Kirkuk Ringtones Reflect Rivalries
By Samah Samad in Kirkuk (ICR No. 284, 20-Feb-09)
They identify ethnic and religious affiliations in
bitterly contested city.
February 21, 2009
KIRKUK, Iraq's border with Kurdistan region,
— Bus passengers in Kirkuk* fire
angry glances at Ahmed Ali as he takes on a call on
his mobile phone.
The young man soon realises why: the Kurdish song
that serves as his ringtone singles him out as an
ethnic Kurd on a bus used by many Arabs and
“Immediately after that, I changed my ringtone to
the default one provided by the phone’s
manufacturers,” said Ahmed Ali, who did not give his
real name for security reasons.
In Iraq’s most diverse and disputed province, mobile
phone ringtones play a big part in the politics of
identity. Kirkuk contains most of Iraq’s many
religious and ethnic groups,www.ekurd.netand
has been described as everything from a colourful
bouquet of flowers to a powderkeg.
The fear that Kirkuk’s largely ethnic politics could
ignite an all-out war runs so high that the region
was left out of Iraq’s provincial elections last
While many Kirkukis say have they lived side-by-side
for decades despite their differences, some are also
increasingly identifying with their ethnicity or
Husam al-Din Ali owns a toyshop in Kirkuk city and
describes himself as a proud Turkoman. He reveals
his ethnicity every time his phone rings.
Ali’s mobile ringtones are Turkoman songs and
anthems that state who he is and where his politics
“I think it is the right time for the Turkomans to
have a voice that can echo throughout Kirkuk because
we have suffered too much persecution,” he added.
Having Turkoman ringtones “is the least we can do to
boost our community and show others how important we
are”, he said.
Owners of shops selling mobile phones say demand for
ethnic and religious songs increases before major
Kurds like fresh ringtones for Nawrooz, a new year’s
holiday celebrated in their community. Meanwhile,
demand for sombre cries skyrockets during Ashura, an
important mourning period for Shia.
Kirkuk’s Turkomans are particularly partial to theme
music from several Turkish television soap operas
that were recently rebroadcast in Arabic.
Falah Ali, a mobile shop owner, said he has sold
about 1,500 ringtones from wildly popular series,
which have titles such as Tears of the Rose and The
Ringtones cost a maximum of 250 dinar (20 US cents),
making them affordable even for young Iraqis.
Hiwa Shorsh, a secondary school student, said his
Kurdish ringtone cost him a friendship. The song he
chose hinted that Kirkuk should be incorporated into
idea that many non-Kurdish Kirkuk residents fiercely
"When I was sitting with my friends in school, my
mobile rang, and of course I had that song,” he
said. “It annoyed my Turkoman friend. We had a
misunderstanding and our friendship ended.”
"I can identify someone based on the ringtone he
wants,” said Abu Saif, the owner of a mobile phone
Abu Saif said more and more devout Muslims have been
requesting Islamic ringtones, such as verses of the
Koran or songs from Islamic musicians.
"I hope ringtones won't be another factor splitting
the people of Kirkuk,” he said. “The barriers
between the different religious and ethnic groups
have increased. We don't want ringtones to be added
to them, considering that we’re always carrying
mobiles in our pockets.”
Idris Nadhim, a university lecturer, said the
ringtones have emerged as identity-based political
parties and alliances battle for power in Kirkuk.
"Politics has started to creep into our daily lives
in the smallest ways because of the ethnic tensions
and instability in Kirkuk,” he said.
Samah Samad is an IWPR-trained reporter based in
author or news agency,
Kirkuk city is historically a Kurdish city and it
lies just south border of the Kurdistan autonomous
region, the population is a mix of majority Kurds
and minority of Arabs, Christians and
Turkmen. lies 250 km northeast of Baghdad. Kurds
have a strong cultural and emotional attachment to Kirkuk,
which they call "the Kurdish Jerusalem."
Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution is related to
the normalization of the situation in Kirkuk city
and other disputed areas.
The article also calls for conducting a census to be
followed by a referendum to let the inhabitants
decide whether they would like Kirkuk to be annexed
to the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region or having
it as an independent province.
The former regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein
had forced over 250,000 Kurdish residents to give up
their homes to Arabs in the 1970s,www.ekurd.netto "Arabize"
the city and the region's oil industry.
The last ethnic-breakdown census in Iraq was
conducted in 1957, well before Saddam began his
program to move Arabs to Kirkuk. That count showed
178,000 Kurds, 48,000 Turkomen, 43,000 Arabs and
10,000 Assyrian-Chaldean Christians living in the
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