“We want our educational, cultural and religious rights to be recognized by the central government in Baghdad,” says Abbas Beyetli, a spokesman for the Iraqi Bektashi community.
In an interview with Today's Zaman, Beyetli said the Iraqi Bektashis are facing difficult challenges in Iraq. “We want the Iraqi government to officially recognize the Bektashis of Iraq, and we want to establish our own federation with a budget from the Iraqi government,” he stated.
The identity of the Iraqi Bektashis started to come to the forefront only recently -- after the start of the Iraq war in 2003.
Beyetli said: “The identity of the Bektashi people was suppressed for more than 80 years. We suffered great injustices in terms of culture and religion, and many Bektashis assimilated with Shiites.
The Shiites represent 65 percent of the Iraqi population and the Sunnis 32 percent.
There has recently been an escalation in sectarian violence between Sunni and Shiite groups. The violence reached its peak on Tuesday when the death toll hit 70 in Iraq, making it the deadliest day of the year.
“The Shiite groups are strong, and many Bektashis assimilate out of fear, becoming Shiite. There is great pressure. We don't have a representative in the parliament. The one representative who was close to our community was an assimilated Bektashi,” he said.
Beyetli said it is difficult to determine the exact number of the Bektashi population in Iraq, adding: “There is a wide range in estimated population numbers, ranging from 250,000 to 750,000. We have to remember that the last official census in Iraq was in 1957, and in light of those years of assimilation, the numbers start to become fragmented.”
Iraqi Bektashis are in Turkey for the Haci Bektaş-i Veli festival and to raise public awareness of the plight of the Bektashi community in Iraq.
The Iraqi Bektashi population in Iraq is currently centered mostly in northern Iraq and in the cities of Mosul, Telafer, Kirkuk, Tuzhurmatu and Arbil. “You don't get a sense of a large population of Bektashis in Iraq, but there is a sense of revival and increased openness that is clearly in the air,” Beyetli stated.