Merry Fitzgerald (Assistant to ITF Representative in Europe)
Speech delivered at the European Parliament on 27th March 2007 at the “Iraqi Turkmen: The Human Rights Situation and Crisis in Kerkuk” event.
Read also: The Ethnic Cleansing of Turkmens Continues in Tel Afer (04 April 2020)
Flashback: Urgent call to stop the massacres in Talafar (09 Sept 2020)
Mr Chairman, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
I am speaking on behalf of Turkmens of Tel Afer in general and particularly on behalf of 70% of them who have been displaced from their city and houses beginning from April 2003 until now. Through this speech you will see the reasons why.
Tel Afer which is the largest Turkmen city with its 500.000 inhabitants has an important location in the north-west of Iraq, about 60 km from Mosul, 85 km from Turkey and 70 km from Syria.
Tel Afar is known as being the northern base of the 1920 Iraqi revolt against the British occupiers, indeed, that revolt began from Tel Afer and it was the first stage towards liberating Iraq from the British occupiers.
For us as Iraqi Turkmens, when speaking about Tel Afer and the reasons for the continuous strikes on the Turkmens of this city, we must first refer to the collective subconscious of the Turkmens being against the occupiers, whoever they are, then to the Kurds’ claim that Tel Afer is dividing so-called ‘Iraqi Kurdistan’ from Sinjar claimed by Kurds as being part of their region and so-called ‘Syrian Kurdistan’. Therefore, for the Kurds controlling and annexing Tel Afer is very important in uniting the parts of their illusionary state.
The Kurds also have economical reasons for wanting to own Tel Afer, there is the Rabi’a border gate, between Iraq and Syria, which they want to take hold of in order to profit from its huge income, in the way they are already profiting from Habur gate between Iraq and Turkey (all the incomes, customs duties etc from Habur gate go exclusively to the Kurds’ treasure, while at the same time they are receiving the largest share of the Iraqi annual budget).
The Kurds are also thinking in controlling the new border gate, supposed to be opened between Turkey and Iraq, which lies in the area belonging to Tel Afer. If they succeed in controlling this new border gate then they will hijack it as they did in Habur and thinking to do it with Rabi’a.
Another economic reason why the Kurds want to control Tel Afer is because of its fertile soil. According to experts on the completion of the irrigation project in the region, the income of the agricultural crops will equal that of the region’s oil revenues.
The Kurds also want to control the Tel Afer region because of the Aski Mosul lake with its dam which produces at the moment about 500 Megawatts and whose production could be increased under normal circumstances.
It is important to note that Tel Afer was the only city outside the Kurdish autonomous region which was not looted and burned by the Kurds on the first day of the occupation as they did in Kerkuk, Tuz Khurmatu and other Turkmen cities and towns because the Turkmens guarded and protected the official buildings of their city.
Kurds and certain groups in Iraq are trying to divide the Turkmens in Tel Afer in particular and the Turkmens in general, by saying that so many percent are Sunnis and the other shias. On the contrary, Turkmens everywhere in Iraq have concern in their just cause and do not differentiate between Shias and Sunnis.
On 15th April 2003, an officer called Khalil Ibrahim entered Tel Afer and he met the notables of the city telling them that the coalition forces had put him in charge of the city and the Peshmerga would enter the city on the same day and that the notables should receive the Peshmerga. When the Peshmerga entered the city they immediately went to the Mayor’s office, tore the Iraqi flag and raised instead the yellow flag of Barzani. On seeing this young Turkmens rushed into the Mayor’s office and in their turn they ripped of Barzani’s flag and raised the Iraqi flag again.
On the second day, the Turkmens discovered that Peshmerga occupied the Mayor’s and the Customs offices and had appointed a Kurdish governor for their city and that they had began looting the public offices and transferring all the documents, furniture etc to the Kurdish area. At the same time the Peshmerga began raiding Turkmen houses under the pretext that they were searching for governmental vehicles. As the Turkmens resisted, the Peshmerga left the city after looting everything.
One week later Jowdat Nadjar was sent by Barzani to the city to tell the Turkmens that Barzani was very upset and that they should know that they are part of Kurdistan and should be under his control. The Turkmens’ answer was that the Peshmerga had began attacking them and looting everything and that they should know that Tel Afer is not part of so-called Kurdistan.
Despite this, the Kurdish leadership opened two offices in Tel Afer, for PUK and PDK, and they began forcing the people to be with them. They offered lots of money to those who accepted. Thereafter the Kurds organized an election to elect a new mayor and new city council, hoping that their men, Kurds or those who were bought, would win, but they didn’t. Meanwhile Al-Arabiya TV interviewed Massoud Barzani who said, commenting on a question saying that if Turkey would open another gate with Iraq near Rabi’a this would affect Habur gate. He said: “we will never accept this and we will use force if necessary”.
The Turkmens of Tel Afer elected the Mayor and city council members they wanted in June 2003 and the Mayor controlled the city, but the Peshmerga who had turned into National Guards supported by the US occupier began provoking the city through every day raids alleging searching terrorists. When the Kurdish incidents began in Hassaka and Qamishly Syria on 13th March 2004, Barazani sent tens of his followers to Syria as a solidarity sign, 45 of them were arrested by the Syrian border authorities and were submitted to the nearest Iraqi police station which is Tel Afer police station. The Kurds asked the Chief of the Police Station and the Mayor of Tel Afer to free them, but they both refused. A week later the Mayor was assassinated while on his way from Mosul to Tel Afer and the Americans and peshmerga in Iraqi National Guard uniforms intensified their attacks on Tel Afer alleging that the city was harbouring Arab terrorists.
The Kurds supported by the Americans continued terrifying operations to force the Turkmens to leave their city. When a few US patrols were attacked in and around Tel Afer the Americans took this as a pretext to besiege strike and devastate the city. Thousands of Turkmens fled to nowhere and while the Americans and Kurdish Peshmerga in Iraqi National Guard uniforms were bombing and raiding the city; the Turkmeneli TV transmitter was their first target, there were checkpoints controlled by the Kurds on the way to Tel Afer to stop any aid, food, water, medicines, tents, blankets etc. from reaching the devastated city. At the same time they refused the TV and media to enter the city.
After several days the only help which could reach the outskirts of Tel Afar was from the Turkish Red Crescent because the Turkish government threatened to enter Iraq to help the devastated city. Hundreds of Turkmen civilians were killed and hundreds of young Turkmens were arrested.
The Turkmens who were driven out of their city could not go back because their houses had been destroyed.
The US forces are still now in the historical Al-Qala’a area of Tel Afer and they have emptied tens of houses from their owners for their safety, and they are harbouring the PUK and PDK offices.
The airstrikes and raiding continued on the city, trying to control it in a way or another.
In August 2005, 8.500 US and Iraqi military forces (those New Iraqi army brigades from the northern division were almost all Kurdish militias) again attacked the city.
The US and Iraqi troops sealed off the city, enclosing it behind a massive wall of sand with military checkpoints. Then the city’s inhabitants were forcefully evacuated leaving them to fend for themselves. The Red Crescent was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the exodus and was unable to provide shelter, water, or food for many those who fled. The city was then relentlessly pounded for more than a week by Abram’s tanks, F-16s, helicopter gun-ships, and heavy artillery. At least four mosques were bombed and the Sarai area was hammered persistently with 500 and 1000 lbs bombs. The Iraqi newspaper Azzaman reported “Eyewitnesses spoke of ‘scores of casualties due to indiscriminate bombing”.
The siege was executed according to the normal protocols; massive destruction of personal property, levelling areas where resistance appeared, snipers picking of anything that moves on the city streets, and the routine rounding up of anyone who seems at all suspicious. Rumsfeld’s lone mantra “surround, isolate and destroy”.
Thousands of Tal Afer residents were trapped inside Sarai by the cordon of tanks and barbed wire that was flung around the district to prevent resistance fighters from escaping. Significant parts of Tel Afer were destroyed. Electricity and phone services were cut off and hospitals were breaking down. The Iraqi human rights Centre issued an urgent appeal to the Iraqi government to stop the assault and allow rescue teams to access the area to deliver food, water and medical supplies.
Dr. Muhammad Qasim, the Director of the Tal Afer Branch of the Iraqi Red Crescent announced that 90 percent of the residents of the city had left as refugees because of the battles raging there as US occupation troops attacked the city.
He added that more than 170 cases of poisoning due to American chemical or poisoned gas bombs had been brought into hospitals outside Tal Afer in the nearby cities of Mosul and Ba’aj.
Through Mfakarat al-Islam, Dr Qasim called on what he called “honest satellite TV stations to come to Tel Afer and broadcast what was going on there to the world”.
The purpose of these systematic attacks and intimidations carried out in Tel Afer was to break the spirit of the Turkmens and to frighten them into emigrating. The final objective is to annex this Turkmen city to the Kurdish Autonomous Administration; especially that the so-called Kurdish constitution already included Tel Afer in the region they claimed.
We Iraqi Turkmens ask the Europeans to put pressure on both the American occupation authorities and the Iraqi government to fulfil their promises, rebuild the city and compensate the families and help the 70% of the population to return to their city.
We demand, that both authorities stop the siege of the city which began three years ago, and provide sufficient medicines and foodstuffs for the city.
We insist that there should be an international presence, supervised by the United Nations, to stop the US forces and the Kurdish militia from continuously raiding the city and killing its inhabitants.
We sincerely hope that the Europeans will take their responsibilities and help the Turkmens of Iraq who are being ethnically cleansed and who suffer under double occupation of the US and Kurdish militias since April 2003.
Assistant to ITF Representative in Europe
Belgium, 4th April 2007
by Merry Fitzgerald, Assistant of Iraqi Turkmen Front Representative in Europe
When speaking in the name of the people of Tel Afer at the European Parliament in Brussels during the Iraqi Turkmen Conference on 27th March 2007, little did I know that on that same day the martyr city of Tel Afer was once again the scene of horrible acts of violence and killings of more than 150 innocent Turkmen civilians.
The Western media reported that a truck packed with 1,814 kilograms (4,000 pounds) of explosives detonated in a Shi`a area of the city and that this was the deadliest single attack since the invasion of Iraq 4 years ago. They also reported that Shi`a gunmen, including police, went on a ‘revenge shooting rampage’ afterwards, killing at least 45 Sunni men.
But according to the Shi`a Turkmen Council in al-Mosul, it is the Kurdish parties who carried out the 27th March bombings of civilians in Tel Afer, sparking “retaliatory” massacres later that night.
The Association of Muslim Scholars of Iraq (AMSI) reported in a dispatch that “the Shi`a Turkmen Council, one of the more important Turkmen party in al-Mosul, had issued a statement blaming the pro-American Kurdish separatist leadership for carrying out the bombings of civilian targets in Tel Afer on Tuesday March 27th, 2007. Those bombings killed some 70 people (*) and prompted pro-Iranian Shi'a sectarians to massacre over 70 Sunnis in "reprisal."
(*) The latest reports of those bombings mention that some 152 people were killed and 185 were wounded.
AMSI reported the Turkmen Shi`a Council as saying that the bombings served the interests of the Kurdish movement that aspires to steal what it called the “Turkmen region” of Tel Afer.
Demonstrators who took to the streets after the Tuesday bombings placed the blame for the atrocities directly on the Kurdish separatist leaders and their American military backers, saying that it was they who let the explosives-laden truck to pass and then detonated it by remote control – maintaining that there was no “suicide driver” as the news media widely reported.
The Turkmen statement denounced the Kurdish separatist militia, the Peshmerga, saying that Peshmerga gunmen prevented puppet police from stopping and inspecting the truck bomb. The Council also denounced the fact that some Shi`a parties were ignoring testimony about this evidence out of partisan motives.”
I disapprove and abhor the use of the terminologies ‘Shi`a’ and ‘Sunni’ when they are utilized in this context as they only serve to exacerbate divisions between Iraqi Moslems. I also deplore the targeted killings of innocent Iraqi Turkmen civilians who are being ethnically cleansed in order to change the demographics of their region, the Turkmeneli region of Iraq.
Turkmens of Iraq (who are Sunni and Shi’as more or less half-half) have never discriminated among themselves on the basis of their Islamic religion. They have no interest in killing each other and for many centuries there have been intermarriages between Turkmens of both sects of Islam. These fratricidal killings do not serve Turkmens’ interests… cui bono? for whose advantage?
The evil coalition of the US neo-cons, UK new-labour and their Australian followers, led by the war criminals Bush, Blair and Howard - who waged an illegal war of aggression against the Iraqi people leading to the occupation of their country in April 2003, after having intentionally destroyed the entire infrastructure of the country - have actively instigated ethnic and confessional divisions between the Iraqi people in order to destroy the fabric of the Iraqi society and divide Iraq in small entities and cantons.
At first they turned the Kurds against the Arabs and the Turkmens, then the Arabs and the Kurds against the Turkmens, and then they divided Arabs and turned their Shi’as against their Sunnis. Now they are trying to divide the Turkmens between Sunnis and Shi’as and they are also provoking clashes between different Arab Shi`a groups. It is clear that their aim is to destroy the fabric of the Iraqi society, where Iraqis - Arabs, Kurds, Turkmens, Chaldeo-Assyrians, etc - have been living side by side in harmony, respecting one another for many centuries. (see footnote)
The Turkmens of Tel Afer have been victims of the worst humanitarian conditions since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. While thousands of them have been forcibly evicted from their houses and from their city the Kurdish parties of Messrs Barzani and Talabani continue with their policy of ‘kurdification”, they are bringing in thousands of Kurds and are settling them in the areas Turkmens were forced to leave. What the American military call operation “Empty Tel Afer” has resulted in the devastation of thousands of civilian lives.
The siege of Tel Afer is an example of American and Kurdish brutal incursions into densely populated areas under the pretence of “fighting terrorism”. The real terrorists are those who use heavy artillery bombardment, aerial bombing raids, who destroy power lines and water systems and who continue to terrify families with their house-to-house searches and raping women. F. Zeyn el-Abidin, a Turkmen Member of the Iraqi Parliament, declared that the American military had blocked access to the city and did not allow him to enter.
The crimes against humanity committed by the US military never reach, in full details, the American newspapers and are barely mentioned in the other Western media. How many in the West know that the US has used chemical weapons such as white phosphorus in Tel Afer? Who in the West knows that not one foreign fighter was captured during the siege of Tel Afer, despite US and Kurdish parties’ claims that the city was a ‘haven for foreign terrorists’?
Rumsfeld, a war criminal, had given the siege of Tel Afer his personal blessing and the operations were carried out ‘on his orders’. (As he also had encouraged the looting and burning of Iraq’s Ministry buildings, museums, libraries, universities, etc. when his invasion army reached Baghdad in 2003, declaring that “Iraqis were learning to practice democracy”).
While the US made carnage was going on in Tel Afer, Bush, the war criminal, declared on 20th March 2006, when addressing the City Club of Cleveland: “The operation (in Tel Afer) accomplished all this while protecting innocent civilians and inflicting minimal damage on the city”!!! Are the Americans so stupid and gullible to believe all the lies coming from their leaders or is it that they simply don’t care about the massacre of Iraqis perpetrated by their military?
Everyone who saw the terrible photos - taken by photographer Chris Hondros, which were taken on January 18, 2005, when a Turkmen family of 8 who were travelling in their car were shot at by the US troops, killing Camille and Hussein Hassan, the parents and injuring their 5 children - has understood how little the US military value Iraqi lives.
The residents of Tel Afer who were under siege, who have been displaced, maimed, arbitrarily detained and whose loved ones have been killed or have disappeared are weeping tears of blood, they are crying in the desert, but no one hears them, no one pays attention to their cries for help.
On May 13th, 2005, I remember writing an article under the title: “Telafer, ville fantôme, ville oubliée” (Tel Afer, a ghost city, a forgotten city) after reading an appeal from a resident of Tel Afer, saying that for over eight months their city was under siege, that they had no water and no electricity and that the occupation troops did not allow humanitarian aid to reach their city. I am neither a politician nor a journalist but as a human being and advocate of human rights, I was so alarmed that I did not know what to do, so sent this article to several newspapers to alert them, but I guess my cry of despair for the poor people of Tel Afer did not reach their ears either…
Where is the U.N. who is supposed to protect civilians and condemn violence against civilian populations? Where is the International Community and where are the Human Rights defenders? Have the Iraqi people ceased to be considered as Human Beings by the UN and by the International Community?
The January 2005 election in Iraq has not ended the occupation, it has allowed the Kurdish warlords, Barzani and Talabani, to unjustly install their hegemony over Turkmen territories and cities, with the blessing of the US occupiers.
Someone has to stop these arrogant Kurdish militias who think they have nothing to fear and can go on using brutal force on the defenceless Turkmens who are the only community in Iraq without weapons and militias.
My only hope is that the European policy and decision makers will hear the cries of distress of the people of Tel Afer and of all the Turkmens of Iraq who are being targeted and ethnically cleansed under the foreign occupiers and their Kurdish allies whose plan is to divide Iraq.
In an interview with Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, Sami Rasouli, an Iraqi American who helped establish the Muslim Peacemaker Team gives a different assessment of the situation in Iraq, contradicting that given by the Bush administration and the mainstream media
Amy asked Rasouli to comment on these latest figures as well as the recent attack in Tal Afar, “the worst attack -- having the worst casualties since the invasion of Iraq.”
He replied saying:
“Well, I heard Senator McCain talking about the progress, which I kept hearing this from the President and the rest of the administration’s officials in the last four years. But speaking about Tal Afar as an example, I was a member of Muslim Peacemakers Teams, among others, accompanied with Peggy Gish and Michele [Naar-Obed] from CPT, or the Christian Peacemakers Team -- this is sometime in January 2006 -- we visited the second Grand Ayatollah in Najaf, Sayed Mohammed Saeed al-Hakim, and he told us this story after we introduced ourselves as Peacemakers. He said Tal Afar is populated by all kind of people that form the beautiful mosaic formula of the Iraqi fabric society, which Sunnis beside Shias -- and by the way, I’m a Shia, and my wife is a Sunni, so this is a normal intermarriage in Iraq within the Iraqi society.
“So, sometimes in September 2005, the people of Tal Afar faced heavy bombing from the U.S. air raids, and they had to leave the city seeking refuge. Those are families, women and children seeking refuge -- next city, which is Sinjar. And Sinjar is populated by Yezidis, and falsely known in Iraq as Satanic worshippers. And those Yezidis were ready to receive and offer refuge for the Sunnis and Shias who fled the city of Tal Afar, and they offered them homes, food, mattresses, other needs, and assured them that they would leave if they don't like them to be with them, because they held a different religion. So they left to stay with their relatives, the Yezidis, and allowed the Shias and Sunnis to stay in their homes until the crisis would be over in Tal Afar.
“And since then -- actually since May 1, 2003, when the President announced major military operation combat was over -- they still in the state of fleeing their homes -- it's not only in Tal Afar -- across the country. There are over two million Iraqis have got displaced in Iraq in their home own land, became refugees. There are people from Tal Afar that are still in Najaf and Karbala, and we met them, and we tried hard, as the members of the Muslim Peacemakers Team, to offer them refuge, shelter, food and others donated by the Iraqis themselves. They still share with them what they need. And, by the way, Iraqis still are surviving for that Food-for-Oil Program or Oil-for-Food Program. And it's not enough, but they try to survive within the insecurity and hardship conditions of the occupation.