After several years, Tal Afar reintegrates IS women survivors into the society

Nineveh, a women center in Tal Afar, March 2019. Photo: Jafar Talafari

Jafar Talafari- Nineveh

Ahlam dreamed of rejoining her family after being abducted by the Islamic State group (IS). She rescued from the IS and approached her dream but faced family and societal norms, which were barrier to achieve her dream.

Ahlam, 19 years old, is an IS survivor and said she was fearful of not being received by her family and relatives in Tal Afar, Nineveh province. When she was in Mosul Orphanage, she heard of killing IS women survivors by their families.

Another Women IS survivor is a 15-year-old, Zaynab Zayn al-Abidin. She sits in a corner of the room and often thinks of people whom she has not heard from for five years.

Zainab was rescued during Mosul liberation in 2017 and three of her brothers returned to Iraq after freeing them from IS in Syria. Still, three of her brothers and a sister are missing.

IS approximately abducted a thousand and 300 Turkmen in Tal Afar district from 2014 to 2017, including 130 children and 470 women when Nineveh province fell under the control of IS.

The cases of Turkmen abduction by IS remained untouched due to the societal traditions and norms, even the names of the abductees were not revealed. Lack of such disclosure made it difficult to the activists, journalists, government and local and international organizations to investigate into the crime, according deputy head of Turkmen Survivors Agency.

 Societal Stereotypes

Ahlam remembered of the time when she wanted to rejoin her family. “I was very hesitant to go back to Tal Afar and rejoin my family or remain with a terrorist and organization and marry a foreign terrorist and leave Iraq,” Ahlam stated.


Nineveh, Four Turkmen children freed from IS captivity reunited with their relatives, March 12, 2019 Photo: Jafar Talafari 

Mohammed Qassem, a civil society activist, explained to KirkukNow that he opened discussion on the subject and was accused of touching a subject that is not appropriate to be mentioned, however, the topic is not as controversial as before. 

Talafar, is a district in western Nineveh with a mixed make-up of Shiite Turkmens, and Arabs. The town was recaptured by Iraqi forces in August 2017.

 It was not only Ahlam who was hesitant.

When Tal Afar fell under the control of Daesh in August 2014, Abas Wali, father of one of the women rescuees, was arrested by IS for his attempts to escape the town.

“Back then, I could not reveal the news of their disappearance, and I called some Ezidi friends to know if they have heard a news of our women while receiving the Ezidi women survivors.”

“The perception of Tal Afar community was not correct; some portrayed it as shame and embarrassment even tough what happen to the women was out of their control,” Wali said.

He also mentioned that with the help of numerous religious figures, the subject was delivered to The Marjayiah, and covered by the media. Some influential activists changed the perception and when several survivors returned, they were welcomed. 

 Acknowledging the Abduction

The acknowledgment of the abduction of Turkmen women happened in 2019 after four years of their kidnapping.

In a press conference on August 17, 2019, the abduction and enslavement of women Turkmen was disclosed to media.

On July the same year, Abdul Mahdi al-Karbalai, the representative of the most senior Iraqi cleric, Ali al-Sistani, met several Turkmen and Shabak survivors and stated, “we in holy Karbala are ready to receive them, and provide them with accommodations and excellent services, if any of them needs medical observations and checks, we will provide them.”


Karbala, Turkmen and Shabak survivor visit Abdul Mahdi al-Karbalai in Karbala, July 2019. Photo: The Marjayiah Media 

Also, Adil Abdul-Mahdi, the outgoing Iraqi prime minister, met with numerous Turkmen and Shabak survivors. “People and The Marjayiah are proud of their sacrifices and resistance, you are the symbol of honor, success, and misery, we feel the misery and know how you confronted the terrorists… now we have to compensate the difficult days and together build now and the future,” outgoing prime minister said.

In the press conference, Arshad  Salehi, head of The Human Rights Committee in the Iraqi Council of Representative as well as the Turkmen Front, emphasized that Turkmens were subjected to heinous crimes at the hands of IS, noting that their traditional culture had prevented them from disclosing the details to the public.

“We demand the government to help these people to be reintegrated back into the society,” he added.

Reintegration into Society

Some source indicate that 46 Turkmen have been rescued from IS, 23 women and 23 children who are in need of financial, legal, and psychological support.

 At the same time, according to statistics collected by the Human Rights Committee, 119 women and 22 children from Talafar’s Turkmen component have been freed from captivity.

Zainab Bangura, The United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence on August 3, 2019, issued a statement in which she said that, “there are Turkmen women who were abducted and faced sexual violence by IS.”

Ibtisam Haiu, head of Turkmen Dialogue Organization, said, “some of the women survivors faced sexual and physical violence at the hand of IS. Therefore, there should a rehabilitation center for their reintegration into the society.”

Initially, the Turkmen politicians and organizations investigated into the abducted women behind the scenes. There was not a committee to do the work.

“No side supported those who looked after the cases. Otherwise, they opposed it and working on the cases was not possible with individual efforts. One of the political party wanted to keep the cases under their hands to use it for their political interest,” Faiha Zayn al-Abidin, a former Iraqi parliament, said.

She thinks now it is time to form a commission consisting of trainers and experts to look after the affairs of the survivors and their reintegration into the society.


Kirkuk, Turkmen politicians meeting with the survivors, august 2019. Photo: United Turkmen Front Media 

13 organizations exist in Tal Afar but none of them has initiated to psychologically, legal, or financially support the survivors, while the rescue are experiencing a misery life.

Nevertheless, people’s perception has changed, some of the rescues, after their return, are succeeding in their education without any governmental, psychological, or financial support.

Ahlam has reintegrated into the society, lives with her family, and pursues her studies. She is hopeful that her mother and two brothers will come back to Tal Afar, too, who are still missing.

“We hope that someday all the survivors will rejoin their families.”


Note: Ahlam and Zanab’s full names are protect by KirkukNow upon their request.


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