The Missing Piece in the Syria-Iraq Debate: The Turkmens

October 15, 2014 at 10:15 am | Posted in Turkmens | Leave a comment

The Turkmen across Syria and Iraq are stuck between sectarian conflict and Kurdish nationalism.

Unlike the Kurds — the largest stateless ethnic group in the region — the Turkmen are not armed and are now struggling for their survival. Their continued existence is important because, as traditional moderates and natural links to Turkey, the Turkmen could be vital in building peace after the dust settles.

Who are the Turkmen?

Though the Turkmen are culturally and linguistically similar to their kin in Turkey, their tribes first settled in the region in the 9th century. Renowned for their horsemanship and soldiering, Turkmen tribes, in one way or another, were part of the military elite up until the early 1900s. They became part of the Ottoman Empire with the Battle of Chaldiran in 1514, the Ottoman’s legendary victory over the Safavid Empire. The Ottomans took care to settle Turkmen along the cities on route to the Hijaz — present-day Saudi Arabia — to secure the pilgrimage path.

As the Ottoman Empire disintegrated in the wake of World War I, the Turkmen found themselves as a minority in the two Arab-majority Kingdoms of Syria and Iraq. The past century then brought de-colonization, Arab nationalism and war. Yet Turkmen have managed to preserve their way of life. They speak a dialect of modern Turkish at home, but many are more comfortable with Arabic. Their practice of Islam remains close to the moderate Anatolian tradition.

Syria’s Turkmen

Syria’s Turkmen are located in the Levantine Latakia province and the northern regions of Aleppo and Raqqa, close to the Turkish border, as well as the central city of Homs. The Syrian regime, headed by President Bashar al-Assad, has often fudged their population numbers, leading experts to think of the Turkmen as a tiny minority. The true figure of Syrian Turkmen is likely to be much higher. Turkmen leaders claim they number 3.5 million. No reliable census exists to verify these claims, but taking a number of known Turkmen-majority villages into account, these authors estimate that there are between 2-3 million Turkmen in Syria.

The Turkmen had a good start in Syria. Two of the Arab Republic’s early presidents were Turkmen, including the two-term President Hashim al-Atassi, whose family remains influential in Homs. Starting in the 1960s, however, the pan-Arab Baathist movement sidelined non-Arabs from politics. Then-President Hafez al-Assad’s rule was devastating to the Turkmen. He banned Turkish-language education, eradicated traces of Turkmen culture and redistributed the community’s land. Squeezed out of their possessions and way of life, the Turkmen identity was pushed out of the public eye.

Syria and Iraq are now one battleground involving local militants, governments and foreign jihadists. In this mix, ethnic Turkmen are the largest population that is seldom talked about.

The civil war in Syria of the past three years has rekindled Turkmen politics. At the beginning of the conflict in 2011, most Turkmen joined the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a moderate rebel group. As more Syrians took up arms, they formed their own brigades under the FSA umbrella. What is certain is there are currently more than ten armed Turkmen groups defending their positions against the Assad regime or IS. Despite being Sunni-majority, very few Turkmen seem to have joined IS ranks — certainly the least of all other Sunni groups. “They couldn’t find people among us because the Turkmen way of life is different from theirs,” Abdurrahman Mustafa, the president of the Syrian Turkmen Assembly said. “That made us ISIL’s [IS] number one target.”

The Iraqi Turkmen

Iraq’s roughly 2 million Turkmen are spread over a strip of land between the Kurds and Arabs, ranging from Mosul to Diyala province. Their recent history has not been easier than their kin in Syria. Starting in the late 1950s, the Iraqi regime massacred Turkmen elites, closed their schools, renamed their villages and, in many instances, forced them to change their names under a policy of Arabization. This was done by the communist regime, as well as the Baathists and Saddam Hussein later on. Despite the merciless campaign, however, they held onto more of their wealth and social standing than Syria’s Turkmen. Nouri al-Said, a former Iraqi prime minister and the son of a Turkish Pasha, and many of his colleagues who served before the coup in 1958 were Turkmen. More recent notables include journalists Nermin el-Mufti and Abbas Ahmet, or the poetess Munevver Molla Hassun.

In 1995, Iraq’s Turkmen founded the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF) with Turkey’s assistance. The ITF served as an umbrella group for regional Turkmen political leaders, which allowed them to organize in the wake of the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. That stands in contrast to Syrian Turkmen, who only formed political organizations at the onset of the civil war. By the time Iraq formed its first government in 2005, the Turkmen had a civil body of elected leaders, representatives in the Iraqi parliament and offices in foreign capitals, including Ankara, Washington DC and London. But the organization lacked one critical element to wield power in Iraq: weapons. To this day, its lightly armed militia can barely protect its leaders from assassination attempts.

This inability to take and hold territory has come at a high price to the Turkmen community during the IS surge this summer. The Turkmen suffered terrible blows in Tuz Kharmatu, Tel Afer, which is their biggest territory, and Amirli, a city between Kirkuk and Baghdad. Most affected Turkmen tribes had no choice but to flee from IS advances. Shiite Turkmen were subject to the worst massacres, but Sunni tribes have also fallen prey to IS. One Sunni Turkmen leader allegedly killed his two daughters with poison upon IS’ approach. The only group strong enough to put up a fight have been the Abbasiyun, the largest of Tel Afer’s Sunni Turkmen tribes.

Yet the sectarian division in Iraq’s Turkmen tribes has become undeniable. Sunni Turkmen, who make up roughly half of its community in Iraq, were a double minority during Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite-majority rule. When IS called for Sunni tribes to rise up against Baghdad, some of them answered. Sources suggest that a number of Turkmen are now in high-ranking positions in IS. The group might also be taking advantage of its Turkmen members for its contacts with Turkey. When IS attacked the Turkish consulate in Mosul and took 46 citizens hostage, it was the jihadist group’s Turkmen members who communicated with the captives, according to some accounts.

But the ITF remains devoted to its founding principle of including both sects among its members. Ersad Salihi, the ITF’s leader, pointed out in a talk in Ankara that three of its candidates for Mosul’s elections were Sunnis and have been kidnapped by IS. The ITF, he says, has been the jihadist group’s main target in Mosul, despite the entirely Sunni makeup in the city.

Turkmen: Kurdish Relations in Iraq

One important dynamic for Iraqi Turkmen’s future is their relationship with the Kurds. Nominally, the two communities are allies. The Turkmen occupy a handful of seats in the Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament, and Turkmen forces have fought alongside the Peshmerga — Kurdish armed forces — against IS. Under the surface, however, things are more complicated.

The Turkmen do not receive the protection Christian minorities get, nor do they have the institutional makeup to defend themselves the way the Kurds have. They are alone on the frontlines of the IS onslaught and their numbers are thinning by the day.

The Kurds have held up better against the IS onslaught than the Iraqi army, giving them more sway in the country’s future. When the army fled the city fearing an IS attack, Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), ordered his forces to seize control of Kirkuk, which Kurds see as their historical capital. For Turkmen, this was a serious encroachment on their presence.

Kurdish and Turkmen territories overlap across several critical territories. Turkmen leaders like to point out that half a century ago, most of Erbil’s population was Turkmen. More importantly, however, the Turkmen were the majority in Kirkuk’s center before 2003. After the Saddam regime was toppled, Peshmerga troops stormed into the city’s downtown area and vandalized many Turkmen and Arab properties. They also had the foresight to burn land deeds from Kirkuk’s Land Registry Office, to prevent Turkmen from taking back their property in future lawsuits. The Turkmen who remained in Kirkuk have been struggling to hold onto their place ever since. Now that the city is entirely in Kurdish hands, the Turkmen fear they will be forced out entirely.

Yet Salihi has not abandoned hope of Turkmen-Kurdish cooperation. He wants to negotiate with the Kurdish leadership to lend Kirkuk a special status that would allow it to flourish as a pluralistic city after the war. “We shared the suffering and prison of the Saddam years with our Kurdish brothers,” he said at a meeting in Ankara, “but we wish that we had been included in the political process after 2003, just like they were.”

International Help

Part of the Turkmen’s dire situation is due to the lack of foreign aid. The US and Europe have been timid about arming rebel groups, much less identifying the Turkmen specifically as a community in need of protection.

In August, when IS laid siege to Amirli in Iraq, the only aid the Shiite Turkmen town had for nearly two months was a helicopter that carried supplies in from Baghdad twice a week. For months, the only foreign power to help them during the siege was Iran, sending its famous Gen. Kassim Suleimani to the Shiite Turkmen’s aid. Only in September did US drones provide enough air cover for the population to be evacuated. That stands in stark contrast to the sensitivity Western countries have showed for Christian and Yazidi minorities.

At least part of this is due to the assumption that Turkey stands as a natural ally to the Turkmen and will provide any aid necessary. However, that has not entirely been the case. Ankara does have good relations with the Turkmen, donning out generous educational scholarships in the past and, more recently, humanitarian assistance.

But the big brother to the north has proved timid when it comes to war. Syrian Turkmen lament that Turkey has provided little beyond a trickle of light weaponry — none more, according to Turkmen leaders, than it gave to Sunni Arab groups. “If we had received the weapons we desperately asked Turkey for,” a Turkmen commander said, “the majority-Turkmen areas would have been free of the ISIS [IS] threat.” The president of the Syria Turkmen Council, Abdurrahman Mustafa, said: “As ISIS [IS] parades around with the scud missiles and tanks it got from its Raqqa raid, we have to worry about how to save ammunition for our rifles.”

The matter has become a sore point with Turkey’s AK Party government. The Nationalist People’s Party (MHP), the country’s second-largest opposition party, has repeatedly called on the government to increase its aid to the Turkmen. Ahmet Davutoglu, then-foreign minister and the current prime minister, periodically assures them that his government has been helping the Turkmen as much as possible. Yet the MHP does not seem convinced. This summer, parliamentarians got into a fistfight when Sinan Ogan of the MHP gave a fiery speech condemning the government’s inaction. More recently, leftists such as the Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP), have also accused the AK Party of neglecting the Turkmen.

That leaves the Turkmen in a precarious position. The Turkmen do not receive the protection Christian minorities get, nor do they have the institutional makeup to defend themselves the way the Kurds have. They are alone on the frontlines of the IS onslaught and their numbers are thinning by the day.

If that continues, it will significantly impoverish the region. The Turkmen have much to offer by helping to rebuild Syria and Iraq — whatever shape those territories will take. Economically, they are a natural link to the commercial centers across the border in Turkey. More importantly, the Turkmen are moderates with a tradition of local, representative government. That is why anyone with a stake in the region’s stability should be concerned about the Turkmen’s predicament between Arab sectarianism and Kurdish nationalism today.


Huseyin Rasit Yilmaz is a Turkish analyst on ethnic conflict, terrorism and nationalism. He has been a researcher at the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV) since January 2011 and is a graduate student of politics and social sciences at Gazi University. Yilmaz has authored three books: “Being a Turk in Turkey ,” “Breaking Points of Turkish History” and “The Turks and Kurds/The Project of a Social Rehabilitation”


Selim Koru is an Ankara-based researcher on energy markets and foreign policy. He has worked and interned with various media institutions such as the Turkish daily Sabah, Al Jazeera’s Arabic and English offices in the US, and The Hill newspaper in Washington DC. He is currently a researcher at the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV). He holds a Bachelor’s in History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a Master’s in International Relations and Economics from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).


Iraqi Turkmen leader calls for support

September 25, 2014 at 10:16 am | Posted in Turkmens | Leave a comment
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Iraqi Turkmen leader calls for support


Arshad al-Salihi called for a safe zone to support the threatened minority.

World Bulletin / News Desk

Iraqi Turkmen Front President Arshad al-Salihi has said Western countries should provide weapons to Turkmen in Iraq.

Speaking at a meeting of the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV) in Ankara on Wednesday, where latest developments in Iraq and those facing Turkmen were discussed, al-Salihi said: “The West should also support us Turkmen with weapons, we are in need.”

Salihi said that the Turkmens’ lives and territory were in danger and stated that a “safe zone” should be provided for the threatened minority.

“All Turkmen, Shia or Sunni, have been exposed to Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant militants’ attacks,” he said.

He also stated that Turkmen had seen the most casualties during ISIL militants’ attacks on the northern Iraqi province of Mosul.

‘Biggest target’

Al-Salihi said: “Three of our deputies are still in the hands of ISIL, who call us every day saying they will cut their heads off.”

“Turkmen are the biggest target and we are being ignored.”

Referring to the militants’ attacks on Tal Afar since June, he said: “About 300,000 Turkmen have been forced to migrate to different regions, mainly to the south of Iraq and most of them will probably not be able to return.”

He added Turkmen had not received any humanitarian aid, unlike other minorities such as Christian, Yazidi and Kurds.

The president said: “Humanitarian supplies came only from Turkey.”

“We distributed all the supplies from the Turkish Red Crescent to everyone – not looking at whether they were Turkmen, Yazidi or Kurd – but today we need equal help from the West.”

‘Starvation danger’

According to al-Salihi, Iraq’s new government has also ignored Turkmen.

Last week, Nahla Sallamah, a Turkmen MP in the Iraqi parliament, said more than 350,000 Turkmen asylum seekers were in danger of starvation because the government had failed to financially support them.

The chaos created by ISIL militants has displaced more than one million Iraqis from their homes.

The group has mainly targeted Shia Muslims, Turkmens, Yazidis and Christians.

The Iraqi army failed to halt a sudden offensive by ISIL in June, which led to the group taking control of large swathes of land in the country, including the province of Mosul in the north.



September 20, 2014 at 12:11 am | Posted in Turkmens | Leave a comment
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Turkmen refugees 8


Turkmen refugees 4


Turkmen ids 6







JUNE 2014







September 5, 2014 at 2:38 pm | Posted in Turkmens | Leave a comment
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Posted by Noria on juillet 16th, 2014
Maps by Xavier HOUDOY
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These maps were designed by Xavier Houdoy for Noria, with the support of the European Research Council-funded program WAFAW. They were based on data gathered by Adam Baczko, Robin Beaumont, Felix Legrand and Arthur Quesnay in Syria and Iraq during field trips of various length spanning from Summer 2013 to June 2014.
The meaning of the various dynamics at work in today’s Iraq and Syria lies in their interactions. This poses a twofold challenge to the cartographers: on the one hand, to represent complex processes; on the other hand, to consider the perceptions and interpretations of the readers during the conceptualisation stage. Thus, not only for the sake of clarity, but also as a matter of cautiousness regarding the use that could be made of this work, we have chosen to use a triptych, with one title and one general legend for our three maps, which we consider impossible to apprehend separately.
While maps are the most adequate tool for the representation of various situations and dynamics, such as strategies for the acquisition of territorial control, their limits also appear quite easily. How can we capture the very pragmatic and punctual nature of certain alliances that imply fluctuating intensity and scope in terms of time and space? How should we differentiate between their symbolic and political importance and their territorial weight? Is it even conceivable to show a “Shia axis” when, despite its undeniable relevance in some areas, it remains a cumbersome cliché, which largely denies fundamental nuances? Last but not least, how best to show the weakening of a State other than in terms of territorial losses?
As already pointed out by Bénédicte Tratnjek regarding an older piece on Syria, working on ongoing conflicts, where the situation evolves on a daily basis, means working without anything like perfectly consistent and comprehensive data, even though those were collected and cross-checked, as is the case here, by researchers on the field. In that sense, these maps aim at allowing local, national, and regional dynamics to appear without exaggerating the differences between the various groups, neither to homogenize them.
Any use of those maps without specific permission of Noria is strictly prohibited. Please contact for further information.

Regional alliances and transnational actors…

… local and national settings…

… and the war economy.


Executive Summary

This article intends only, in line with its short length, to offer areas of reflection and avenues for further exploration.
In order to understand the current conflictual situation in Syria and Iraq it is important to take three aspects into consideration: trans-national sectarianism, pragmatic alliances and state resilience.
In a context of weakening State power, Syrian and Iraqi regimes have actively used sectarianism, in conjunction with an unprecedented level of violence, as the response. This has in turn led to popular discontent and as a consequence sectarian, transnational conflict throughout the region. The internationalization process follows two trends: on the one hand, a process with States as the main actors; on the other hand, a process pertaining to the infra-state level, revolving around ethnic (between the Kurds), but most of all sectarian solidarities (namely between Sunnis and Shiites).
Nevertheless, these new dynamics co-exist within traditional dynamics of tension and civil war. Whether local economic partnerships or pragmatic alliances, such as between ISIL and the Syrian regime, they show that sectarianism and the conflict’s regionalization remain direct consequences of the regimes’ strategies.
Despite ISIL’s ability to remain a dominant player in the region and the threat posed by them, the States are likely to remain powerful players and the main organising system for the people in the region – the “Shia axis” being not much more than a collection of States. The future of the conflict therefore depends largely on the people.

Political stakeholders redefining identity

The civil war in Syria and the increasing violence in Iraq are the expression of revolutionary situations which should be seen as part of a continuation of the « Arab Spring. »
The quick and brutal political reconfigurations have been accompanied by a process of religious sectarianism; the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, now renamed the Islamic State (IS)) and the accompanying assault on Baghdad are some of the most recent manifestations.
This alignment of stakeholders along a Shi’ite-Sunni opposition line is the consequence of three interrelated elements. Firstly, the instrumentalisation of religious identities by the regimes of Nouri al-Maliki and Bashar al-Asad in order for them to remain in power. Secondly, religious recruitment organized by “identity entrepreneurs”; and lastly, with the weakening of the State, vulnerable societies in an increasingly violent environment, who are left with limited alternative routes.
However important the rise of this religious dimension might be, it is also accompanied by a set of interdependent factors, the analysis of which is essential to an understanding of this crisis: social transformations, political demands, exacerbations of identity differences and opportunism, in particular economic opportunism.
The current crisis might indeed suggest the rise of a transnational Sunni Arab axis that straddles Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, but the people of these three countries have very different historical trajectories. Even if the Syrian revolution was carried by a Sunni majority that had long been marginalised by a regime identified as Alawi, it was the result of multi-faith protest against authoritarian rule.In Iraq, the insurgency is the result of a Sunni minority marginalized by a new Shi’ite political elite following the 2003 U.S. invasion. The Sunni insurgencies in Iraq and Syria are therefore examples of two very different national configurations. In addition, the sponsorship of certain Gulf countries, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in particular, whilst presented as part of a religious solidarity are in fact above all the strategies of regional powers that seek to overthrow the Syrian and Iraqi allies against their Iranian competitor.
Similarly, the « Shia axis » is above all a political alliance between Iran, the Iraqi regime, some Iraqi Shi’ite groups, the Syrian regime and Hizbullah. Theologically, TwelverShi’ism and the Alawite religion have little in common, and the Shi’ite character of the alliance is primarily an external perception. Shi’ism gains a transnational dimension where it is instrumentalised by regimes in order to create popular militias and support, for example by calling for the defense of Shi’ite shrines in Samarra in Iraq and SayyidaZaynab in Syria. Beyond the very real ideological commitment of the militias, their continuation beyond their national boundaries depends above all on the logistical capacities of the military organizations to which they belong, and ultimately the resources provided by the States that sponsor them.
By over simplifying sectarian identities, a particularly malleable notion, religious division, in the context of civil war, is exacerbated. Different theological branches of Shi’ism in the region, from Alawism to Zaydism, with considerably different historical evolutions from the Twelver doctrine, are thus easily confused together within the context of civil war. The mediatisation of violence is a particularly effective weapon of differentiation for stakeholders such as the Islamic State and the Iraqi and Syrian regimes, whose strategy is based on increasing the denominational dimension of each of the opposing sides. The distribution in June 2014 by ISIL of images of hundreds of Shi’ites being executed, retouched to make them even more shocking can be analysed in the wake of the massacre carried out in Alawite villages in the province of Latakia in August 2013. The bombing in 2011 of Sunni neighborhoods by the Syrian regime had a similar objective. The political strategies put in place by the protagonists are what primarily creates identity opposition lines within the populations, and their implementation is possible only if they have access to the necessary resources.

Transversal logic and local alliances

Beyond the religious conflicts that run deeply through the crisis, the Iraqi and Syrian civil wars are each different, depending on temporary alliances and the various social, economic and political interests. The loss of Mosul by the Iraqi regime took place after many years of a gradual loss of control of the city by the Iraqi army. Radicalized social movements, a result of the repression of Baghdad, made the advance negotiations between ISIL, Baathist insurgents and local Islamists, possible. In the Syrian Jezireh, local alliances depend largely on historical factors that existed prior to the crisis. In Rabia, at the Iraqi-Syrian border, the PKK was joined in 2014 by local Arab fighters, to fight ISIL. These local fighters were from long-established tribes in the region. However, when the armed Kurdish group advanced to the border crossing Tall Amis, a hundred kilometres south, the local Arab population, descendants from settlers of the Baathist regime against the Kurds, joined ISIL in its stand off against the PKK. In Kirkuk, the presence of Shi’ite Turkmens militiamen is possible only as a result of the intented strategy of the Iraqi Kurds to weaken the central government, hence forcing those militias to work with them. In Syria and Iraq, the rise of Shi’ite militias depends on the collaborative relationship between armed groups, the regime and local populations.
The Syrian regime plays a key role in the economy of transnational war that is taking place in the Middle East. To resist the opposition, Bashar al-Asad delegated control of the Kurdish areas to the PKK from July 2012 and allowed ISIL to prosper whilst avoiding bombarding its positions.
The Syrian regime additionally bought crude oil for its refineries from the PKK and ISIL and sold the refined product back to ISIL, whilst refusing the same to the Syrian rebels. Damascus maintains an ambiguous relationship with the PKK and ISIL, who do not pose a direct threat; both groups can use Syria as a behind the lines base for their operations in Iraq and Turkey. It is only with ISIS’ offensive in Iraq and against Baghdad that the Syrian regime began their bombing, in order to appear to the outside world and the West as a key player in the fight against an entity whose strength it had significantly bolstered.
On the side of the Kurds, they are exploiting a historic opportunity with the weakening of the States to negotiate economic and political benefits from Baghdad, Damascus, and Ankara. Indeed, any political or military reconquest of Iraqi Sunni areas would require the support of KRG. The KRG is today in a strong position in its discussions on the positions open in government, the status of territories conquered since June 10 (the town of Kirkuk, and the northern provinces of Nineveh and Diyala) and the right to export directly to Turkey its oil. Similarly in Syria, the PKK is now in possession of territories in Afrin, Qobane and in the Jezireh to recruit and train men, in coordination with its Iraqi sanctuaries in the Qandil and Zab mountains.

The Resilience of a National Logic

If the weakening of states has made ​​the borders porous, the challenge to these borders, regularly announced, will likely remain unsuccessful.
Whilst the regimes and national balance is up-ended, the states themselves are not. National borders remain part of the framework of the demands of the majority of armed groups who define themselves primarily as nationalists and whose operations depend on local dynamics of mobilization. National insurgent movements in Syria since 2011 – now the Army of the Mujahideen (Jayshal-Mujahideen), the Syrian Revolutionary Front (Jabhatal-Thuâral-Sûrîyîn) and the Syrian Islamic Front (al-Jabha al-Islâmîyya al-sûrrîyya) – and in Iraq since 2004 – the Naqshbandi brotherhood (Jama’at al-Naqshbandîyya), the Companions of Islam (Ansar al-Islam), the Army of the Mujahideen (Jaysh al-Mujahideen) – are all fighting for national goals. In their current alliance with ISIL, they continue to follow their own agenda against the Syrian and Iraqi regimes, in direct opposition to those, transnational and religious, of the Islamic State. These movements are composed of nationals, with a nationalistic vision that aims to conquer Baghdad or Damascus.
Similarly, the involvement of Hizbullah alongside the Syrian regime and the influx of more than one million Syrian Sunnis into Lebanon has profoundly destabilised the country. If political relations are increasingly strained between the protagonists, with clashes multiplying – in Tripoli in particular – the fact that the country has not entered into the civil war confirms the salience of a largely national framework.
Paradoxically, the transnational configuration of the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts has underlined the differences between the two countries. The crisis is regionalized in terms of the number of countries involved, the importance of cross-border military and economic movements, but these resources all primarily support groups with national objectives. With the exception of the PKK and IS, all protagonists perceive the conquest of territory, or at least a redistribution of power, as the only solution. They do not imagine the creation of a new state with redrawn borders as a long-term solution but as a considerable territorial loss. This is even more the case since the areas that have a mixed population are still significant, especially in the cities, and do not allow for a redefined, clear division of the territory.
Even the Islamic State, despite its desire to create a genuine caliphate, has been forced to take into account the differences of each national situation, and to follow different strategies regarding the two countries. In Iraq, the movement aims to take Baghdad and overthrow the regime, while in Syria it does not attack the regime but maintains its grip on a territory which resources it uses. As such, in Syria IS controls the population directly and confronts the insurrection with whom it is competing for control of the territory. In Iraq, it joins forces with the insurgency whom it leaves to control the territory, in order to focus its efforts on the front against the Iraqi regime.


Religious division as a mode of government as used by Maliki and Asad, and as a strategy of sectarian identities for the Islamic State, reduces the potential for a compromise between national Sunni movements and the regimes in power.
In addition, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Qatar feed this line of division in their own struggle for regional leadership. Finally, the West has now politically disengaged, investing primarily on humanitarian issues and terrorism. This is the first crisis in the Middle East where Western countries do not play a decisive role in the course of events. Traumatized by the war in Iraq, caught in a difficult withdrawal from Afghanistan, the United States now commits only limited resources and leaves the local protagonists and regimes free to follow their own strategy. And in this way, nothing prevents the rise of religious players who in the expression of their local, predatory logic, guarantee the continuation of civil war.


Translation by Louise ROSEN


Who, What and Where are Iraq’s Turkmen?

September 5, 2014 at 6:31 am | Posted in Turkmens | Leave a comment
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Who, What and Where are Iraq’s Turkmen?

Know your Yazidi. An anthropological sketch will assure support for US and Peshmarga military advances across Iraq, and sequester a competing other minority—Iraq’s Turkmen.


International concern in Iraq pivots around saving the Yazidi people. Christians seem to count too; the Shabak also merit some attention. One can only applaud humanitarian support for any threatened population. But why the total dismissal of their neighbors and fellow Iraqis, the Turkmen? They too are at grave risk. Augmenting Al-Mufti’s account from the ground is a report noting how, “While the European Parliament … officially acknowledges the situation faced by minorities in ISIS occupied Iraq, their resolution … [2014/2716(RSP)] made no specific mention of Iraqi Turkmen… among the worst affected”.

Yes, Iraqi Turkmen are among millions now terrorized by the insufferable ISIS. Turkmen’s expulsion is not new however. A review of their history over the past decade reveals a pattern of forced removal from cities and villages across north Iraq. Not by ISIS, by American allies: Iraqi Kurds.

Telafar, a majority Turkmen city of 200,000 was all but depopulated beginning in 2003 when Kurdish Peshmarga reportedly conducted massacres there; attacks targeting Turkmen continued thereafter. This coincided with a political campaign to absorb ancient Kirkuk City along with Ninevah and Diyala provinces by Kurdish authorities. In 2009 the parliament of Kurdistan voted on a constitution to claim these areas, extending Kurdish rule beyond Suleimaniya, Dohok and Irbil. Mass Kurdish migration into Turkmen homelands displaced Turkmen, creating new facts-on-the-ground. In 2011 the Peshmarga Kurdish militia occupied Kirkuk, ostensibly to protect local inhabitants.The Turkmen National Front has been struggling with little success to push back Kurdish takeovers. They’ve no militia of their own and support from Baghdad, always weak, has now collapsed.

International news and human rights agencies consistently disregarded Kurdish advances into Turkmen areas. Today too. Turkmen are being whited-out of the picture. Why? It appears to be part of a strategy to consolidate Kurdish claims over all the Turkmen homelands.

Kurds took command of Kirkuk a month ago, again “to save” the city, this time from ISIS. The Peshmarga militia is a major US ally; resupplied with heavy weapons, it’s now engaged with the US military to push ISIS out of Mosel.

We may find Kurdistan awarded full control over Ninevah and Diyala– provinces they have long coveted. Its illegitimate constitutional claim becomes a reality.

One does not seek to tarnish one people at the expense of another. But the current situation in northern Iraq suggests it’s more than a heroic drive to protect endangered civilians. Here is an opportunity to answer Kurdish territorial and political ambitions.

Iraq’s Turkmen are ancient inhabitants of Iraq. Estimates of their numbers vary from 1-3 million: possibly 13% of the population, Iraq’s third main ethnic group. Turkmen are well known as loyal Iraqi nationals, Shiia and Sunni. They speak Turkish and Arabic. They’ve used just means to hold onto their rights and their homeland. And they deserve to be heard and embraced. Even as observers, let’s not be manipulated by the divide-and-rule policies of others which have done so much harm across this land.

Barbara Nimri Aziz is a veteran anthropologist and journalist. Her latest book is Swimming up the Tigris: Real Life Encounters in Iraq (2007).


EU ambassador to Iraq accuses European countries of purchasing oil from Islamic State

September 4, 2014 at 3:47 am | Posted in Turkmens | Leave a comment
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This is what I feared: The EU countries that provided arms to the Peshmerga forces to support their fight against the Islamic State did not coordinate amongst each other,” adding that “there are no guarantees until now to confirm or deny that the Islamic State or Kurdish terrorist organisations have not seized those weapons.”

EU ambassador to Iraq accuses European countries of purchasing oil from Islamic State


Jana Hybášková


The European Union Ambassador in Iraq, Jana Hybášková, has accused some European countries of purchasing oil from the Islamic State, or IS, Anadolu news agency reported.

Hybášková’s remarks came during a speech on Tuesday before the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs, during which she refused to disclose the identities of those EU member states that fund the radical organisation by purchasing oil from it, despite pressing questions from several deputies who requested to know.

She said that tankers loaded with oil purchased from the Islamic State have arrived in several European countries across the region and demanded for the European Union to “exert pressure on Iran, Kurdistan and Turkey in order to stop this trade”.

Anadolu also quoted her as saying: “The EU countries that provided arms to the Peshmerga forces to support their fight against the Islamic State did not coordinate amongst each other,” adding that “there are no guarantees until now to confirm or deny that the Islamic State or Kurdish terrorist organisations have not seized those weapons.”

She stressed the need to develop an international legal framework led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, or NATO, in order to defeat the Islamic State and warned European parliamentarians against supporting Kurdistan’s independence, saying that “such a move could cause a full collapse of the Middle East”.

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700 ethnic Turkmen massacred in Iraq in July

August 29, 2014 at 2:36 am | Posted in Turkmens | Leave a comment
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700 ethnic Turkmen massacred in Iraq

700 ethnic Turkmen massacred in Iraq

UNICEF’s Iraq representative Marco Babille said 700 Turkmen civilians were killed by the Islamic State in July.

World Bulletin / News Desk

Militants belonging to the self-styled ‘Islamic State’ have massacred 700 Turkmen civilians, including women, children and the elderly, in a northern Iraqi village, a UNICEF official has reported.

Marco Babille, the United Nations children’s fund representative in Iraq, said on Tuesday that militants committed the atrocity in Beshir between July 11 and 12.

Speaking to Italian news agency ANSA, he said the information came from eye witnesses who had fled the village.

Across the area seized by IS in June, episodes of violence against children have quadrupled when compared to previous months, he added.

Babille voiced UNICEF’s concern for the safety of thousands of other predominantly Shiite Turkmen civilians besieged by IS forces in the town of Amirli, Salahuddin province.

Calling for a “humanitarian D-Day” for the 700,000 refugees estimated to have fled IS violence in northern Iraq, Babille said the international community should establish a “safe haven” protected by peace-keeping forces.

“There is too much prevarication by the international community. If there is no intervention we risk the disintegration of the Middle East and Europe… will pay the consequences.”

Women and children among massacred Iraqi Turkmen

August 28, 2014 at 3:11 pm | Posted in Turkmens | Leave a comment
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Women and children among massacred Iraqi Turkmen

27 August 2014

Extremists belonging to the Islamic State have massacred 700 Turkmen civilians, including women, children and the elderly, in a northern Iraqi village, a UNICEF official has reported.

Marco Babille, the United Nations children’s fund representative in Iraq, said on Tuesday that militants committed the atrocity in Beshir between July 11 and 12.

Speaking to Italian news agency ANSA, he said the information came from eye witnesses who had fled the village.

Across the area seized by IS in June, episodes of violence against children have quadrupled when compared to previous months, he added.

Babille voiced UNICEF’s concern for the safety of thousands of other predominantly Shiite Turkmen civilians besieged by IS forces in the town of Amirli, Salahuddin province.

Calling for a “humanitarian D-Day” for the 700,000 refugees estimated to have fled IS violence in northern Iraq, Babille said the international community should establish a “safe haven” protected by peace-keeping forces.

He also called for a “systematic air bridge from Europe” to help Iraqi Kurds, who he described as “the only bulwark of human rights” in Iraq, giving shelter to displaced people irrespective of ethnicity or faith.

Babille reported that 440,000 refugees had flooded into Iraq’s Kurdish region since IS’s June offensive, in addition to 250,000 Syrian refugees who have been in the region since August 2013.

“In all, Kurdistan is hosting 700,000 refugees with a population of less than 5 million,” he said.

“There is too much prevarication by the international community. If there is no intervention we risk the disintegration of the Middle East and Europe… will pay the consequences.”

27 August 2014


Iraqi Turkmen in Danger, Rescue Amerli!

August 27, 2014 at 4:42 pm | Posted in Turkmens | Leave a comment
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العربية في اسفل الرسالة



Iraqi Turkmen in Danger, Rescue Amerli!

August 26, 2014

More than 16.000 civilians are trapped in the area of Amerli, in Tuz Khormatoo District of Salahaddin Province. Daaesh (ISIS) fighters put Amerli under siege and threaten to enter at any moment. Iraqi civilians from the Turkmen minority are in urgent need of protection.

Urgent call by the Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative (ICSSI)

Risks are increasing for the inhabitants of Amerli, besieged from all sides by the extremist fighters of DAAESH. Despite the resistance organized by people of the city and the security forces stationed there to stop the terrorist fighters, the risk that these will enter the city is concrete. If DAAESH enters Amerli, mass murder and enslavement of civilians are likely to happen, likewise in other areas inhabited by Iraqi minorities in the last weeks.

Amerli is part of Tuz Khormato District (90 km East of Tikrit) and has been experiencing a three-months long siege, since DAAESH militants started controlling large parts of Salahaddin Province, and after they took control of Mosul (405 km North of Baghdad) in June 2014. In Amerli, Iraqis from different backgrounds live together. The majority of them are from the Turkmen minority, a large section of them are Muslim and follow the Shia doctrine (Al-Madhab Al-Jaafari).

Institutions are aware about what is at stake there. A number of Iraqi politicians and journalists organized a pause of silence last week in the buildings of the Iraqi Parliament and called for the rescue of Amerli. Civil society campaigns are spreading through social networks, calling on the Iraqi government and the international community to provide protection for this city. As the third month of siege begins, fears of supply shortages of food, water, fuel, medical supplies and other essential items are increasing. The suffering of the city is intense also due to the large number of children who still live there: there could be up to 250 babies in need of milk and water. A number of children have been forced to carry arms to defend the city and are being exposed to high risks, due to the absence of protection.

According to “Tareeq Alshaab Newspaper”, the Rapporteur of the Iraqi House of Representatives, Mr. Niazi Oghlu, defined as “historical” the responsibility of the Iraqi Parliament and Government to protect the citizens of Tuz and Amerli. He asked them to instruct immediately an urgent military operation, in coordination with the Peshmerga forces, in order to save these citizens from death. Oghlu added that “the siege and attacks on the city led to the aggravation of the humanitarian situation and the death of children, women and elderly people” and urged for “stopping daily shelling by militants of DAAESH”. Oghlu was surprised by “the international and regional silence over the suffering of the Turkmen in this area, given the ethnic and sectarian cleansing that is taking place”.

In a press statement issued by the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq, the UN envoy for Iraq Mr. Mladenov confirmed that people are surviving in desperate conditions and urged “the Iraqi Government to do all it can to relieve the siege and to ensure that the residents receive lifesaving humanitarian assistance or are evacuated in a dignified manner”. Observers explain that the only way to get aid to the city now is by helicopters, which are arriving every day loaded with food and medical aid, but they say that this aid is not sufficient for the needs of people there.

The director of the District in which Amerli is located, Adel Shakour Al-Bayati, told “Al-Madaa Press” that the whole district is suffering due to the siege. Its effects began to show clearly on 15.000 people, many of whom are children and women, who are running out of white oil for cooking and food, electricity and drinking water. Al-Bayati called the international community to give attention to the steadfast Turkmen in Amerli, similarly to what they did with other minorities who are exposed to crimes by DAAESH, asserting that “the people of Amerli are ready to die, fighting for the day in which the siege will be lifted, without desecration of their land by terrorists”.

The Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative calls for the Iraqi government to provide urgent and effective protection for the besieged city, in coordination with local authorities, and not to put civilians at risk of direct military confrontation with the extremists. ICSSI demands immediate action by the international community to help the Iraqi government and Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq in protecting the city of Amerli and Turkmen people in Iraq.

التركمان العراقيين في خطر ، انقذوا آمرلي

26  من شهر آب (اغسطس)2014

ما يزيد عن ستة عشر الف محاصر من المدنيين في ناحية امرلي التابعة لقضاء طوزخورماتو في محافظة صلاح الدين. داعش تحيط بالناحية وتهدد بدخولها في أي لحظة. المدنيون العراقيون من الاقلية التركمانية  بحاجة لحماية عاجلة.

مبادة التضامن مع المجتمع المدني العراقي (ICSSI)

تتعاظم المخاطر المحيطة بناحية آمرلي المحاصرة من كل الجهات بمقاتلين متطرفين من تنظيم داعش الارهابي. وبالرغم من مقاومة ابناء المدينة وقوة الامن المتواجدة هناك للمسلحين لغرض صدهم عن دخول المدينة لكن خطر دخول المدينة مايزال قائم. وفي حال تمكن المسلحين من دخول المدينة فمن المرجح حصول قتل جماعي واستعباد للمدنيين على غرار ماشهدته مناطق عراقية اخرى يسكنها الاقليات اثر دخول المتطرفين لها.

وناحية آمرلي جزء من في قضاء طوز خورماتو،(90 كم شرق تكريت)، وتشهد حصاراً منذ حوالي ثلاثة اشهرين، ومنذ ان  سيطر مسلحي داعش، على اجزاء كبيرة من محافظة صلاح الدين، وبعد أن استولوا بشكل كامل على مدينة الموصل (405 كم شمال بغداد) في العاشر من حزيران 2014ويسكن هذه المدينة الصغيرة عراقيين من خلفيات مختلفة و غالبيتهم من التركمان وهم اقلية يدين قسم كبير منهم بالديانة المسلمة ويتبعون المذهب الجعفري.

هذا وقد نظم عدد من السياسيين والصحفيين العراقيين الاسبوع الماضي وقفة داخل ابنية مجلس النواب العراقي وطالبوا فيها بانقاذ ناحية آمرلي.

كما تتزايد الحملات الاجتماعية عبر شبكات التواصل المجتمعي لمطالبة الحكومة العراقية والمجتمع الدولي بتوفير الحماية لهذه المدينة.  ومع دخول الحصار على هذه المدينة شهره الثالث، تزداد المخاوف ايضا من نقص الامدادات مثل الطعام والمياه ومواد الطاقة والمواد الطبية ومواد اساسية اخرى. ويزيد من معاناة المدينة وجود عدد كبير من الاطفال قد يصل الى 250 طفل بحاجة للحليب والمياه. كما حمل عدد من اطفال المدينة السلاح دفاع عن المدينة مما يهدد بتعرضهم لخطر كبير وذلك نتيجة لغياب الحماية الفاعلة.

ووفقا لصحيفة “طريق الشعب” فان  مقرر رئيس مجلس النواب العراقي السيد نيازي اوغلو حمل مجلس النواب والحكومة العراقية مسؤولية وصفها “بالتاريخية” تجاه مواطني الطوز، و آمرلي، وطلب منهم الإيعاز الفوري للقيام بعملية عسكرية عاجلة وبالتنسيق مع قوات البيشمركة من اجل انقاذ هؤلاء المواطنين من الوضع الخطير والموت المحقق. واضاف اوغلو ان “الحصار والهجمات على القضاء ادت الى تفاقم الوضع الانساني وموت الاطفال والنساء والشيوخ”، مطالبا بـ”ضرورة ابعاد القضاء عن مرمى القصف المدفعي اليومي من قبل مسلحي داعش”.واستغرب اوغلو “الصمت الدولي والإقليمي ازاء ما يتعرض له التركمان في القضاء خاصة عمليات التطهير العرقي والطائفي”.

وفي بيان صحفي صادر عن بعثة الأمم المتحدة لمساعدة العراق، أكد مبعوث الأمم المتحدة في العراق السيد ملادينوف أن الناس يعيشون في ظروف يائسة، مطالبا “الحكومة العراقية للقيام بكل ما في وسعها لتخفيف الحصار وضمان أن سكان تلقي المساعدة الإنسانية المنقذة للحياة أو يتم إجلاؤهم بطريقة كريمة “.

ويشير مراقبون لاوضاع المدينة بان الطريقة الوحيدة الان للوصول بالمساعدات للمدينة هي طائرات الهليكوبتر والتي تصل كل يومين محملة بالمساعدات الغذائية والطبية، ولكنهم يؤكدون ان هذه المساعدات لا تسد حاجة الموجودين هناك.

وصرح  مدير ناحية آمرلي، عادل شكور البياتي لوكالة “المدى برس ” ان الناحية تعاني من حصار بدأت آثاره تظهر بوضوح على 15 ألف نسمة من الأهالي بينهم الكثير من الأطفال والنساء، حيث نفد مخزون النفط الأبيض المستعمل في الطبخ، فضلاُ عن الغذاء، في ظل انعدام الكهرباء وماء الشرب”.وطالب البياتي، المجتمع الدولي بضرورة “الاهتمام بالتركمان.. الصامدين في آمرلي، على غرار ما فعلوا مع بعض المكونات الأخرى التي تعرضت لجرائم داعش”، مؤكداً أن “أهالي آمرلي أقسموا على الموت فيها أو فك الحصار من دون أن تدنس أرضهم بفلول الإرهابيين”.

وتطالب المبادرة الحكومة العراقية بتوفير حماية عاجلة ومناسبة للمدينة المحاصرة وبالتنسيق مع الجهات المحلية وعدم تعريض المدنيين لخطر المواجهة العسكرية المباشرة مع المتطرفين. وتطالب المجتمع الدولي بالتحرك العاجل لمساعدة الحكومة العراقية وحكومة اقليم كوردستان العراق لتوفير حماية لمدينة امرلي وللتركمان في العراق.


Visit Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative – مبادرة تضامن المجتمع at:

Forgotten in Iraq: Besieged City of AMIRLI Faces Destruction by the Islamic State

August 25, 2014 at 7:25 pm | Posted in Turkmens | Leave a comment
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Forgotten in Iraq: Besieged City Faces Destruction by the Islamic State

By Christoph Reuter and Jacob Russell

Photo Gallery: An Iraqi City Under SiegePhotos
Jacob Russell/ DER SPIEGEL

The world took notice when the Yazidis needed help. But since June, a Turkmen city in northern Iraq has been under siege by the Islamic State. The death toll continues to mount but, thus far, the people of Amirli have been left to fight the IS on their own.

“Every day I receive about 100 patients. Every day there is shelling. Some of the injuries are very complicated, legs amputated, head wounds. But I don’t have the materials to provide serious treatment. There are cases where I have put patients on the helicopter alive and they die when they get to Baghdad.”

Dr. Khaldoun Mahmoud speaks extremely rapidly, and with good reason. There is only a single place remaining in the northern Iraqi town of Amirli where he still has a modicum of mobile phone reception: at the helicopter landing pad above the village. And with every call, he is risking his life. Fighters from the Islamic State (IS) have surrounded the town and are just one kilometer away.The jihadists are trying to cut off Amirli’s last link to the outside world and have set up their artillery within sight of the landing site. An Iraqi army helicopter still lands here twice a week, supplying the town with a minimum of supplies. On the way back, it ferries out the wounded. Without the flights, the people of Amirli would be left completely on their own and would likely quickly succumb to the ongoing siege.

“It’s like genocide” says Mahmoud. “Da’esh” — the Arabic abbreviation of the Islamic State — “attacks women, children, soldiers, they don’t differentiate between them. From one family that tried to escape, only two children came back alive. They were carrying the corpses of the rest of the family with them. People are dying from malnutrition; they are drinking dirty water and we have ulcers, bleeding and diarrhea.”

The doctor rapidly rattles off the cases he has seen. Like that of little Hussein: “He was hungry and asking me for food. I started to cry because he was so hungry and I gave him a little food. Two days later he was killed in a mortar attack. The mortar exploded above his father and afterwards we could only find pieces of him.”

He then laughs, a manic expression of desperation from a doctor responsible for 13,000 people. “Maybe I’ll go crazy if I don’t keep my sense of humor. I try to joke with the children I treat. People have to have the sense that someone is helping them. But sometimes I don’t have the skills to help people,” he laments. “I’m only a dentist.”

No One to Protect Them

In recent weeks, the fate of the tens of thousands of Yazidis from Sinjar has dominated global headlines as they sought to escape the IS. The US continues to fly airstrikes and has dropped supplies from the air. Even the German government intends to deliver weapons to the embattled Kurds in northern Iraq. But just 250 kilometers (155 miles) to the south, a similar catastrophe is brewing, and the response has been minimal.

There are no Yazidis in Amirli. Two-thirds of the town’s residents are Turkmen whose ancestors mostly came from areas that are part of present-day Turkey. They are Shiites and are thus seen by the Sunni fighters of the Islamic State as being worse than heretics. They are apostates of the true faith — a death sentence in the eyes of the jihadists. And the Turkmen have no allies in Iraq.

After IS took control of the Iraqi cities of Mosul, Tikrit and Hawijah with little resistance, they launched attacks on villages surrounding Amirli in mid-June. Well-equipped with materiel captured from weapons depots belonging to a number of Iraqi army divisions, they quickly overran several settlements in the area. By the middle of July, only Amirli was still holding out.

Around 400 militiamen, together with a few soldiers and policemen, are defending the city. Amirli native Mustafa al-Bayati, a colonel from the police force, is their commander. “The IS has tanks, dushkas (machine guns), Katyushas (rocket launchers) and they are too strong,” he says. “They attack from everywhere around Amirli: south, north, east and west. Day-by-day they come, more and more.”

On July 22, the IS cut off power to Amirli and severed water supplies two days later. All mobile phone towers have likewise been blown up or shot to pieces.

“At the beginning, people had something to eat,” says Mohammed Isma of the Iraqi Red Cross. Isma is from Amirli and is attempting to mobilize aid for the town from his base in Baghdad. “But two months is a long time and now it’s run out. One month ago, we finished everything.”

Dying of Starvation

Amirli, he says, was never well-off, but now the poorest families have nothing left. There are also pregnant women in the city — Dr. Mahmoud says there are 300 — along with the many wounded and the sick, he adds. “If nothing changes, it’s a maximum of three weeks before many people will begin dying of starvation.”

The only help for those trapped in Amirli comes from the air. Every two or three days, an old army helicopter from Baghdad lands with munitions, food and medicine, but it is never enough. Two weeks ago, Red Cross representative Isma joined one of the flights. When they landed, he says, the wounded with their families had “their arms stretched out like people drowning in water,” he recalls.

The whole time, Isma says, IS fighters were lobbing grenades at the landing site. But everyone wants to get out, which is why they expose themselves to the danger. “They say, ‘We’ll die anyway if we stay,'” Isma says. Seven patients were loaded onto the flight Isma was on. There wasn’t room for more.

Isma speaks in a calm voice when he tells his story, but he too is sick with worry. His parents, six sisters and a brother all remain trapped in Amirli. He could perhaps get them out with a helicopter. But people in Amirli know them and are aware of Isma’s job with the Red Cross. He worries that if people saw them being evacuated, the “would know the game is up” and that panic might break out.

It has been more than a month since the last known residents were able to escape the town on their own. “We left on foot,” carrying just a small bag, recalls Ali Abd al-Rida, who fled with 32 family members. They left in secret, not even daring to tell their friends and neighbors of their plans, worried that if too many people tried to escape on the discreet path leading past IS positions, the Islamists would be certain to discover them. Ali Abd al-Rida says that the IS discovered the path three days later and closed it off.

The elderly man and his family found their way to a refugee camp in Kirkuk, the closest large city to Amirli, figuring they would be safe there. But two weeks ago, a car bomb exploded next to a construction site of a mosque in the city where refugees, most of them from Amirli, had sought refuge. Twelve were killed and 50 more wounded.

Bullet Holes and RPG Craters

Abd al-Rida says that the jihadists tried to get the people of Amirli to surrender, promising through middlemen that a deal could be reached. “Send us Colonel Mustafa and Captain Hassan and we will open the road,” they offered, according to Abd al-Rida. “But people refused.”

Those best positioned to help the trapped people of Amirli are just 12 kilometers away. Here, on a hill overlooking the frontlines, the southernmost checkpoint belonging to the Kurdish peshmerga fighters is located. The exterior wall is pockmarked with bullet holes and a couple of RPG craters.

Inside, though, soldiers sit around lethargically in the sweltering heat. The commander isn’t here, says his deputy, Colonel Omid Abd al-Karim, adding that not much has happened since a big attack a month previously.

“It has been calm here since the last attack a month ago,” he says. The Iraqi army, he says, tried to save the people of Amirli not long ago. “Before they went, I told them it would not be successful, but they didn’t listen,” another officer says. An attack on the IS “would be easy with good weapons and air support, but we don’t have any,” Abd al-Karim says. The message is clear: Amirli is a problem, but not theirs.

As is so often the case in Iraq, there is a story behind the story, stretching far back into the past. Under Saddam Hussein, the Shiite Turkmen were tormented before being terrorized by al-Qaida. In 2007, four-and-a-half tons of explosives hidden under melons detonated in the market square, killing more than 150 people.

‘All of Us Are From Amirli’

Because the Iraqis didn’t protect them, the Turkmen from Amirli remained loyal to Turkey and Ankara was more than happy to act as their patrons and the Turkish government supported Turkmen parties in northern Iraq. But the alliance brought the Turkmen into conflict with the Kurds, whose help they now so badly need. They certainly can’t count on Turkey, which is currently staying out of the conflict out of fear for the lives of 49 Turkish hostages currently being held by the IS.

The result is that nobody feels responsible for the people of Amirli.

“It would be useful if the US conducted airstrikes here,” Kurdish party functionary Hassan Baram says in his office in Tuz Khormato, the last town before the front. “But I think they haven’t,” he adds, downplaying the seriousness of the situation in the city, “because nobody has been killed in Amirli and nobody is fleeing.”

Baram’s office has no windows, the result of a car bomb a couple of months ago, and the facade is threatening to collapse. “We have almost constant contact with Amirli. We want to go free them, but it’s not easy,” he says.The US too has recognized the precarious situation in Amirli. “We are aware of the dire conditions for the mainly Turkmen population in Amirli and the ongoing humanitarian crisis throughout northern and central Iraq,” reads the statement of a State Department official who asked not to be named. Both Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel have publicly discussed the possibility of a far-reaching operation against the IS, including airstrikes in Syria as well. But it could be some time before such an offensive becomes reality.

Last Thursday, Colonel Mustafa al-Bayati was once again waiting for the arrival of the next helicopter, well within range of the IS fighters. He says that almost half the force under his command is wounded and around 20 of them have died. “I don’t know how long we can protect Amirli,” he says. “But we’re going to fight until we die. It’s our town. I’m from Amirli. All of us are from Amirli.”


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