Getting custody of siblings abducted by ISIS

28-year old Iraqi national Hadiya Hussein Zandinan is in a court battle to gain custody of her two siblings, aged 9 and 11, who were kidnapped by an ISIS-supporting family before being released on the street and taken in by state services.

Hale Gönültaş / DUVAR

28-year old Iraqi national Hadiya Hussein Zandinan has initiated a court battle to gain custody of her two siblings, aged 9 and 11, who were kidnapped and brought to Turkey by an ISIS-supporting family only to be released in the street and taken in by state services.

The two siblings thew a tantrum upon seeing their sister. "When they saw me, they remembered the night when they were assaulted and they don't want to see their sister because she did nothing to save them" said Hadiya Hussein Zandinan. With the help of local social service workers and psychologists, Hadiya has been working to establish a connection of trust with her siblings again. During the process of the custody hearings, DNA tests conducted by the Ankara and Istanbul Forensic Science Institutes confirmed "they are related to each other on their mother's side". The court is expected to rule on Hadiya's custody request soon.

We heard about Hadira Zandinan's story from a Yezidi tribe leader who is also the family's lawyer. He explained how she had been saved from ISIS and is now fighting to gain custody of her siblings.

In 2014, ISIS attacked the Sengal region of northern Iraq's Ninova State which hosts a significant Yezidi population. Hadiya and her family lived in a village close to Sengal. ISIS launched an assault on Yezidis with heavy weaponry and slaughtered and kidnapped thousands, abducting mostly women and children. Hadiya, as well as her mother, father and 42 relatives, were among the people kidnapped. Hadiya, got on a truck along with other women from her village, while her siblings, aged four and six, got on another truck with other children. As her parents we put on yet another truck, Hadiya has not since seen her parents. It is still unknown whether or not Hadiya's mother and father are alive.

The truck carrying the women went to Tal Afar, a district of Mosul approximately 40 kilometers from Sengal. Hadiya was held captive in Tal Afar with other Yezidi young women before being taken to Mosul, almost six months later. She was then bought by an ISIS member in a 'Yezidi market' in Mosul in 2016. From there, the young woman was taken to Gaziantep. With the help of the "Saving Yezidis in Iraq" Commission, her relatives learnt she was being held in a house in Gaziantep. Yezidi notables managed to establish contact with the ISIS member through intermediaries. Hadiya was released in exchange for 17 thousand Turkish liras. Upon her release, she traveled to Duhok from Turkey.

When the ISIS massacre was carried out in 2014, Hadiya's siblings were four and six years old respectively. Both children were taken to Tal Afar by ISIS. Yezidi children between the ages 0 and 5 were given to the guardianship of ISIS families in order to turn them into Muslims.

The children were handed to an ISIS-sympathizing Turkmen family. This family soon went into Turkey via a border gate. The ISIS family declared the abducted children as their own and were placed into temporary protection status. The Turkmen couple lived in Gaziantep but soon moved to Kırşehir which hosts an important Turkmen population.

But when the ISIS-sympathizing Turkmen family found out the "Saving Yezidis" Commission and Iraqi security forces were looking for Yezidi children that had been taken out of Iraq, the family abandoned the children on the side of the road one night. The local police found them and called the Directorate General of Migration Management.

From then on, the children were placed in boarding house run by the social services. In the first days, the children refused to talk to psychologists, laconically replying to questions. And as they refrained from saying they were Yezidi that had been kidnapped by ISIS, the Kırşehir Directorate General of Migration Management and Family and the Ministry of Family and Social Policies could only determine the children were from Iraq. That's when they contacted the Iraqi Embassy in Ankara.

With an order from Iraq's Acting Ambassador in Ankara, officials went to Kırşehir. After the information obtained from the children by diplomats was cross-referenced with other documents, those officials were able to establish the Yezidi children had been kidnapped in Iraq.

Through information provided by Iraqi diplomats, the "Yezidi Children Search Commission" got involved. The commission informed Hadiya the children from Kırşehir were likely to be her siblings. Upon the Iraqi government's rapid issuing of a passport, Hadiya came to Ankara in February 2017. She then traveled to Kırşehir with her cousin and Embassy officials.

Hadiya's first encounter with her siblings at the children's home was tough. Despite the presence of psychologists during the meeting, the two kids threw a tantrum upon seeing their older sister. And efforts by psychologists to accustom the kids to their sister brought little success, as the children wouldn't let Hadiya get near them. According to the psychologists, such behavior is understandable given the heavy trauma they underwent.

In the meantime, the children have been receiving regular therapy. They told therapists that "when they see their sister they remember the night when bad men attacked and they don't want to see their sister because she did nothing to save them."

Hadiya has since then been traveling to Kırşehir once a month. She and her siblings are reunited. By now she is able to sit with them quietly in the same room, still in the presence of psychologists however. The children have begun to make eye contact with their older sister. During therapy sessions, they have also started to draw pictures of Hadiya, their mother and their father.

In parallel to this process, with the initiative of Iraqi Embassy in Ankara, a court case has been opened in the Kırşehir Court of Peace so Hadiya could gain custody of her siblings.

More recently, the children hug their sister. They were also permitted to leave the institution with their sister and an attendant in order to socialize.

In the latest hearing at the Kırşehir Court of Peace, the judge pointed to Hadiya and asked the children "Who is she? Have you seen her before?". Both children replied "She is our older sister."

The Kırşehir Court of Peace then handed over the case to the Family Court. That court requested a DNA test to ascertain that Hadiya and her siblings were related. After the Ankara Forensic Science Institution received DNA samples, it passed it on to the Istanbul Forensics office which reported the individuals could indeed share the same mother.

A new hearing will be held at Kırşehir Peace Court in the coming days. At the hearing, Iraqi officials will also be present and the court is expected to take a decision. If Hadiya wins custody of her siblings, they will be able to return to Iraq together.