Residents of the district of Tala'afar in Ninewa province, on the eighth anniversary of the takeover of the district by the extremist militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria ISIS, demand the Iraqi government and international organizations to determine the fate of hundreds of missing Turkmens, including children and women.
The demand came during a gathering on June 16, marking the eighth anniversary of the ISIS attack on the district. The gathering of (Moment of Silence) was held under a tent in Tal Afar.
On June 16, 2014, ISIS fighters attacked Tala'afar and local tribes alongside security forces were able to stand in the face of the atrocious attack for 10 days yet lost contact with the army. Simultaneously, ISIS had advanced into several other provinces, including Kirkuk, Salahaddin, Diyala and Anbar.
“The idea is to ask government agencies and international organizations to take serious action to reveal the fate of hundreds of missing Turkmens from Tala'afar,” Sheikh Faisal Mahmoud, one of the organizers of the commemoration, told Kirkuk Now.
This commemoration is to call on government institutions and international organizations to take serious action to reveal the fate of hundreds of missing Turkmens
According to local activists and civil society organizations in Tal Afar, out of 1,300 people kidnapped during the rule of ISIS, including hundreds of women and children, only 48 people have been released, including 23 women and 25 men.
Among the 23 surviving girls and women, "they confessed to being raped and forced to abortion by the organization's fighters."
In February 2021, Istebrak Yezaoğlu, head of the Turkmen Front's mass organizations, revealed that 1300 Turkmens were abducted, 470 were women, 700 men and 130 children, taken by ISIS fighters into unknown destiny.
The people of Tala'afar district, which has a population of more than 524,000, according to the Ministry of Planning for 2019, were severely hurt by crimes committed by ISIS fighters against different religious and ethnic communities.
The center of Tala'afar, located 69 km northwest of Mosul in Ninewa province, has an estimated population of about 220,000, all of whom are Turkmens, while Arabs and Kurds live in districts and villages.
"The fall of Tala'afar was a dirty conspiracy led by terrorist forces and extremist ideology, along with some political parties, which resulted in the worst crimes against humanity," said Qassim Mohammed Shari, head of Tal Afar municipality.
"Innocent people were killed, women were enslaved, raped, even children, places of worship and monuments were targeted," he added.
Most of the residents of the district were displaced and those who remained were attacked and kidnapped by ISIS fighters.
The district was controlled by the Iraqi government in August 2017. About 60% of its people have returned to their homes, mostly Shiite Turkmens, while the rest are still displaced, residing in southern and central Iraqi provinces, especially in Najaf, Karbala and Babylon, in addition to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq KRI and Kirkuk. Some have also migrated abroad, including Turkey.
“Despite al-Qaeda’s efforts to overthrow Tal Afar from 2005 to 2014, it was unable to target the district because of tribal unity, despite the weak role of the government at the time,” said Sheikh Hashim Antar, a cleric from Talafar.
"If it were not for the conspiracy by some inside and outside Tal Afar, Daesh (ISIS) would not have been able to regain control of Tala'afar," Sheikh Hashim believes, without further details about any figures and parties he accused of collaboration with ISIS.
Without the conspiracy by some inside and outside Talafar, ISIS would not have been able to take control of Tala'afar
The United Nations first reported on August 3, 2016, in a statement by Zainab Bankura, the Secretary-General's Special Representative on Sexual Violence against Women, stated, "abducted Shiite Turkmens were subject to sexual violence at the hands of ISIS fighters."
On August 17, 2019, the Turkmen community confessed to the media for the first time that they had been kidnapped and sexually assaulted by ISIS.
"Turkmen women and children were also victims of ISIS crimes in Tal Afar and Bashir districts, but our tribal culture did not allow us to talk about these crimes," Arshad Salihi, then leader of the Iraqi Turkmen Front ITF, said a press conference.
The commemoration of the eight-year anniversary of the takeover of the district on June 16 was generally aimed at demanding a search for the fate of their abductees, alive or dead. However, they called for serious attention to Tala'afar and the areas that have been attacked by ISIS and faced destruction.
The local authorities in Tal Afar, in cooperation with international parties, are preparing to exhume the "Alo Antar" mass grave north of the district. It is among 95 mass graves in Nine, out of 202 all over Iraq in the provinces of Anbar, Salah al-Din and Kirkuk, in which ISIS buried its victims between 2014 and 2017, according to a report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights UNHCR and the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq UNAMI.
Turkmens are considered the third largest ethnic group in Iraq after Arabs and Kurds, residing almost exclusively in the northern towns and villages stretching from Talafar through Mosul, Erbil, Altun Kupri, Kirkuk, Tuz Khurmatu, Kifri and Khanaqin. They are half Sunnis and half Shiite.