KIRKUK, Kurdistan Region — Hundreds of Turkmen people waving Turkmen and Iraqi flags took to the streets in Kirkuk to protest against a historic vote by the Kirkuk local government to raise the flag of Kurdistan over state buildings.
kurdistan flag made by johnin
Many of the protesters have staged a demonstration in front of the governorate building where on Tuesday the local government raised the Kurdistan flag alongside the Iraqi flag, described as a “historic decision” by the Kirkuk Governor Najmaldin Karim.
One protester said he was injured by security forces as he was trying to keep the blue and white flag of the Iraqi Turkmen Front (IFT), a Turkmen political party, and the Iraqi flag in his hands, claiming that the security forces tried to grab the flags.
“Give me our rights or I will die,” he said. When asked what his rights were, he said that the Turkmen should have equal rights to the Kurds in Kirkuk.
“You (Kurds) raise your flag, and we will raise our flag, too,” he said, referring to the fact that if the Kurds claim to have the right to raise the Kurdistan flag, the Turkmens should enjoy the same rights.
Another angry protester claimed that the security forces tore down the IFT flag.
The IFT leader Arshad Salihi said two days before the vote that if the local government decided to raise the Kurdistan flag over the state buildings, it may cause chaos, and therefore, they may not be able to control angry Turkmen when they stage protests against the decision.
“Kirkuk is a fire that if ignited will burn everyone,” Salihi, told Rudaw on Saturday, commenting on raising the Kurdistan flag in Kirkuk. “That is why I say ‘Mr Najmaldin you are wrong and I hope that you reconsider your decision.’ Otherwise, we cannot control angry youth when they take to the streets.”
Tens of Arab and Turkmen people on Tuesday visited the governor's building, in what Karim said was a show of support for the local government in Kirkuk, and the Kirkuk Provincial Council, and to express the position of Arab and Turkmen people in the province with regard to the Kurdistan flag.
“We thank them. They are all our brothers,” Karim said as he received the Turkmen and Arab delegation. “This is to show the stance of the Turkmen and Arab citizens in response to those who think of the flag raising issue as though it will make the people of Kirkuk to turn against each other. This is especially [a response] to some irresponsible officials from the Turkmen Front who say this stuff and who say that this will cause a bloody war. This rhetoric does not have a listening ear among the Arab, Turkmen people, nor among the Kurds.”
The central government in Baghdad has said that Kirkuk does not have the right to raise the Kurdistan flag as it is part of the disputed areas, areas claimed both by Baghdad and Erbil, and that it is still under the authority of the central government and therefore should abide by its regulations.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who is now in Jordan to take part in the Amman Summit for the Arab League, told Rudaw that Kirkuk should ensure that the diverse nature of the province will be protected.
“We consider Kirkuk like a bouquet of roses whose beauty comes from its different colors,” Jaafari said on Tuesday. “There are Kurds, Turkmens and Arabs in there, Muslims and non-Muslims, and Sunnis and Shiites. We are with the preservation of the diverse identity of Kirkuk, as different roses in a bouquet. That is why we think the Kirkuk administration should protect the diversity in it."
Karim raised the Kurdistan flag alongside the Iraqi one over the castle of Kirkuk on the eve of the Kurdish New Year, Newroz, on March 20, after he signed a decree to raise the Kurdistan flag a week before. He then asked the Kirkuk Provincial Council to consider raising the flag over state institutions, which the council did on Tuesday.
The multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk is home to Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen among others. It has been secured by Kurdish Peshmerga forces since mid-2014 after Iraqi government troops left the city ahead of a possible attack by radical Islamic insurgents when they took over large swathes of the country. The province has one of Iraq’s largest oil fields within its borders.
Karim said last week that the Kurdistan flag does not represent the Kurds only.
“Kurdistan’s flag is not only the flag of the Kurds, it is the flag of all the social elements of Kirkuk. We tell those who want to instigate chaos: This flag is that of the Arabs and Turkmen, as well as the Kurds. It is the flag of Kurdistan, which is a place for everyone,” Karim said at last week’s Newroz event.