More than 77,000 land registration documents dating from the period of Ottoman rule in Iraq are still stored in Ankara, the head of Turkey’s national archives has said.
The deeds of land ownership around Mosul and Kirkuk in northern Iraq could provide the basis for future legal challenges, Zeynel Abidin Turkoglu, head of the Archive Department at the government land registry, said.
The revelation came at a time of raised tensions between Ankara and Baghdad over the presence of Turkish soldiers in Iraq and Turkey’s possible involvement in the battle to retake Mosul from Daesh.
“These land certificates are the documents that show we have been there,” Turkoglu said. “Those lands belonged to us at the time. We are in a situation to claim rights there.”
Iraq was ruled as an Ottoman province with varying degrees of control from the 16th century onwards. By the early 19th century direct rule from Istanbul was firmly established until the empire collapsed in the wake of World War I.
In the argument with Iraq, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stressed Turkey’s historical ties to the territory.
Turkoglu said 77,063 land certificates covering the Mosul and Kirkuk areas – important centres for Iraq’s oil industry today – spanned a period from 1847 to 1917. The documents are believed to be in the names of Ottoman subjects who could have been from what is now modern Iraq or Turkey.
There were also more than 180 land ownership registers covering the years before 1847.
According to Turkoglu, a copy of the records was kept by the central government in Istanbul while a second was retained by local administrators. He said the copies still held by Ankara, where they were transferred after the foundation of the Republic of Turkey, were in a good condition.
The revelation that such records have been kept intact in Turkey also dispelled a rumour that the only certificates were destroyed during the Iraq war in 2003.