A number of intellects in Tal Afar attempt to overcome the challenges and address the issues that their mother tongue, Turkmen language, face through holding seminars and debates.
The meeting of the intellects, which took place late May, came after an investigative report of KirkukNow, which was about the decline of the language in the district, the article was titled, “Turkmen language in Tal Afar is on the edge of extinction.”
The content of the KirkukNow’s article was discussed in detail in the meeting.
“We decided to meet to have discussion and attempt to preserve our language,” said Mohammed Hussein, an organizer of the seminar.
Experts believe that their language is facing significant challenges, including the common usage of other languages, displacement, dominance of other cultures, and the use of an alphabet that is different from standard Turkish.
Riyah Qahtan, an instructor at the University of Baghdad, said that, “the solution is to create a general dictionary that would contain the Turkmen alphabets and words in Tal Afar… Experts in that field should prepare a project about that because language is the history and identity of any ethnic group.”
The Turkmen community is the third largest ethnic group in Iraq behind Arabs and Kurds, and it is dispersed across Iraq’s disputed territories, which are claimed by both the federal and regional government. The ethnic group constitutes a majority of the population in Tal Afar, a district in western Nineveh province.
Mohammed Abdulrahman, an expert, claimed that, “language means existence and its extinction means the extinction of the ethnic group.”
Language means existence and its extinction means the extinction of the ethnic group
“The names of the neighborhoods in Tal Afar should be changed to the old Turkmen names, that are now Arabic and are not in line with the history of the district,” Abdulrahman added.
Jasm Halay Bag, a figue in Tal Afar, said that, “if you do not preserve a language, then it will become extinct as time passes… many words of the language have become extinct and have been replaced by the words of other languages.
If you do not preserve a language, then it will become extinct as time passes
Article Four of Iraq’s constitution preserves the Turkmen community’s right to educate its children in the group’s mother tongue.
Fuad Omer, a researcher in Tal Afar, explained that the Turkmen language in the district is very old, that has a million and 500 thousand words, adding that it is a rich language and is not in need of additional alphabets or words of other languages.
At the end of the seminar, the intellects called upon the ministry of culture to open a cultural center in the district and increase the number of Turkmen schools. Also, they asked the international and local organizations for their help in the preservation of the language.
The intellects emphasized on more seminars with the aim of encouraging people, especially the youths, to use the mother tongue on regularly and to write in the language on social media as well as to register the Turkmen children at the Turkmen schools.
Tal Afar, a predominant Shia Turkmen and Arab district, fell under the Islamic State group (IS) control in June 2014, resulting in the mass displacement of its estimated 225,000 inhabitants, who migrated to the central provinces and the Kurdistan Region. Many also migrated to Turkey. Since Iraqi forces retook the district from IS in 2017, 45 percent of its residents have returned to their hometown.