tribes demand formal recognition
SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq Three Iraqi Caucasus tribes are uniting to
seek recognition under the Iraqi Constitution. The Circassians,
Chechens and Dagestanis want to unify their communities under
one national name, Caucasus, much like the Christians of Iraq
did when they formed the Chaldean Syriac Assyrian Popular
Council political party in 2007.
The tribes seek formal recognition in the constitution to
guarantee equal rights and legal protection from violence
against minorities. On Nov. 24, the nongovernmental organization
Masarat for Cultural and Media Development (MCMD) hosted a
meeting of representatives of the three groups in the
Sulaimaniyah governorate in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. There,
they asked to be included among Iraqi minorities and officially
declared their demands. MCMD is preparing a draft law regarding
rights for minorities that it will submit to parliament.
Ahmed Kataw, the leader of Circassians in Iraq, spoke to Al-Monitor
about these demands, saying, The Iraqi Constitution should
recognize the Iraqi Caucasus tribes Circassians, Chechens and
Dagestanis like the rest of the officially recognized
minorities. Their names should be included within the Iraqi
minorities protected under the draft law.
We want to make sure
the Caucasian minorities are represented in the parliament
according to the quota system, by virtue of which other
minorities are represented.
The Caucasus tribes were late presenting their demands to MCMD
because, they said, they were unable to form a political party
to represent them at the official level, and there were
disagreements about selecting leaders to convey these demands.
Kataw said tense security situations, such as scattered armed
confrontations and the battle against the Islamic State, have
made it risky to start a political movement. We did not form a
political party. We did, however, start establishing a cultural-social
organization called Solidarity Association back in 2004,
headquartered in Kirkuk," he said. "As a representative of the
Circassians in Iraq, I have served as vice president of the
association, and a Chechen was nominated president, while the
secretary-general was a Dagestani. The 450 members of the
general assembly took a vote, but the security conditions
impeded us from turning the association into a political body.
In addition, we were afraid we would be dominated by major
political movements once we had announced we were forming an
independent political party.
Adnan Abdul Bari, who represents the Dagestanis in the
Solidarity Association, spoke to Al-Monitor about the importance
of joint work between the representatives of the Caucasus tribes.
These tribes are considered from the same origins. Their common
history, geography, culture and traditions differentiate them
from other tribes," he said. "They have the identity of the
peoples of the North Caucasus, so it is time for them to come
forward as one people with a single cultural identity.
The small number of Caucasus tribes and the fact that they are
not concentrated geographically has weakened their participation
in public life.
Researcher Mohammed Hussein Dagestani, the editor of the
magazine Tadamon (Solidarity), which is concerned with
Circassians, Chechens and Dagestanis, is head of the Iraqi
Journalists Syndicate in Kirkuk. He told Al-Monitor, Russia
forced the Caucasus tribes into displacement in 1864. They had
to move from North Caucasus to Turkish territory, and the
Ottomans then forced them out to Jordan, Syria and Iraq.
Hussein Dagestani added, This tragedy is similar to some
experienced by other minorities, such as the Armenians, who fled
to Iraq and other countries after the massacres committed by the
Turks in 1915. We also share some experiences with the Yazidis,
who had been subjected to a series of genocides, most recently
by the Islamic State in 2016.
Mazen Abdul Rahman, the Chechen representative of the Solidarity
Association, told Al-Monitor there are scattered Chechen
settlements, but "there are no settlements for either Dagestanis
or Circassians because they are rather integrated into the urban
According to Katwa, there are more than 15,000 Caucasians, and
the tribes' representatives agree that the Chechens are ranked
first in terms of number, followed by the Dagestanis, then the
Only a limited number of seniors in Caucasus families still
speak Caucasian languages, but their numbers are gradually
decreasing, which means their languages will inevitably be
Another factor contributing to the demise of Caucasian culture
is their way of blending in and their refusal to stand out in
society. They act as Arabs in Arab areas, as Kurds in Kurdish
areas and Turkmen in Turkmen areas. The Caucasian families who
lived in Shiite-dominated areas embraced the Shiite sect, while
those who lived in Sunni areas followed the Sunni sect.
However, the long years of blending in did not stop these tribes
from practicing their traditions, such as applying the norms and
principles of the so-called Adiga law, by virtue of which
parents and grandparents have to follow Caucasus traditions when
it comes to marriage, childbirth and other social occasions.