Network of Iraqi Reporters for Investigative Journalism

Network of Iraqi Reporters for Investigative Journalism

Sectarian Wars… Redraw Iraq’s Demographic Map

286

Ethnic Differences Triumph over National Unity

 

By Abbas Abdul Kareem

 

In a small home on the road extending between Karbala and Najaf,   a Shiite Turkman called Ali Ahmad, is struggling to build himself a new life, where he can seek a permanent job and have a house of his own. He is actually like hundreds of Shiites who fled Ninnoy Governorate soon after the Islamic State Organization ‘ISIS’ imposed its control over it and settled south of Iraq. “I won’t be back home. I don’t want to wake up one day and see myself fighting in a new nightmare.”

 

Ahmad’s six–member family sustains his decision and prefers to settle in their new homeland, giving up any idea of being back, anytime in the future, to their previous home in the city of Talafar, where they had lost as many as 13 persons from their relatives and friends. His son who is now 28 years of age says, “We’ll endure all the difficulties that we might experience due to differences of language, customs, lack of job opportunities and security requirements, before we can get used to our new life. We had escaped death many times before, but we might not be lucky enough to have a narrow escape again. We don’t want to die.”

 

Soon after ISIS took the reins in Ninnoy, in June 2014, the organization started its plans of annihilation and immigration of Shiites, who are regarded by them as ‘infidels’ whose death is religiously legitimate. In this way, the mere existence of the majority of Turkmen, the third nationalism there, is threatened. This actually happens in Iraq’s third largest governorate, and creates a new demographic reality, completely different from what has been existent on the ground for centuries. They aim at effectuating a large demographic change, hard to be rectified.

 

As per the records of ‘Turkmen Salvation Establishment’, which follows up the file of the organization’s victims, ISIS’s operations left around 1200 kidnapping cases from amongst Turkmen citizens, most of whom are Talafar’s Shiites. This number includes 120 children, and some 450 women and girls. They also documented the killing of 416 Turkmen in Ninnoy and the injury of 746 others at the hands of the organization. The incidents that took place allover the city resulted in the flight of more than 200,000 Turkmen and over 360,000 Yazidis, in accordance with the figures given by some representatives and NGOs.

 

Turkmen Shiites spread in Ninnoy Governorate. They live in Talafar Province, and in some other places administratively affiliated with Mosul Center, namely; Kabba, Al Rasheedeya, Sherkhan, Sadda and Bohweza. Their number is estimated at roughly 250,000 Turkmen, including around 125,000 Shiites in Talafar Center, and some 75,000 in Rashedeya, Shrekhan and Ninnoy Valley. In addition to approximately 50,000 living in villages and complexes affiliated with both Sinjar and Talafar, as per the figures given by some Turkmen organizations.

 

All these numbers were threatened by annihilation. They have actually become an easy target for the organization, being living in isolated plain areas and encircled by a majority- Sunni surroundings. They managed to realize early what the future holds for them at the hands of ISIS, and that what pushed most of them to flee quickly and save their lives soon after the arrival of the vanguards of the organization’s fighters to their regions.

 

Such realization of the possible catastrophe was the product of the demographic change attempts that were already underway years before ISIS occupied Ninnoy. That happened through the bloody battles launched by ‘Alqaada’ Organization in the city, and coincided with the wills and ambitions that began to appear in the horizon, aiming at causing demographic changes. Such attempts were actually adopted by some internal powers and other regional countries like Iran and Turkey, each according to their own interests. That was translated on the grounds of Talafar through bloody liquidations. The city witnessed 327 different explosions prior to being finally dominated by ISIS on the 22nd of June 2014, as per the data issued by the committee concerned with the terrorist operations’ compensations in Iraq.

 

History of Demographic War

 

The multiple nature of Talafar, including Turkmen, Sunni, Shiite nationals, together with its position nearing the Syrian and Turkish borders, as well as Kurdistan Province, made the city after the year 2003 one of regional conflict points, besides being a sectarian conflict hot point, among the Iraqi powers.

 

Such conflicts created a profound internal division between the two sects of Talafar’s Turkmen. That  was translated into mutual liquidation extending until June 2014, when ISIS fighters took power of the city ‘ supported by dozens of Sunni Turkmen’, from amongst the city citizens who shared in the killing, captivity, and looting operations against their fellow Shiite citizens.

And according to the vision seen by Abdu Ali, a civilian activist, such a regretful state of affairs ‘makes returning to the base of coexistence a mere rational claptrap’, particularly after the escalation of the sectarian polarization and the ever increasing interference of regional countries.

 

In the course of a press interview held early in 2016, with the former Ninnoy Governor, Atheel Al Negeffy, he considered the downfall of Ninnoy as a part of Iran’s attempts to effectuate a demographic change in the region and secure their communication lines with Syria through Iraq. He stressed that Iran wants to impose its control over Talafar. Such perspective is largely adopted by Sunni circles, which keep on talking about a ‘ Shiite Crescent’ extending from Iran to Syria through Iraq, turning Talafar into one of its bases.

 

Turkey pays great attention to what was known in the Ottoman era as ‘Welayat Al Mosul’, which includes Talafar as well. Hence, they regard the protection of the Turkmen as a ‘national duty’, and that what made them seek any possible means to participate in Mosul battle, including stationing military forces in Ninnoy Valley, in spite of the Iraqi government’s rejection of any Turkish presence on its territories. Turkey attempts to seek a role for itself in drawing the future of the disputable city.

 

Turkish talk about the protection of the Turkmen is regarded by the majority of Shiite citizens as ‘false rhetoric’. In a comment by Lo’ai Mahmoud, a Turkman immigrant living in ‘Al Hela’, he said, ” Where was Turkey when 200,000 Turkmen Shiites fled Talafar, and why didn’t it move its forces to confront ISIS when we were liquidated …?. Most of the Turkish leaders’ statements confirm that they are only caring about their private ambitions, while offering exclusive support for the Sunnis. This actually increases our fears simply because it conveys a clear message that we have no guarantee whatsoever in case of our return to our regions.”

 

The same vision is shared by another émigré from Al Diwaniyah Governorate, Adel Muhsen. “The Turkmen in general had not sensed any Turkish role during the past decades. Saddam had executed many of us, and Turkey didn’t yield an inch. And hundreds of terrorist operations targeted Talafar after 2003 and we’ve seen no role of Turkey to protect us. And even when ISIS occupied our regions, Turkey didn’t move heaven and earth or allow Turkmen immigrants to enter its territories. It only made contacts to free its consulate diplomats in Mosul, who were then under the organization’s custody.  No mention was made by Turkey as regards the destiny of hundreds of Turkmen women who were kidnapped by ISIS, and we still know nothing about them.” he says.

Contrary to the Shiite’s vision, the Sunni Turkmen welcome any Turkish role in Talafar. Salem Kamal, who left Talafar for Arbil weeks after the organization imposed its control over it, says, ‘ The Turkish role would be beneficial to all Talafar’s citizens, since it would prevent the wide scale immigration of the Sunnis after expelling ISIS from the city, fearing the vengeance of the extremist Shiite groups supported by Iran. It would also prevent any possible vindictive attacks and allow the city to restore its genuine components. I see that Turkey can play a conciliatory role, as it has its common nationalism with the Shiite Turkmen, together with the Turkmen Sunni sect.”

 

This same opinion is shared by Ahmad Khalil, a Turkman Sunni living in Karkuk. He says, ” Sunnis had been exposed to persecution and marginalization since 2003, and they kept feeling terrified of the security pursuits and liquidation even for mere suspicion. And today they are accused of supporting ISIS Organization, but the fact of the matter is that they were compelled to coexist with them. That was the only option available for them. Now they are afraid of the Shiite extremists’ vengeance, and have no trust even in the army and its ability to keep the situation in the city under control, since it’s exclusively formed of one party. And in order to dissipate their future fears, it is imperative to have a regional or international body capable of preventing any ethnic liquidation.”

 

Gamal Hassan, a political observer of the situation, draws attention to the possible killing operations, saying, ” Talafar is unlike Falluja, or Al Ramadi, or Tikrit, which are purely Sunni cities, and those who got involved with ISIS there were either hardliners or utilitarians belonging to all clans, running after their own interests. Hence, overcoming the problem there can be easier and vengeance acts can be limited. But the situation is quite different in Talafar, which is ethnically divided, and that makes any talk about reconciliation rather impossible, in view of the fact that the victims there belong to one single sect,  lodging all accusations to the other party.”

 

On the other hand, Turkmen volunteers from Talafar Shiites are involved with the formations of ‘Alhashd Alshabbi’, specifically with Ninnoy Axis (Al Hussein Brigade), which includes around 2000 fighters. Meanwhile, there are elements from Talafar’s Shiite Turkmen sharing in several formations of  ‘Alhashd Alshabbi’ such as ‘Alabbas Fighting Contingent’, ‘Asaheb Ahl Alhaq’, ‘Alsalam Squadrons’, and ‘Hezbollah Movement.

 

 

 

 

Fears of Violations’ Repetition

 

Two journalists sharing in this investigation monitored, in the course their fact-finding tours across regions in Ninnoy and Alanbar, frequent immigration cases for the families, whose sons got involved with ISIS in Ninnoy and Alanbar.

 

Hamda, an Arab Sunni woman in her fifties living in one of villages south of Mosul, says, “I handed my son myself to the security forces after the liberation of our village, because he had pledged allegiance to ISIS and worked with them for a couple of months, but he left them and never took their side in any fight. I handed him to protect his younger brother from the vengeance of the clans who lost victims at the hands of ISIS.”

 

In spite of this, Hamda feels vulnerable and the life of her other son remained threatened. “Elements from ‘Alhashd Alashherry’ (Sunni militant groups) forced us to leave our house and depart out of the village. That same thing happened with others. The security forces told me they couldn’t protect my son from the clans’ retribution, and it’s better for us to go out of the village. And now we are gathering under a tent in Gadha Encampment.”

 

Hasna, who lives in the same makeshift shelter, faced the same thing. ” My brother was fighting with ISIS, and he was killed in one of the battles. So they accused the whole family of taking the side of the organization. Even after his death, they didn’t leave us alone. They compelled me to depart empty-handed with my elderly parents, leaving all our belongings behind.”, she said.

 

Another deportee from south of Mosul named Mohammed Algabourri, says,” We were forced out of the village because my uncle joined the organization and he is now in Mosul. And although my father refused to work with them and fought against them, yet that did not intercede for him. Now we’re living in Gaha Encampment and are prevented to go back home.”.

 

That very same thing happened in some regions of Alanbar and Saladin. Each and every family has someone with ISIS, was not permitted to return to the city. And if the family is still anywhere in the region, they are ordered to depart to avert being exposed to any reprisal. A large number of the organization’s fighters’ families are now living in makeshift camps in Alamreya and Falluja. And thousands of detainees suspected of belonging to ISIS are now kept in a nearby concentration camp.

 

Amnesty International Organization ‘AI’ issued a report in early January 2017 entitled “Iraq turns a blind eye to the armament of Alhashd Alshabbi”, in which it accused militant groups operating under the umbrella of ‘Alhashd Alshabbi’, of perpetrating acts of execution, torture and kidnapping, besides committing serious violations of human rights, violations of international human rights, including war crimes, without any fear of punishment.

 

AI organization confirmed that since June 2014, ‘Alhashd Alshabbi’s militias took the law into their hands and illegally carried out acts of executions, killings, and kidnappings of thousands of men and lads. Some of the abducted were taken from their homes or working places or makeshift camps or at road checkpoints, or from other public places. And thousands of the kidnapped are still unaccounted for, although weeks, months, and years had passed since they were abducted.

 

‘AI’ organization had previously authenticated incidence of crimes and violations of human rights during the battle fought for the restoration of Alfalluja (50 km. south of Baghdad) in May 2016. It referred that there are films picturing the perpetration of such violations, and a video of a militant group leader delivering a speech in the presence of a large number of fighters, in which he describes Alfalluja as a hotbed for terrorism and all civilians and genuine Muslims had left the city.

 

Iraqi Prime Minister, Heidar Al Abaadi, acknowledged in June 2016 that

” Mistakes had been committed, but they were unintentional, and we’ll hide nothing”. And the government later on admitted the incidence of limited violations and said that an investigation committee was formed to examine the whole issue, and some persons were detained for due accountability.

 

Meanwhile, some international organizations confirmed the incidence of violations during the operation of restoring ‘Amerly’, a borough affiliated with the city of ‘Tozkhormatto’ in Saladin Governorate. Human Rights Watch ‘HRW’ said that they have evidence showing how ‘Alhashd Alshabbi’ looted the properties of the Sunni civilians who fled for their lives when the battle began, scorched houses and shops, and ruined at least two villages.

 

Observers following the position in the city of Talafar fear the occurrence of much wider violations, in spite of all the guarantees offered by the Iraqi government and the surveillance eye of the regional and international community. Galal Omar, activist on social media pages, says, ” We talk about a city where many cruel crimes were committed by ISIS, including genocide, captivity, and enslavement operations , and attempts of sectarian annihilation. That what makes the magnitude of the tragedy rather big, and hence there is a great possibility of the incidence of vengeance acts, unless matters will be brought under strict control.”

 

Dividing city into two parts

 

The growing sense of alarm from the repercussions of Alhashd Alshabbi participation, is reflected in the statements made by Turkmen Sunni leaders. In January 2016, the leader of the Iraqi Turkmen Front, Arshd Alssalhi, expressed his concern over the expected arrival of ‘Alhashd Alshabbi forces which may besiege Talafar. “We fear the occurrence of undesirable acts”, he said.

 

Turkman MP in Kurdistan Parliament, Eden Marouf, expressed his fears of Alhashd engagement in any operation of liberating Talafar, “We refuse their involvement in any operation which can enflame a sectarian war.”, warning of attempts of effectuating any demographic change in the city.

 

Whereas Turkman parliamentarian in Iraq’s parliament, Nabil Harbo, accused Talafar’s Shiites  of committing violations in 2004, considering the city the focus of all problems in Ninnoy. ” Instability there will eventually impact stability in all Iraq. After all, the flame of sectarianism was enflamed in Talafar and was then transferred to other regions.”. As a way out of this risk, he suggested dividing the province into two sections, one for Sunni Turkmen and the other for Shiite Turkmen, with the presence of international protection forces in the city.

 

Such statements harmonize with the vision of some Arab Sunni leaders. The secretary general of the Arab project, Khamis Alkhangar, warned of what he described as the possible repercussions of the entry of Alhashd forces into Talafar. “Such movement actually threatens turning the battle from a liberation war into a regional sectarian war between Iran and Turkey.”, he said.

 

Sunni-Shiite Talafar

 

   In spite of the many reassurances given by Alhashd’s leaders, as regards their sharing in the battles of regaining Talafar and keeping security in it, yet some Iraqi Sunni powers and other regional countries express their fears in this regard. They warn of the bloody liquidations that would be committed in the city, and so they demand the inclusive participation of the army besides securing international guarantees of not causing any demographic changes. But many of Alhashd’s fighters express their resentment about that. Ameer Hassan says, ” Where were they when ISIS perpetrated liquidation operations against us, and carried out the greatest demographic change in the history of modern Iraq within hours.”

 

Sitting behind a rampart, a few miles away from the organization’s positions in Talafar, Hussein adds, while putting his own Kalashnikov gun on his knees, with a green banner appearing behind him, ” They don’t want us to share in restoring our city and protect it, and charge us with sectarianism, in spite of the fact that we were forced out of our houses, which were later on usurped and given to foreigners coming from abroad. It’s them who tried to obliterate centuries of peaceful coexistence in the city, and all we want is to restore all this.”

 

Turkmen officials give different figures of the Arab and alien fighters who were settled in Talafar after ISIS had imposed its control over the city. Turkman representative, Nahla Alhebabbi, referred to the settlement of 300 of the foreign families fighting with ISIS in Shiite houses. That happened when the organization was at its peak in 2015. Hundreds of houses were presented to the fighters coming from Syria and other Iraqi regions, according to what was said by Nour Eldeen Kablaan, a member of the executive body of the Turkmen front. Meanwhile, dozens of other houses were used as security premises or warehouses for weaponry and provisions.

 

All Shiite’s houses and real estates which are estimated at over 4000, in addition to hundreds of storehouses and shops with all their contents, were all confiscated as per the organization’s ‘fatwa’. Abu Abdul Rahman, a Syrian who happened to be one of the organization’s Emirs and who stayed a short time in the city says, “These are all war booties and they were being disposed of according to Sharia (Islamic law).”

 

Another Turkman émigré who left for Karkuk, Abdullah Dawoud, doesn’t know what the future holds for him after the social fabric of their community had been ripped apart. ” We don’t really know what the reactions of the furious Shiite Turkmen would be to the ISIS’s attempts to obliterate their existence in Talafar. Hundreds were killed or kidnapped and more than half of the city’s population was obliged to flee for their lives and be turned into immigrants. They brought fighters from Turkey, Caucasus, and other Arab countries, and they became overnight the city’s leaders and began to impose their control even over the destiny of the city’s Sunnis.”

 

Reconciliation Complex

 

Taha Sadeq, another Turkman émigré who chose to settle in Alhela in Iraq  center, draws attention to the same issue. “After all what happened, how reconciliation can be achieved and coexistence gets normal again. Of course, this is something that cannot be realized through statements or recommendations released by political or tribal conferences. We’ve seen much of such things in Talafar before 2014, but now the situation is quite different after all the killing and captivity that we had been exposed to,”, he said.

 

 

 

He sees that reconciliation cannot be achieved unless the Sunni families hand over their sons ‘whose hands had been blemished with the victims’ blood’ of Turkmen, Yazidis, and Shobks- to justice. If not, ‘the door will be wide open for revenge acts that would inflict greater tragedies’.

 

This same perspective was confirmed by the communiqué released by Shiite Tribal Gathering of Talafar, at the end of the meeting held in February 2015 in Karbala City. Their statement said that in black and white, ” There’s no place for ISIS criminals in Talafar or its environs, or for any one shared ISIS in killing, kidnapping, explosions, property looting, demolition of mosques or other holy shrines, or residential buildings or public establishments.”

 

Such words are regarded by Talafar’s Sunnis as an early warning for their deportation from the city, simply because those who had fallen victims at the hands of ISIS and a large majority of the immigrants, are accusing each and every Sunni staying in the city, of either supporting and cooperating with ISIS, or ideologically accepting their criminal practices.

 

This same vision is confirmed by the young Sunni Turkman, Gameel, who spoke to this investigation reporter from Talafar, ” If ‘Alhashd Alshabbi’ entered the city, there are two options for many, either departure or detention upon suspicion until innocence will be proved. And we know about the violations committed in Deyaali and Alanbar, and we can realize that the situation will be much worse in Talafar. Each and everyone staying in the city will be accused, threatened and be held accountable away from the rule of law.”

 

” The situation seems horrible to us. We are chased and hanged between two deaths – ISIS orders people to fight and martyr in defence of the city, and says that ‘Alhashd’ will directly enter Talafar or under the umbrella of the army to take revenge.”, Gameel said.

 

Healing the terrible wounds of the total sliding into the vacuum circle of sectarian liquidation, demands tribal negotiations and political settlements prior to Talafar battle. But nothing has yet happened on the ground, although the battle can start anytime soon. And even after the agreement reached in the conference held in Istanbul  in July 2016, with the participation of 80 Turkmen figures, including former and present representatives and ministers, in which they recommended arranging for a meeting for Talafar’s senior figures and chieftains and cultural elite, to achieve reconciliation. But that had not so far been achieved.

 

 

 

 

Realizing the approaching danger awaiting them, urged the leader of the Turkmen Front, Arshad Alsalhi, to appeal to his fellow Turkmen to get united and ‘not give their enemies a chance to sow seeds of difference among them’. He points out that one third of Ninnoy demography belongs to the Turkmen and warns against the catastrophic repercussions that could happen if they receded their lands or got divided.

 

But Amar Mustafa, a volunteer in ‘Alhashd Alshabbi’, rejects such accusations, and sees that the fears felt by some Sunni leaderships ‘hide their political interests’. ” We’ve no problem with anyone whose hands had not been tarnished with the innocent victims’ blood. On the contrary, we want to set anybody in jail now free. But we will never ever sympathize with those who had played any role in killing or kidnapping our people, or exploding our mosques or occupying our houses or looting our properties.”, he says.

 

  Amalgamation and Settlement

 

Most of the Shiites, who fled from Talafar and the villages of Ninnoy valley, settled in Hussayneyat shelters on the Najaf-Karbala road, and in other places that are originally prepared to host the visitors of the holy burial grounds. Others resettled in tents placed along the borders of the two cities. Some stay in Al Hedareya (40 km. away from Najaf) and about 1000 families live in Al Sayeda Rouqaya makeshift camp (10 km. from Karbala center), whereas quite a few number of émigrés preferred to settle in rented houses within the cities of the mostly-Shiite southern governorates.

 

In spite of the social and living challenges, many of them try to get integrated in their new environment. Some got involved in the economic activity as workers or established corporate commercial projects with the population of the places they settled in. The sensitivities that appeared during the early months of their settlement due to the variations of language, culture and competitions over available services, aids, and job opportunities, began to ease by the lapse of time.

 

But the social worker, Ra’ed Abdul Hakeem, thinks that it is rather difficult to settle the Turkmen in the cities located south and center of Iraq, owing to differences of language, nationalism, social customs, and tribal traditions on one hand; and the majority of the émigrés dislike leaving their original regions on the other. Another obstacle  is represented in the reluctance of the population to accept or welcome them.

 

 

And in spite of the fact that 680 Turkmen families settling in the environs of Karbala purchased lands and built houses on it, yet Abdul Hakeem sees that such things do not affect the process of the land ‘settlement’, because these lands are far from the city centers and they are either agricultural or illegal lands, most of which are situated on Najaf – Karbala road, in view of the fact that émigrés cannot purchase lands within cities due to their high prices and local administrations in some governorates ban it.

 

In 2015, Karbala Governorate Council, banned selling lands and real estates to émigrés, and reaffirmed that ban for the second time in July 2016 and offenders are threatened with harsh penalties.

 

Abdul Hakeem warns of the ‘seriousness’ of accepting the resettlement of immigrants away from their genuine hometowns.

” Such thing can achieve the aims behind their immigration, i.e. change the demographic nature of their hometowns, and this might also cause another change in the demography of the regions they immigrated to.

 

Shihab Ahmad bought a piece of land (100 m2) on the roadside linking Najaf with Karbala at 5,000,000 dinars. This land is close to some of his relatives, some of whom are now busy building houses of their own. But he cannot afford to do so. ” Even if I can afford to build a house and live in it, I don’t prefer to stay here. Some of my married children might like to remain here, but I’ll go back home in Talafar.”, he said.

 

Missing Guarantees

 

  The chairman of Turkmen Salvation Establishment, Dr. Ali Akram Albayanni, is convinced that Turkmen folks will get back to Talafar and to their other hometowns or villages. “This is something inevitable in spite of the possible security hazards, and despite all their sufferings. It’s their original homeland and there is no way to recede it at any cost.”

 

Nevertheless, Albayanni cannot ignore that the return of Turkmen requires guarantees ‘ to stop any repetition of the tragedies that happened’. One of the guarantees  he specified  is the obtainment of ‘self-rule for their region  and the right to protect it by themselves’, through the creation of Talafar governorate or their inclusion within a new province or in a province with the remaining regions which ‘include genuine partners not known for any treachery or betrayal’, in a clear reference to the Christians, Yazidis and Shobks.

 

Albayanni also stresses on the significance of accountability for all ‘the criminals and neglecters through international courts’.

 

Ibrahim Muhammad Younis Al Khanim, the chairman of the Talafar Cultural Association, views that the Turkmen in Iraq are geographically scattered, and this what makes it rather difficult to establish a province of their own, “so we think that the best solution is creating two governorates: Talafar and Tozkhormatto, under international patronage after restoring trust among the city dwellers.”

 

Al Khanim lays stress on the need of international protection ‘in any possible form, including any deployment of real forces on the ground even on temporary basis, until stability can be secured and any sectarian practices of sedition and infidelity claims come to an end.’

 

Such are the demands that represent guarantees for safe return, on which the large majority of the Talafar’s Shiites agree to, and generally speaking, “this needs dedicated time and effort, as well as national and regional political will until it can be achieved, if that can originally be achievable.”

 

He continues saying, “What matters most now is the achievement of some kind of protection that can secure the safety of the religious, sectarian and national minorities, and holding those involved in killing accountable for their crimes. Extremists cannot be allowed to escape beyond the borders or hide anywhere in the deserts and then be back again after a period of time within the framework of a political settlement or parliamentarian amnesty.”

 

Amidst an atmosphere of societal division, sectarian polarization, and war environment which is nourished by the political conflicts, the guarantees necessary for the return of émigrés seem to be far-reaching aspirations. This is accompanied by fear of the future. Such alarm is not only confined to the families of ISIS’s victims or to sectarian violence solely. Around 14 out of 100 families surveyed in May 2016 by the preparer of this investigation, showed no desire of return even after expelling ISIS from the city and the situation gets better there. Whereas over 52% of the sample surveyed didn’t hide their fear for their lives despite their desire to be back home.

 

This percentage is regarded by the activist, Hussein Kareem, as low and does not reflect reality. ” Yes, many want to get back because of the radical change they are experiencing in their lives as a result of the lingual, national and cultural differences between them and the Shiites of the south, in addition to factors of poverty and lack of job opportunities.”

He continues saying, “But the majority don’t actually like to return even if they say the opposite, because the alternative is much worse. The fact of the matter is that the longer they can stay, and the more they can get integrated with the new environment, the less their wish to return becomes.”

 

Ali Aboud, the chairman of the Human Rights Center in Ninnoy, briefs the problems facing Turkmen émigrés who left for the central and southern governorates which make it rather hard for them to get integrated in the new environment. At the top of such problems come the bad living condition, the dominant unemployment among the youth, and the lack of badly needed services in immigration centers. These, in addition to the security procedures that impose stern restrictions on the transfer of émigrés and above all their bad psychological condition for being such a long period of time away from their homeland, not to mention the bad treatment they receive from some relief workers who most often look upon them as second-class citizens.

 

Anonymous Future

 

Kazem Mahmoud, an émigré in Karbala, draws a bleak vision of the future of Talafar. He views that the circle of violence would not come to an end with turning the page of ISIS. “The fire of sectarian conflicts has not been extinguished but its causes are still existent, and it might add more fuel to the fire anytime. Each and every household has its deep unforgettable wounds that cannot be easily healed”.

 

Even those families who didn’t lose any of their members’ lives feel that they had lost years from their age in building and owning things that were looted by ISIS within hours.

 

A Sunnis émigré in Arbil, Ahmad Salem, shares the same frustration of his compatriot. “Even after expelling ISIS, if you set your foot anywhere, everything will remind you of the tragic acts the city had witnessed, the debris of the ruined buildings, the empty deserted houses; life will never ever be normal again.”

 

Salem believes that any attempt to restore the past, looks much like the endeavors made by ISIS in 2015 to create a new life in the city. ” That won’t be achieved. We need years to reconstruct the already torn social fabric.”

 

 

 

“When liberation operations start, many of the Sunni Turkmen will be forced to leave the city and go to stay in encampments or in the nearby Sunni regions. As for the Shiites who are worried about the future of the city, they will hesitate much before making their minds to be back home. The possible retributions and malicious complaints will paint murky lines for long years to come.”

 

He sums up the whole picture saying, “Unless a miracle happens, Turkmen who let their sectarian divisions overcome their national unity, will be the first and foremost victims of both ISIS and Al Qaeda organizations that succeeded in reforming Iraq’s demography. Their small numbers and being scattered in many places across the map of Iraq, will make them the most vulnerable minorities threatened to be annihilated.”

 

While looking much forward to see the war come to an end and the internal and regional political and security decision reaches maturity, Ahmad keeps on struggling to create a new life away from his hometown, Talafar, which according to his bleak vision, will stay for long years to come fighting within a vacuum circle of an endless bloody sectarian strife. Whereas other émigrés like Heider Gassem keep waiting patiently for the first possible opportunity to be back home.

 

“We’ll survive; we cannot give up hope of life”

 

 

This investigation was achieved with the support of the Iraqi Network for Investigative Journalism ‘NIRIJ’.