A Yezidi family fleeing the ISIS onslaught against the religious minority make their way back into the Kurdistan Region on a border crossing with the Syrian Kurdistan in August 2014. Many Yezidis who fled the genocide initially sought refuge in Syria before heading to the Kurdish cities in Kurdistan Region and elsewhere. File photo: Rudaw
DUHOK, Kurdistan Region – An official from the Kurdish office tasked with rescuing Yezidis enslaved by ISIS has said that only seven Yezidis have been freed during the eight-day operation that resulted in driving the extremist group from the largely Turkmen town of Tal Afar.
It is feared that the extremist group may have transferred the Yezidis to areas under its control in Syria. One activist suggested some of the Yezidis may have ended up in Turkey.
Amin Khalat, working at the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)-funded office in Duhok whose mission is to locate and rescue the Yezidis, told Rudaw Sunday they had prior information that up to 500 Yezidis were in Tal Afar, many of them women and children.
“We expected that the majority of them would be freed, but so far only seven have been freed,” Khalat said.
Qasim Khidir, 50, is living in Sharya camp for the displaced in Duhok. ISIS enslaved eight of his children when they attacked his village of Hardan in mid-2014.
“Only two have been rescued,” Khidir said as he watched the Tal Afar operation on the news.
Iraqi forces declared on Sunday that they were in full control of Tal Afar just over a week after an estimated 50,000 soldiers and paramilitary froces began operations against some 2,000 ISIS militants in the city west of Mosul.
“We had a lot of hope tied to the operation to control Tal Afar, that I would learn the fate of my children, because we had information that they were in Tal Afar until three months ago,” Khidir said.
Pasha Mahmud, an activist working with a group tracking the fate of abducted Yezidis, believes that militants may have taken the captives elsewhere.
“Until a month ago we had information that a large number of Yezidi Kurds had remained in Tal Afar. But we have less hope now as we are afraid that they were taken to Syria by the Arabs in Rabia,” Mahmud said. Rabia is located on the Iraq-Syria border, north of Tal Afar.
They also fear some may have been taken to Turkey, he added.
Khalat, from the rescue office, said they believed many Yezidis were being kept in two villages near Tal Afar, Kasr al-Mihrab, and Qizilquyi.
One Yezidi survivor said last week that she was taken to these two villages where ISIS militants traded some of the Yezidi women and girls in 2014.
The two villages were liberated as part of the Tal Afar operation, Iraq’s military command said in statement on Sunday. There were no reports of Yezidis found.
Iraqi forces are now marching on the ISIS-held al-A’ayaziyah sub-district, some 11 kilometres from Tal Afar.
The media office for the mainly Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi whose forces are taking part in Tal Afar operation reported Sunday that some of ISIS militants had fled to the sub-district.
Khalat said their eyes are now on al-A’ayaziyah for any sign of the remaining Yezidis.
More than 3, 000 Yezidis are still believed to be under ISIS captivity. A similar number have been rescued since 2014 when ISIS launched a genocidal campaign against the religious minority.