Middle East

The untold tragedy of Iraq's Shia Turkmen girls enslaved by Islamic State

The efforts to free Yazidi girls and kids enslaved by the Islamic State (IS) group have introduced worldwide help and a focus, and received one in all their quantity the Nobel Peace Prize.

But a whole lot of Shia Turkmen girls additionally kidnapped in the 2014 IS rampage have been denied the chance for freedom, accountability and closure as a result of silence and denial of their neighborhood’s leaders, Iraqi officers, activists and worldwide human rights organisations informed Center East Eye.

The militants’ bloody and brutal assault on northwest Iraq in August 2014 is sometimes called the Yazidi genocide, with some 3,000 Yazidis murdered and maybe one other 7,000 enslaved.

Barely recognised amid these crimes, are the a whole lot of Turkmen girls additionally taken into captivity.

Most are Shia from the Turkmen-dominated rural city of Tal Afar, 80 km west of Mosul. They have been seized within the neighbouring Yazidi-majority city of Sinjar, the place they and their households sought refuge after IS had taken management of Tal Afar a number of weeks earlier.

Iraqi Shia Turkmen families who fled Tal Afar rest in Shangal, a town in Nineveh province, in June 2014 (Reuters)
Iraqi Shia Turkmen households who fled Tal Afar relaxation in Shangal, a city in Nineveh province, in June 2014 (Reuters)

The overwhelming majority will not be even registered as lacking, officers and activists say. And no actual official or non-governmental marketing campaign efforts have been made to hunt them out and convey them house, regardless of data clearly indicating that they’re in camps run by Kurdish and Turkish forces in Syria.

“Legally, these [kidnapped] girls don’t exist, as they’re both registered by their households as being killed by IS or just not current,” Hayman Ramzi, director of the Tulay Organisation for Turkmen Affairs, informed MEE.

“The boys of the victims’ households have been refusing to declare that one in all their daughters was kidnapped.”

Confronted with silence, the extent of the abductions solely started to emerge to the Tulay Organisation over time.

“All through the years we labored on this concern, we normally came upon that there was a kidnapped girl right here or there by probability, when a distant relative spoke about it,” Ramzi mentioned. 

“The households of those girls are refusing to confess that they have been kidnapped by IS. We have been receiving loss of life threats from a few of them after we informed them that we had data confirming that one in all their girls had been kidnapped.”

Unsure numbers

It’s close to unimaginable to know the true variety of lacking Turkmen girls.

Their households’ state of denial and the “deliberate blindness” amongst males in the neighborhood, in addition to the acquiescence of influential authorities establishments and Shia political and non secular forces, has hindered any try at investigation.

Political and non secular forces have even, human rights activists and officers informed MEE, aborted any critical makes an attempt to free the ladies and return them to their households.

Some native human rights teams informed MEE they imagine 540 civilians from Tal Afar are lacking, together with 125 girls. Twenty-two of them, who have been held in an IS-run Mosul orphanage, have been freed by Iraqi forces once they took town in October 2017.

‘A lot of the kidnapped girls haven’t been enquired after, and nobody has looked for them, so there isn’t any governmental, worldwide or civil efforts to convey them again’

– Nawal al-Karawi, Iraqi Centre for Girls and Baby Rights

However worldwide human rights organisations and their federal companions specializing in Tal Afar and dealing to return the displaced mentioned the entire variety of lacking folks is definitely round 1,200, together with 600 girls. 

To this point, 131 of them have been freed. Principally this was achieved by means of particular person efforts, akin to households paying ransoms to militants who they reached by means of mediators working to liberate Yazidi girls held by IS in Syria.

“A lot of the introduced figures are inaccurate,” mentioned Nawal al-Karawi, director of the Iraqi Centre for Girls and Baby Rights, who has been working in Tal Afar in partnership with different organisations for years.

“Most tribes refused to formally register the kidnapping of their daughters. They take into account it shameful, so that they refuse to reveal it.”

With out critical makes an attempt to focus on the problem, no particular governmental physique has been established to observe up on the lacking, not like with different communities.

“A lot of the kidnapped girls haven’t been enquired after, and nobody has looked for them, so there isn’t any governmental, worldwide or civil efforts to convey them again,” Karawi mentioned.

Trapped in Syria

Correspondence MEE has seen between the Iraqi Excessive Fee for Human Rights (IHCHR), the Basic Secretariat of the Iraqi Cupboard and the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee signifies officers solely have a imprecise concept of what number of Turkmen girls are lacking. 

Their communications say they imagine there are over 450 but to be accounted for, and so they assume the ladies have been taken to Syria, Turkey and quite a few Gulf Arab states.

The latest of those communications was signed on 29 December. It mentioned the international ministry was in talks with the Ministry of Displacement and Migration, intelligence service and quite a few Iraqi diplomatic missions to “examine” the destiny of the “kidnapped Turkmen girls and survivors”.

In accordance with the letter, the intelligence service had confirmed the presence of Turkmen girls in Syria in camps run by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia, together with al-Sadd in Raqqa, Abu al-Khashab and Abu Hamam in Deir Ezzor, al-Hol in Hasakah, and Akkadha within the metropolis of Azaz.

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It additionally steered that a few of these girls have tried to flee to Turkey, however they have been arrested by Turkish forces and moved to Afrin jail on the Syrian-Turkish border strip. Center East Eye has requested Syrian opposition authorities in Afrin to verify this, however obtained no response by the point of publication.

The letter gave no data on what number of girls could also be held in Afrin or their situation. Regardless of saying the international ministry had requested diplomatic missions to hunt data on these girls, the letter clearly states that they weren’t in a position to get hold of “any priceless” particulars.

For these looking for the Turkmen girls, the letter was a breakthrough.

“This was the primary time for years that we obtained an official response to our correspondence with authorities establishments relating to this concern,” Ali Akram al-Bayati, member of the IHCHR council and director of the Turkmen Rescue Organisation, informed MEE.

“Lastly, there may be proof that a few of these women are nonetheless alive and have been moved” to Syria, Bayati added.

“Once I obtained this data, I felt pleased as a result of this implies that there’s a probability to save lots of them. However on the similar time I used to be very upset as a result of we dwell below the shadow of a state that doesn’t care about an individual, his destiny and his struggling.”

When approached to touch upon the correspondence with the IHCHR, international ministry spokesman Ahmed al-Sahhaf promised to reply after contacting his ministry’s director of the human rights division. By the point of publication he had not responded. 


Tal Afar, 450 km north of Baghdad, is a big city situated in a triangle of territory between the Turkish, Iraqi and Syrian borders.

Like most Iraqi northern border cities, its society is tribal, conservative and closed, and ladies are thought-about a logo of a person’s honour, and his comfortable facet that shouldn’t be touched or approached.

For a lot of males in such a conservative society, admitting their wives and daughters had been kidnapped and raped is an admission they have been unable to defend them, a logo of impotence and disgrace.

Native activists and officers informed MEE that denial and ignoring these girls’s destiny is an try to maneuver on with out having to take care of the implications.

‘They really feel disgrace and embarrassment. They know that IS raped these girls, and so they can’t bear the thought or dwell with it’

– Salem Geddo, Orphan Charitable Basis

Some males refuse to even acknowledge the ladies once they seem to have reached security.

Many human rights activists mentioned they’ve obtained photos or names of Iraqi girls freed in Syria, and requested Turkmen households if they may assist determine them. Most males, they mentioned, refused to recognise girls suspected to be relations.

“After we present them the images that we obtain, they get upset and inform us: ‘These girls are useless, so why do you insist on exhuming this concern?’” Salem Geddo, director of the Orphan Charitable Basis in Tal Afar, informed MEE.

“A few of them take a look at the image for seconds and with out focus, then say angrily, ‘This isn’t our daughter’, though his facial options clearly replicate his unwillingness to know the id of the individual within the photos within the first place.

“They don’t say don’t name us once more, however they don’t disclose any data that might assist in reaching or figuring out their kidnapped daughters. They really feel disgrace and embarrassment. They know that IS raped these girls, and so they can’t bear the thought or dwell with it.”

Tradition focused

The Islamic State group’s use of sexual violence was a deliberate and systematic tactic to humiliate its opponents and destroy their cultural id.

In a report on gender-based violence performed by the Iraqi Al-Amal Affiliation, the distinguished girls’s rights group mentioned: “Girls’s our bodies have been thought-about a logo of the cultural id of societies. Humiliating them [women] and subjugating them [is a tool to] humiliate and subjugate their societies.”

IS militants considered communities and sects that didn’t conform to their extremist interpretation of faith, such because the Shia, with murderous contempt, labelling them apostates.

Officers, activists and tribal leaders in Tal Afar informed MEE that, as with the Yazidis, IS killed all Turkmen males and male kids over the age of 12 it got here throughout and threw them into the Allau Anter effectively, a gap round 50 metres in diameter and 100 metres deep, situated north of Tal Afar.

Federal officers estimate that the stays of over 1000 persons are on this mass grave, at the least 400 of that are Shia Turkmen, whereas the remaining are Yazidis.

“It was not confirmed to us that the Turkmen girls have been killed, though most of the Yazidi girls survivors said of their testimonies that the militants have been raping Turkmen girls and burning them after that, however we’ve got not discovered any stays of them but,” Bayati informed MEE.

“All of the proof and knowledge accessible to us signifies that the variety of Turkmen girls who have been killed was restricted, not like males and kids over 12 years previous.”

The Islamic State group’s strategies are recorded within the testimony of Yazidi and Turkmen survivors.

They’ve described militants commanding each boy to take off their shirts and raise their arms, instantly killing anybody who had armpit hair.

​  Iraqi boys jumping and swimming in the river inside the devastated town of Tal Afar in September 2019 (Reuters)  ​
​ Iraqi boys leaping and swimming within the river contained in the devastated city of Tal Afar in September 2019 (Reuters)

A distinguished Iraqi sociologist, who has been finding out the impacts of enslaving Yazidi and Turkmen girls on their communities since 2014, informed MEE IS used this tactic “to inflict the best attainable hurt on their Shia opponents”.

Shia political, governmental and non secular leaders are satisfied that IS saved these girls alive as a “poisoned dagger”, exposing sensitivities round girls to undermine them and “distort their cultural id in a manner that can’t be modified or erased”, mentioned the sociologist, who wished to stay nameless for safety causes.

In accordance with the sociologist, Shia leaders are totally conscious of what the ladies have been subjected to, however imagine it’s an affront to the neighborhood as a complete, and are due to this fact unable or unwilling to simply accept it.

“The Shia male mentality needs that these girls would die and disappear ceaselessly. They need time to cease for the time being of the kidnapping, as they don’t wish to know or take care of what occurred subsequent with these girls,” they added.

“For them, girls are the comfortable loins, so that they wish to push this incident into oblivion, or deny that it occurred. However the presence of victims hinders or delays this.”


Over current years, Iraq’s Shia forces have dominated politics and safety, and managed a lot of the state’s monetary and human assets. They’ve used these appreciable assets in efforts to free Yazidi girls from IS captivity. But they’ve invested subsequent to nothing to liberate Shia Turkmen girls.

In actual fact, they used the identical assets to cowl up this concern and attempt to preserve native and worldwide media and civil society organisations away from it, officers, lawmakers and activists informed MEE.

Furthermore, since 2015 they’ve labored laborious within the parliament to stop any express point out of kidnapped Shia girls being included in draft laws concentrating on IS militants’ gender-based violence.

Shia political forces have been cautious to border the Turkmen girls’s tragedy as a marginal a part of the Yazidi genocide, and never spotlight their plight individually, lawmakers mentioned.

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Successive Shia-led governments, together with the present one, have met and supported Yazidi survivors and their households. However representatives of the Turkmen girls and their relations have been obtained not more than 3 times, a federal official concerned on this file informed MEE. In two of those conferences, the Turkmen survivors have been launched as a part of the Yazidi delegations, officers and activists mentioned.

The 22 Turkmen girls free of the Mosul orphanage and returned to Tal Afar have obtained no rehabilitation or official care or compensation, regardless of dwelling in “very poor circumstances” and infrequently with distant relations as their rapid household have been both killed or captured, the Tulay Organisation’s Ramzy mentioned.

Human rights teams invested of their plight are few, poorly funded and stretched skinny.

The one help supplied to those girls is month-to-month funds of 100,000-300,000 dinars ($70-$200) from the al-Hakim Charitable Basis related to Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Saeed al-Hakim, one in all Najaf’s main Shia spiritual authorities, activists informed MEE.

“In actual fact, there isn’t any authorities place that has been adopted over the previous years relating to the Turkmen survivors or kidnapped girls,” mentioned a senior federal official who labored on this file.

“The official facet believes that this concern is a social tragedy that happened in a Muslim nation that’s going through problem in accepting it or dwelling with it,” he added.

“The official facet doesn’t wish to embarrass [the Shia], so it turns a blind eye to it and considers it a delicate native concern that wants options removed from sight.”

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