Dec 11, 2014

IS Persecution brings Renewed Suffering for the Voiceless Iraqi Turkmen

On 16 June 2014 Tal Afar, a Turkmen majority district in the Ninewa Governorate of Iraq, fell to IS forces. The invasion of the region, formerly home to 400,000 Iraqi Turkmen, marked the first point at which the spread of the so-called Islamic State (IS) through Iraq, which started in January 2014, directly impacted the Turkmen. Since then, around 90% of the population in Tal Afar has fled the region, 300 Iraqi Turkmen have been murdered, 500 more have been kidnapped and many more have suffered dehydration, starvation and sickness as they flee IS forces.

The Turkmen are descendants of the Oghuz tribes originating from Central Asia. They settled in the area more than 1400 years ago and much of their recent history has been closely linked with the decline of the Ottoman Empire. Since the end of the First World War, the Turkmen have suffered hardship, persecution, marginalisation and assimilation at the hands of various regional powers including the British, the Hejazi Hashemite monarchy, Communist separatists and the Saddam Hussein regime.

Following the regime change in Iraq in 2003, the Turkmen continued to be marginalised during the process of reconstructing the Iraqi state. There is ongoing pressure from Kurdish and Arab authorities to relocate the Turkmen community and political and intellectual leaders of the community are being targeted. The recent expansion of IS influence in the region has resulted in further persecution of the Turkmen. In addition to institutional assimilation and marginalisation that the Turkmen face from the Iraqi and Kurdish authorities due to the reluctance to recognise them as an official ethnic group, they now also face direct threats to their lives from IS violence.

Media emphasis on the Iraqi Kurdish minority has severely distorted Western perceptions of the situation in Northern Iraq. As a result, human rights violations against the Kurds have often been consistently in the media spotlight, while violations committed against other communities in the region have largely been ignored.

This oversight is facilitated through significant gaps in Iraqi legislation. Perhaps one of the most worrying omissions in the legislation is that there are no comprehensive minority rights or anti-discrimination laws, despite significant diversity within its population. Iraq is not a signatory to relevant international law for the protection of minority rights such as the ILO Convention 169 on the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples in independent countries. On 1 November 2014, the newly-formed Iraqi Parliament rejected a bill proposal that would have recognised certain rights to the Turkmen. Despite a European Parliament resolution (13 March 2013) and many other human rights institutions’ calls on Iraqi and Kurdish authorities to guarantee the safety of Iraqi Turkmen, no serious action has so far been taken.

Areas of concentrated Turkmen populations are often neglected by the central Iraqi government who claim to lack the time and resources to effectively deal with the poor living conditions experienced there. As a result traditional Turkmen education in local schools is deteriorating, and the frequent bombing of religious sites (in the last 12 years over 65 churches were destroyed in the region) and other security issues remain a constant problem. These issues have been significantly compounded by the arrival of the IS in the area who have directly attacked the Shi’a and Sunni Turkmen population with reports of indiscriminate targeting of women and children. In one example, the IS laid siege to the town of Amerli in June 2014 and of the 13,000 Turkmen who were not able to flee the area, 10,000 were women and children. They have faced significant hardships during this conflict which once again highlights that the most vulnerable sections of the population often suffer the most in times of war.

The Turkmen are in a particularly precarious position. They are caught in the middle of an intense conflict; being targeted by Sunni extremists while being consistently ignored by the Iraqi and Kurdish authorities who are meant to protect them. Media exposure in the region has the potential to build international attention in their support; however consistent misrepresentation of the region, particularly by Western media, has failed to be effective. The Turkmen, along with other groups caught up in the ongoing conflict such as the Yezidi, continue to be a silent victim in Iraqi.

Download UNPO’s updated briefing note on the Iraqi Turkmen here.

Download the presentation of Ms Zena Al-Esia, delivered at UNPO’s side event to the 7th UN Forum on Minority Issues in Geneva on 26 November 2014, here. Ms Al-Esia’s presentation covers the issues historically and currently faced by the Turkmen and Shia Kurds in Iraq, including the difficulties they endure due to their status as a ‘double minority’ – being persecuted by Saddam Hussein for being non-Arab and by the IS for being Shia. It also highlights that while many minorities are recognized in Iraq, both the Turkmen and the Fayli (Shia Kurds) are often neglected by both the domestic authorities and by the international community, including international media.

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