Turkmen people (of which the Turkic plural is properly Turkmenler) form an ethnic group, part of the Turkic peoples. Historically, all of the Western or Oghuz Turks have been called Türkmen or "Turcoman", but nowadays the term is usually restricted to two groups: the Turkmens of Turkmenistan and adjacent parts of Iran and Afghanistan; and the Turkmens of northern Iraq, whose language is perhaps closer to Azeri.
Turkmen in Central Asia
Turkmen people live in:
- Turkmenistan, where some 85% of the population, or about 4,150,000 people, are ethnic Turkmen
- Iran, where they are primarily concentrated in the provinces of Golestan and North Khorasan. The Ethnologue puts the Turkmen-speaking population of Iran in 1997 at about 2,000,000.
- Afghanistan, where in 1995 there were some 500,000 speakers of Turkmen according to the Ethnologue, concentrated primarily along the Turkmenistan border in the provinces of Faryab, Jowzjan, and Baghlan
Since October 22, 1993 Saparmyrat Nyıazow has used the title Turkmenbashi (Türkmenbaşy), meaning "Leader of all Ethnic Turkmen". In his state Turkmenistan, this is probably largely true. It should be noted, however, that President Nyıazow has not to date demonstrated any desire to expand his political suzerainty beyond the borders of Turkmenistan
Turkmen in Iraq
A Turkmen minority live in Iraq, primarily in and around Kirkuk. Estimates of their numbers vary dramatically, from 300 000 Turkmen and Turkish speakers according to the Ethnologue to 3 million according to the Iraqi Turkmen Front. These people are the descendants of those Turks the Ottoman Empire brought to the region from Turkey to work as a secure line of people to transport mail from Baghdad to Istanbul and vice versa. They speak a language that is a mixture of Arabic, Kurdish and old Turkish. It is a minority language.
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraqi Turkmen have emerged as a key political force in the controversy over the future status of northern Iraq and the Kurdish Autonomous Region. The government of Turkey has helped fund such political organizations as the Iraqi Turkmen Front, which opposes Iraqi federalism and in particular the proposed annexation of Kirkuk to Kurdistan.
According to Zaman Daily Newspaper, some ten Turkmen individuals have been elected to the National Assembly of Iraq, including 5 elected on the United Iraqi Alliance list, 3 from the Iraqi Turkmen Front, and 2 from the Democratic Patriotic Alliance of Kurdistan.