-(Date of Birth 1932)
- Nizamettin Şükür Hamdi-(Date of Birth 1958)
- Mustafa Süleyman Iskender-(Date of Birth 1974)
- Hüseyin Ali Ahmet -(Date of Birth 1958)
- Mahmut Attar -(Date of Birth 1940)
- Muazzam Osman Ali
- Atilla Nasih Bezirgân-(Date of Birth 1968)
- Şahin Nasih Bezirgân-(Date of Birth 1975)
- Nurettin Terzi
- Nurettin Terzi’in birinci oğlu ismine ulaşamadık (Nurretin Terzi’s First Son)
- Nurettin Terzi’in ikinci oğlu ismine ulaşamadık (Nurretin Terzis’ Second Son)
- Osman Cemil-(Date of Birth 1940)
- Zeynelabidin Fazıl -(Date of Birth 1946)
- Hasip Müşir Rıza-(Date of Birth 1953)
- Abdurrahman Müşir Riza
- Selam Reşit Hasan-(Date of Birth 1954)
- Nezam Reşit -(Date of Birth 1965)
- Mahmut Reşit -(Date of Birth 1954)
- Cüneyt Seyit Behçet-(Date of Birth 1972)
- Cemil Süleyman Abbas-(Date of Birth 1983)
- Kemal Sabır Ahmet-(Date of Birth 1981)
- Sezer Cuma Yasin-(Date of Birth 1978)
- Şamil Abdurrahim-(Date of Birth 1947)
- Kabil Abbas Burhan-(Date of Birth 1928)
- Rüştü Halil-(Date of Birth 1967)
- Nezer Mehdi-(Date of Birth 1957)
- Ercüment Geylan Mehmet-(Date of Birth 1956)
- Abdulmecit Abdulkerim-(Date of Birth 1941)
- Oğuz Sami Emin-(Date of Birth 1983)
- Celil Fethi Mehmet
- Yıldırım kerim-(Date of Birth 1979)
- İskender Ali -(Date of Birth 1957)
- Orhan Hamit Abdurrahman-(Date of Birth 1967)
- Yaşar Hamit Abdurrahmam-(Date of Birth 1965)
Citizens of Tazehurmatu:
- Haydar Gaydan-(Date of Birth 1956)
- Ali Ekber Süleyman
- Hüseyin Ali Ekber Süleyman -(Date of Birth 1965)
- Zeynelabdin İbrahim- (Date of Birth 1975)
- Aziz Tacil-(Date of Birth 1953)
- Hamit Garip-(Date of Birth 1942)
- Ali Hüseyin Abbas Malı-(Date of Birth 1973)
- Necat Taki-(Date of Birth 1967)
- Cemal Şükür Saki-(Date of Birth 1964)
- Abdullah Kâhya-(Date of Birth 1973)
- Ali Abdullah Kâhya-(Date of Birth 1974)
- İsmail Şükür Silav-(Date of Birth 1973)
- Zeynelabidin Ekber Naccar
- Haşim Haydar Behram-(Date of Birth 1968)
- Cevdet Haydar Behram-(Date of Birth 1959)
Citizens of Altunkopru:
- Çetin Ahmet Behçet-(Date of Birth 1974)
- Mansur Mazlum Nuri-(Date of Birth 1967)
- Cengiz Mazlum Nuri- (Date of Birth 1968)
- Nuri Mazlum Nuri-(Date of Birth 1971)
- Mehmet Halit Mendan-(Date of Birth 1952)
- Adnan Halit Mendan -(Date of Birth 1958)
- Melik Faysal Süleyman-(Date of Birth 1966)
- Şalan Faysal Süleyman-(Date of Birth 1967)
- Abdulsselam Reşit Hasan-(Date of Birth 1966)
- Kasım Mehmet Tevik-(Date of Birth 1962)
- Haşim Mehmet Tevik-(Date of Birth 1966)
- Saddam Reşit Hasan -(Date of Birth 1971)
- İhsan Mahmut Veli-(Date of Birth 1940)
- Erdal İhsan Mahmut-(Date of Birth 1972)
- İhsan Ali Feyzullah-(Date of Birth 1932)
- Ali İhsan Rıza -(Date of Birth 1958)
- Hişam İhsan Ali Riza-(Date of Birth 1957)
- Ömer Hurşit Salih-(Date of Birth 1936)
- Amir Ömer Hurşit-(Date of Birth 1954)
- Adıl Ömer Hurşit-(Date of Birth 1965)
- Sabah Ahmet Hamdi-(Date of Birth 1944)
- Aziz Ali Sait- (Date of Birth 1955)
- Erşet Hurşit Reşit-(Date of Birth 1955)
- Settar Abdurrahman Aziz-(Date of Birth 1945)
- Saip Tatar Kadir-(Date of Birth 1955)
- Necip Sait Salih-(Date of Birth 1957)
- Hazım Enver Abdullah-(Date of Birth 1962)
- Zaim İsmail Hasan -(Date of Birth 1961)
- Suud Hattap Osman-(Date of Birth 1967)
- Amir Mithat İzzet-(Date of Birth 1960)
- İsam Mithat İzzet-(Date of Birth 1964)
- Hani Mithat izzet -(Date of Birth 1970)
- Hişam İhsan Ali Riza-(Date of Birth 1957)
- Halil Fettah-(Date of Birth 1945)
- Mehmet Selim-(Date of Birth 1982)
- Saçıda Hisam Tufik-(Date of Birth 1975)
- Şükriye Semin hasan-(Date of Birth 1944)
- Bedriye Halit-(Date of Birth 1936)
- Memat hac Halil -(Date of Birth 1968)
- Ayat Müşür-(Date of Birth 1970)
- Orhan hac Ekram-(Date of Birth 1971)
- Fatih Nefi-(Date of Birth 1956)
- Hisamattin hac Nuri Behçet-(Date of Birth 1952)
- Mehmet Hac Nuri-(Date of Birth 1955)
- Abdulkadır Esat -(Date of Birth 1932)
Turkmeneli (The Land of Turkmens)
– Kerkuklu Mofak Salman, Turkmen of Iraq, (Dublin/Ireland 2007).
– Demirci Güçlü, “Irak Türklerinin Demografik Yapısı-Demografic Structure of Iraqi Turks” in Türkler Ansiklopedisi (Encyclopedia of Turks), Ankara:Yeni Türkiye Yayınları, 2002, Volume: 20.
– Yakuboglu Enver , Irak Türkleri, İstanbul: Boğaziçi Yayınlar, 1976.
– Şan Cemal, “Irak Türkmenlerinden Söz Ediyorum: Tarihi, Kültürel ve Siyasi Konulu Sempozyum”, 2001.
– Hürmüzlü Erşat, Türkmenler ve Irak, İstanbul : İzzettin Kerkük Kültür ve Araştırma Vakfı, 2003.
– Al-Hirmizi Ershad, The Turkmen and Iraqi Homeland, İstanbul : Kerkük Vakfı, 2003.
– Köprülü Sadun, “20 Yıl önce Altunköprü Katliamı”, Accessed on March, 20, 2014 from http://afkarhura.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1144:20-yl-oence-altunkoeprue-katliam-&catid=5:siyashaberler&Itemid=10.
– BBC, “Iraqi Profile”, Accessed on March 24, 2012 from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-14546763.
 Mofak Salman Kerkuklu, Turkmen of Iraq, (Dublin/Ireland 2007), p. 8.
 See Appendix A, for Turkmeneli Map.
 Güçlü Demirci, “Irak Türklerinin Demografik Yapısı-Demografic Structure of Iraqi Turks” in Türkler Ansiklopedisi (Encyclopedia of Turks), Ankara: Yeni Türkiye Yayınları, 2002, Volume: 20, p. 614.
 Enver Yakuboglu, Irak Türkleri, İstanbul: Boğaziçi Yayınlar, 1976, p. 55.
 Cemal Şan, “Irak Türkmenlerinden söz ediyorum: Tarihi, Kültürel ve Siyasi Konulu Sempozyum”, 2001, p. 56.
 Erşat, Hürmüzlü, Türkmenler ve Irak, İstanbul : İzzettin Kerkük Kültür ve Araştırma Vakfı, 2003.
 Ibid, p. 68.
 Al-Hirmizi Ershad, The Turkmen and Iraqi Homeland, İstanbul: Kerkük Vakfı, 2003, p. 96.
 Sadun Köprülü, “20 Yıl Önce Altunköprü Katliamı”, Accessed on March, 20, 2014 from http://afkarhura.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1144:20-yl-oence-altunkoeprue-katliam-&catid=5:siyashaberler&Itemid=10.
 BBC, “Iraqi Profile” Accessed on March 24, 2012 from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-14546763.
 Gökhan A. Kayili, The Iraqi Turkmen (1921–2005), İstanbul : Kerkük Vakfı, 2008, p. 52.
 Hürmüzlü, pp. 69-70.