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The importance of being politically aware among Iraqi Turkmen youth today

By Nevin Bayatli

When young people hear the word politics, it´s almost unavoidable to associate it with governments, politicians, and their hopeless attempts to make false promises to get the people´s vote and their apathy to the needs of their people when they do. These scenarios have been played out far too many times and it is quite disheartening for youth today, who choose to take solace in pop culture and feed off what the mainstream media has to offer them rather than brood over the uncertainties of the future (of course, that is also problematic, but that´s another topic to write about in itself).It almost seems like a vicious circle that is woven to our social fabric. The negative representations of politics or politicians for that matter and the constant disappointments in governments play a big part in continuing that cycle or in other words "that" way of thinking among young people. Having lived most of my life in Canada, I can´t help but relate my experiences to a western view point throughout our schooling years; young people are taught to understand the importance of governments, laws, and political policies. They are taught to believe that a system of order is essential for any democratic society to function. Yet, when young people grow up to be a participating member of society, they get a dose of reality when they turn on their television or pick up a newspaper to read. The notion that governments exist to implement a working system for their citizens is utopian understanding that is lost in textbook pages and has no relevance whatsoever on how things unfold in real life. As a result, they eventually come to realize and most of the time accept, the fact that they can never influence a change, as power is only concentrated in the hands of few elites who decide our fate, as well as other nations´. The purpose of my writing is not to paint a gloomy picture and conclude with the idea that we´re all doomed. Yet, it is a mere attempt to remind young people, including myself, the crucial need for us to adopt a new perspective in our lives, one that is positive and promising and empowers us to be critical thinkers when exercising our political rights.


Despite the fact that politics can be a complicated concept and a very loaded term, it simply means the activity of exercising one´s power. We can be political in so many facets of life, that it makes so much sense to agree with Aristotle’s notion that it is in man’s nature to be political. Even if I walk down the street, wearing a T-shirt that says "Free Palestine"; I´m being political. We live in a world where sports, music, and even food can be used to make a political statement that it would be naive of any young person to assume that they can live their lives and not bother with understanding the current problems that plague our world. The point that I´m making here is that, understanding politics will help us understand our position in a collective global community. In other words, in order for me to understand why my country is being invaded or why Turkmens are being misrepresented in Iraq, I have to understand who has the control of power, why their political interests are in conflict with ours´ and how we can attain our rights with such limited power. The political situation in the world made more sense to me after 9/11. That´s partly because I was at an appropriate age to understand why things were happening the way they were. After the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the rise of Islamaphobia among Western society, as an Iraqi and Muslim, I had no choice but to be aware about the experiences I might have to face because of my association.


My experiences with politics have always been with trying to understand my identity as an Iraqi Turkmen living in a western society. My political identity is not static. In the sense, to westerners; I´m a middle eastern and to middle easterners; I´m different all together, because I´m culturally more Turkish than Iraqi. Whenever I encountered young Iraqis, they would be surprised to know that Turkmens make up 10-13% of Iraq´s population. Sadly, some of them don´t even know that we exist. I´m not sure if we´re partly to be blamed for that as Turkmens always lived in exclusive communities or maybe the reason why we became so cacooned in our own communities was because of the after effects of countless regimes trying to silence dissent and try to assimilate us, instead of understanding us. The fact of the matter is, Turkmens in Iraq were always treated like second-class citizens and as a result of that, we never developed a sense of confidence when voicing our thoughts and taking political stance on issues concerning Iraq. Of course, the despotic regimes and the non-democratic state of Iraq never gave the Turkmens the opportunity to freely make politics in Iraq as previous regimes were almost paranoid that fighting for our rights inherently would mean going against the government or becoming a separatist. However, even as we look back at history or even observe the Turkmens in Iraq today, it would be easy to conclude that Turkmens of Iraq never had separatist ideologies towards Iraq; rather they wished to live in a country that celebrated their Turkish identity and their proud heritage within the lands their ancestors once governed. I sincerely believe that Turkmens played a great role in the advancement of these regions that is now modern day Iraq. Hence, it is only natural to desire the same success for modern day Turkmens living in Iraq today. Given the fact that we contributed immensely towards the Iraqi society, we have as much of a right to make decisions in Iraq as any Arab or Kurd. The means to achieve that is if we; the young Turkmens, realize our potential and future within Iraq.

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