On the 16th of January 1980, four prominent Iraqi Turkmen personalities were hanged. Nejdet Kochak, a professor, Abdullah Abdurrahman, a high ranking military officer, Riza Demirji, a professional bureaucrat, and Adil Sherif, a businessman. They were the leaders of the Turkmens of lraq and had been charged with spying for Turkey.
The charge, a common one brought against Iraq's Turkmens, was found to be groundless in the courts due to a lack of evidence. Despite this, the judges were ordered by the regime of Saddam Hussein to sentence the men to death. Saddam had just come to power then, and like all previous regimes of Iraq since its establishment in 1920, his Arab nationalist regime continued to deny or downplay the very existence of Turkmens in Iraq while actively working to erase the Turkmen identity through forced assimilation policies amounting to ethnic cleansing.
Consequently these brave men, who were working peacefully for the civil and cultural rights of Iraq's Turkmens, were imprisoned, brutally tortured, and ultimately hanged.
Nejdet Kochak spent his youth in Kerkuk trying to unite the Turkmen of Iraq, who at the time were recovering from the massacre of Turkmens in Kerkuk on July 14, 1959 at the hands of Kurdish Communists. He later spent his university years in Ankara, Turkey, explaining the plight of the Turkmens to the Turks, who were completely unaware of the suffering of their brethren in Iraq. After graduation, and despite all the offers to stay in Turkey, Nejdet decided to go back to Iraq to continue his peaceful efforts among his people. He was assigned to the University of Baghdad as assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural Engineering. In Baghdad as in Kerkuk, he was admired and respected by Turkmens for his sharp intellect, noble character, and excellent manners. He had an extreme love for his people and they saw in him the hope for the future of Iraq's Turkmens.
Abdullah Abdurrahman, a retired Army Colonel, was the officer who managed to quell the siege of Kerkuk during the massacres of July 14, 1959. He reached Baghdad and succeeded in persuading General Abdulkerim Kasim to stop the killings in Kerkuk. Had it not been for him, it is likely that there would not be a single Turkmen left in Kerkuk today. After retiring from the Army he became president of the Turkmen Brotherhood Center in Baghdad, which at the time was the only legal Turkmen social organization in Iraq. This center was the uniting entity for the Turkmens in Iraq.
Dr. Riza Demirji was a professional agricultural/forestry engineer working at the ministry of agriculture in Baghdad. He was also a graduate from Ankara, and worked for the Turkmen cause in the forties and fifties.
Adel Sherif was a businessmen who was well known in the business community for his courage and honesty.
Two months after these hangings, Mehmet Korkmaz, a teacher and leader among the Turkmens in Kerkuk, was also hanged.
Many other executions followed.
Published in: Kerkuk.net