Yazidi survivors of 2014 Daesh atrocities in Iraq speak of coping with trauma, struggle to find justice

Special Remains of people from the Yazidi minority, who were killed in Daesh attacks in 2014, after they were exhumed from a mass grave, in Mosul, Iraq June 20, 2023. (Reuters)
Remains of people from the Yazidi minority, who were killed in Daesh attacks in 2014, after they were exhumed from a mass grave, in Mosul, Iraq June 20, 2023. (Reuters)
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Updated 04 August 2023
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Yazidi survivors of 2014 Daesh atrocities in Iraq speak of coping with trauma, struggle to find justice

Yazidi survivors of 2014 Daesh atrocities in Iraq speak of coping with trauma, struggle to find justice
  • Nine years have elapsed since extremists overran historic homeland of Sinjar in northwestern Iraq
  • Many cannot forgive the men who enslaved them, destroyed their lives, slaughtered relatives

IRBIL, Iraqi Kurdistan: Shortly after midnight on Aug. 3, 2014, heavily armed Daesh extremists swept into the Yazidi homeland of Sinjar in northwestern Iraq, rounding up the civilian population to slaughter them or take them into captivity.

Daesh deliberately targeted the Yazidi community, one of Iraq’s oldest ethnoreligious minorities, because it considered them apostates for their religious traditions. Nine years later, the survivors are still coming to terms with what happened.

“I remember my parents frantically waking me and my siblings up at around 2 a.m.,” Barzan H., 23, told Arab News in Irbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq, where he now resides along with thousands of other displaced Yazidis.

“I peeked out of the windows and saw black trucks and jeeps coming in from the distance. The men who were older and able took up arms, with the rifles they had at home and anything else they could get their hands on to protect us.”

Barzan was only 14 years old when Daesh attacked his hometown. As the extremists advanced, he and his neighbors grabbed whatever they could carry and fled their homes. About 400,000 were displaced. Few would return.

“I recall hiding in the mountains until 8 a.m. It was hot. We were thirsty and physically exhausted from the fear and the fleeing,” said Barzan.

However, the militants soon caught up with them and encircled the area.




Yazidi survivors of Daesh atrocities in 2014 have spoken about their ongoing struggle to find justice and cope with grief and loss. (AFP/File Photo)

“They were on to us,” he added. “They put us in their trucks and hauled us off to a deserted building. They split the women and female children from us minors who were male.”

Those who had been captured were taken to a school building, where the women and children were separated from husbands and brothers. Those men and the elderly who refused to convert to Islam were massacred.

As for the women and children, an estimated 7,000 were bundled onto trucks and forcibly relocated to Syria and other parts of Iraq, where many were trafficked into domestic servitude or sexual slavery.

Boys and younger men were taken away for training and brainwashing to become “cubs of the caliphate,” forced to fight alongside the militants.

“My friends and I were taken to Tel Afar, then to Mosul,” said Barzan. “They told us to forget about our religion, that we were to convert to Islam and start military training.”

His training took place in Deir Ezzor, Syria, and then he was deployed to the front line in Iraq’s Mosul, where some of the heaviest combat against Iraqi and coalition forces would later take place.

“I had some friends for whom Daesh’s brainwashing was effective, and they were the ones who turned into suicide bombers,” Barzan said.

“I saw Daesh soldiers killing sons in front of their mothers, I saw them taking away prepubescent girls from their mothers’ arms to rape them.”

As Daesh’s self-proclaimed caliphate began to crumble, the militants were gradually pushed back to their last holdout of Baghouz in Deir Ezzor. In early 2019, as the Syrian Democratic Forces and their coalition partners closed in, Barzan’s father contacted a smuggler to rescue his son.

Under heavy bombardment, Barzan was able to desert from his regiment and escape from Baghouz. It took him five days to cross no man’s land and reach safety.

Although he was eventually reunited with his surviving family, the fate of his sister and two brothers remains unknown. His family, like thousands of others, has not returned to Sinjar.




Thousands of Yazidis trapped in the Sinjar mountains as they tried to escape from Daesh forces rescued by Kurdish Peshmerga forces and Peoples Protection Unit (YPG) in Mosul, Iraq in 2014. (Anadolu Agency/Getty Images/File Photo)

“There is nothing to return to,” said Barzan. “They (Daesh) broke Sinjar down. Too many lives lost, too much blood.”

In March 2021, Iraq’s then-president Barham Salih ratified the Yazidi Survivors’ Bill, which mandated reparations and material compensation for Yazidis and other minority groups that had been persecuted by Daesh. The Iraqi government also said it would invest in Sinjar’s reconstruction.

However, the bill and the promised reconstruction have yet to be properly implemented and the majority of the Yazidis remain displaced across the Kurdistan region, mostly concentrated around the city of Duhok in makeshift camps.

“The Muslim community had their houses rebuilt,” Barzan said. “Our village is still rubble and we are tired of knocking on organizations’ doors and not being compensated. The Iraqi government doesn’t really care for us.”

Yazidi women and girls suffered the worst indignities at the hands of Daesh, with many of them sold into sexual slavery and forced to bear the children of their captors.

“I was about 15 years old. That night plays in my head almost like a movie. Some parts I wish to forget,” Siham Suleiman Hussein, a 23-year-old Yazidi who now lives in the Khanke Camp near Duhok, told Arab News as she recalled Daesh’s arrival in Sinjar.

“The militants found us hiding in the mountains. They put us in their trucks and drove us into Iraq. They kept us at Galaxy Hall, a wedding venue. The younger girls were separated from their mothers. Elderly women were sent to Mosul.”

It was there that Hussein was put up for sale. She was first bought by a Tunisian Daesh fighter who “thankfully died a few days after my purchase,” she said. “The few days I spent with him were brutal.”

She was later bought by a Libyan militant.

FASTFACTS

* Daesh attacked the Yazidi homeland of Sinjar in northwestern Iraq on Aug. 3, 2014.

* Nearly 3,000 women and children are still missing 9 years later, says survivor Nadia Murad.

* The UK formally recognized Daesh’s persecution of the Yazidis as genocide on Aug. 1, 2023.

“Sometimes my memory is vivid, other times I feel like there are blank spaces in there,” she said. “I think my brain is actively and purposefully blanking things out to protect me.

“I resisted all throughout my captivity. I never lost hope that I would be rescued.”

Hussein remained with the Libyan man for a few months before he “gifted” her to a Syrian friend.

“I was constantly beaten and starved,” she said. “They broke bones in my body.”

She attempted to escape several times, without success. Each time she was brought back, her punishments were increasingly severe.

After one escape bid, she said the Syrian militant “brought a knife, held it against my neck and whispered in my ear that he would slit my throat if I ever tried to escape again. But I told him I really had no fear of death, especially after my community was massacred.”

Hussein was eventually rescued thanks to her uncle, Abdullah, who sent an Arab, posing as a Daesh militant interested in purchasing her.

“When the purchase was taking place, I was screaming to be left alone,” she said. “I was yelling at them, telling them they were monsters, that people shouldn’t be bought and sold.”

The man her uncle had sent whispered that he was there to save her. She was later reunited with what remained of her family.




The Yazidis — whose pre-Islamic religion made them the target of Daesh extremists — were subjected to massacres, forced marriages and sex slavery during the jihadists’ 2014-15 rule in the northern Iraq province of Sinjar, the Yazidis’ traditional home. (AFP/File Photo)

“I lost my father, my grandfather and my brothers,” said Hussein. “We don’t know if they are dead or alive.

“Life is so hard without them. We live in this camp, women on our own. Some NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) used to come over to offer us support but the aid has now dwindled. I also used to go to therapy but I have now stopped. I feel like healing should be done on one’s own.”

Reflecting on the life that was so cruelly taken from her, Hussein said she can never forgive the militants who kidnapped her and destroyed her home and family.

“I miss my old life,” she said. “We were a happy family, we had a farm and so many animals. We were innocents and we had our innocence stolen. I wish those terrorists twice the suffering they imposed on us.”

In the run-up to the ninth anniversary of the attack on Sinjar, the UK government formally recognized the acts committed against the Yazidi community as genocide.

Tariq Mahmood Ahmad, Britain’s minister of state for the Middle East, said last week that the Yazidi population “suffered immensely at the hands of Daesh nine years ago and the repercussions are still felt to this day. Justice and accountability are key for those whose lives have been devastated.”

He added: “Today, we have made the historic acknowledgment that acts of genocide were committed against the Yazidi people. This determination only strengthens our commitment to ensuring that they receive the compensation owed to them and can access meaningful justice.

“The UK will continue to play a leading role in eradicating Daesh, including through rebuilding communities affected by its terrorism and leading global efforts against its poisonous propaganda.”

Yazidi survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nadia Murad welcomed the announcement.

“Today, the British government formally acknowledges the Daesh attacks on my Yazidi community in 2014 was genocide,” she said in a message posted on Twitter.

“Thousands died, thousands more were enslaved and so many of us are displaced and traumatized. I hope this step by Tariq Mahmood Ahmad and the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office brings us closer to justice.”

The UK has officially recognized five genocides: the Holocaust, Rwanda, Srebrenica, Cambodia and now the Yazidis.

Masrour Barzani, prime minister of the Kurdistan Region, said on Twitter that he “welcomes the UK’s decision.”

He added: “Our Yazidi brothers and sisters have prevailed and remain strong. We stand by our proud people as they heal and rebuild.”

Barzani’s government continues to call on federal authorities in Baghdad to deliver on their promise to reconstruct Sinjar so that the Yazidi community can return to its homeland.

Meanwhile, survivor Barzan earns a living training horses, an occupation that he says provides a measure of catharsis. However, the emotional wounds inflicted by the trauma of his abduction, the loss of his family and his years fighting under the command of his kidnappers remain raw.

“All I can say is, Alhamdulillah (praise be to God), life goes on,” he said. “Everyone’s fate is written and sealed.

“My family tree’s branches have been cut and I’ll never forgive those monsters. The battles are over but we continue with a trail of trauma.”

 


WHO says Gaza health system in Gaza ‘more than on its knees’

WHO says Gaza health system in Gaza ‘more than on its knees’
Updated 3 sec ago
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WHO says Gaza health system in Gaza ‘more than on its knees’

WHO says Gaza health system in Gaza ‘more than on its knees’
GENEVA: People in the Gaza Strip are risking their lives to find food, water and other supplies such is the level of hunger and despair amid the unrelenting Israeli assault, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.
“The system in Gaza is on its knees, it’s more than on its knees,” WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier told reporters in Geneva. “All the lifelines in Gaza have more or less been cut.”
Lindmeier said this had created a “desperate situation,” as seen on Thursday, when more than 100 people seeking humanitarian aid in Gaza were killed.
Gaza health authorities said Israeli forces shot dead the Palestinians as they waited for an aid delivery. Israel blamed the deaths on crowds that surrounded the aid trucks, saying victims had been trampled or run over.
“People are so desperate for food, for fresh water, for any supplies that they risk their lives in getting any food, any supplies to support their children, to support themselves,” Lindmeier said.
While aid is reaching southern parts of the Gaza Strip, it is too slow to avert a hunger crisis even there. Aid barely makes it to northern areas that are further from the main border crossing and only accessible through more active battle fronts.
“The food supplies have been cut off deliberately. Let’s not forget that,” Lindmeier said.
Israel has said the failure to get enough aid into Gaza to meet humanitarian needs is due to UN distribution failures.
A senior UN aid official told the UN Security Council on Tuesday that one quarter of the population of Gaza is one step away from famine and widespread famine could be “almost inevitable” without action.

Hamas, other Palestinian groups stress ‘unity’ at Moscow talks

Hamas, other Palestinian groups stress ‘unity’ at Moscow talks
Updated 35 min 24 sec ago
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Hamas, other Palestinian groups stress ‘unity’ at Moscow talks

Hamas, other Palestinian groups stress ‘unity’ at Moscow talks
  • Meeting in Moscow brought together Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah and other Palestinian groups for talks on the war in Gaza and an eventual post-war period.

Ramallah: Palestinian factions including rivals Hamas and Fatah said on Friday they would pursue “unity of action” in confronting Israel after representatives met at Russia-hosted talks.
The meeting in Moscow on Thursday brought together Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah and other Palestinian groups for talks on the war in Gaza and an eventual post-war period.
It came on the heels of the resignation of the Palestinian Authority government, which is led by Fatah and based in the occupied West Bank.
Outgoing prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh called for intra-Palestinian consensus as he announced the resignation, and some analysts said the development could pave the way for a government of technocrats that could operate in the West Bank and Hamas-run Gaza after the war.
Arab and Western leaders have been pushing for reforms to the Palestinian Authority as they discuss possible reconstruction efforts.
A statement on Friday by the Palestinian factions represented in Moscow said there would be an “upcoming dialogue” to bring them under the banner of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
Thursday’s “constructive” talks saw agreement on points including the need for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and the creation of a Palestinian state, the statement said.
While Hamas and Islamic Jihad are considered “terrorist” entities by Western powers, the PLO is internationally recognized as representing Palestinians in the Palestinian territories and diaspora.
Discussions in recent years about integrating Hamas into the PLO have ended in failure.
In recent years, Moscow has strived to maintain good relations with all actors in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including Fatah and Hamas.
Russia’s relations with Israel have become strained amid Moscow’s criticism of Israeli actions in Gaza and rejection of a Palestinian state.
The war in Gaza was triggered by Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel that resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
At least 30,228 people, mostly women and children, have been killed in Israel’s retaliatory military offensive in Gaza, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.


Israeli strike kills three on Syria coast: monitor

Israeli strike kills three on Syria coast: monitor
Updated 01 March 2024
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Israeli strike kills three on Syria coast: monitor

Israeli strike kills three on Syria coast: monitor
  • Three violent explosions shook the center of Banias

Beirut: An Israeli strike on a villa on Syria’s coast Friday killed three people, including an Iranian military adviser, a monitor said, in the third consecutive day of Israeli attacks on Syria.
Three violent explosions shook the center of Banias, on the Mediterranean, during the strike at dawn on the villa that sheltered “a group affiliated with Iran,” said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The building was destroyed, killing the Iranian military adviser and two other non-Syrians who were with him, said the Observatory, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria.
On Thursday, Israel killed a Hezbollah fighter in a strike on Syria, close to the Lebanese border, the Observatory said, hours after similar attacks.
Israel has launched hundreds of air strikes on targets in Syria since civil war broke out in 2011. The strikes have mainly targeted Iran-backed forces including militants from Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement as well as Syrian army positions.
Iran-backed paramilitaries have bolstered the fighting force of the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad since the start of the 2011 war.
Tehran says it has deployed forces in Syria at the invitation of Damascus, but only as advisers.
The strikes have increased since Israel’s war with Palestinian militant group Hamas began on October 7.
Israel rarely comments on individual strikes but has repeatedly said it will not allow Iran to expand its presence in Syria. Iran backs Assad’s government and Hezbollah, which supports Hamas.
Syria’s war has claimed the lives of more than half a million people and displaced millions since it broke out in March 2011 with Damascus’s brutal repression of anti-government protests.


UN experts: Sudan’s paramilitary forces carried out ethnic killings and rapes that may be war crimes

UN experts: Sudan’s paramilitary forces carried out ethnic killings and rapes that may be war crimes
Updated 01 March 2024
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UN experts: Sudan’s paramilitary forces carried out ethnic killings and rapes that may be war crimes

UN experts: Sudan’s paramilitary forces carried out ethnic killings and rapes that may be war crimes
  • Report to the UN Security Council,paints a horrifying picture of the brutality of the Rapid Support Forces

UNITED NATIONS : Paramilitary forces and their allied militias fighting to take power in Sudan carried out widespread ethnic killings and rapes while taking control of much of western Darfur that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, United Nations experts said in a new report.
The report to the UN Security Council, obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, paints a horrifying picture of the brutality of Rapid Support Forces against Africans in Darfur. It also details how the RSF succeeded in gaining control of four out of Darfur’s five states, including through complex financial networks that involve dozens of companies.
Sudan plunged into chaos in April, when long-simmering tensions between its military led by Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary commanded by Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, broke out into street battles in the capital, Khartoum.
Fighting spread to other parts of the country, but in Sudan’s Darfur region it took on a different form: brutal attacks by the RSF on African civilians, especially the ethnic Masalit.
Two decades ago, Darfur became synonymous with genocide and war crimes, particularly by the notorious Janjaweed Arab militias against populations that identify as Central or East African. It seems that legacy has returned, with the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor Karim Khan saying in late January there are grounds to believe both sides are committing possible war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide in Darfur.
The panel of experts said Darfur is experiencing “its worst violence since 2005.”
The ongoing conflict has caused a large-scale humanitarian crisis and displaced approximately 6.8 million people — 5.4 million within Sudan and 1.4 million who have fled to other countries, including approximately 555,000 to neighboring Chad, the experts said.
The RSF and rival Sudanese government forces have both used heavy artillery and shelling in highly populated areas, causing widespread destruction of critical water, sanitation, education and health care facilities.
In their 47-page report, the experts said the RSF and its militias targeted sites in Darfur where displaced people had found shelter, civilian neighborhoods and medical facilities.
According to intelligence sources, the panel said, in just one city — Geneina, the capital of West Darfur state near the Chad border — between 10,000 and 15,000 people were killed.
The experts said sexual violence by the RSF and its allied militia was widespread.
The panel said that, according to reliable sources from Geneina, women and girls as young as 14 years old were raped by RSF elements in a UN World Food Program storage facility that the paramilitary force controlled, in their homes, or when returning home to collect belongings after being displaced by the violence. Additionally, 16 girls were reportedly kidnapped by RSF soldiers and raped in an RSF house.
“Racial slurs toward the Masalit and non-Arab community formed part of the attacks,” the panel said. “Neighborhoods and homes were continuously attacked, looted, burned and destroyed,” especially those where Masalit and other African communities lived, and their people were harassed, assaulted, sexually abused, and at times executed.
The experts said prominent Masalit community members were singled out by the RSF, which had a list, and the group’s leaders were harassed and some executed. At least two lawyers, three prominent doctors and seven staff members, and human rights activists monitoring and reporting on the events were also killed, they said.
The RSF and its allied militias looted and destroyed all hospitals and medical storage facilities, which resulted in the collapse of health services and the deaths of 37 women with childbirth complications and 200 patients needing kidney dialysis, the panel said.
After the killing of the wali, or governor, of West Darfur in June, the report said, Masalit and African communities decided to seek protection at Ardamata, just outside Geneina. A convoy of thousands moved out at midnight but as they reached a bridge, RSF and allied militias indiscriminately opened fire, and survivors reported that an estimated 1,000 people were killed, they said.
The panel stressed that disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians — including torture, rapes and killings as well as destruction of critical civilian infrastructure — constitute war crimes under the 1949 Geneva conventions.
The RSF was formed out of Janjaweed fighters by Sudan’s former President Omar Al-Bashir, who ruled the country for three decades, was overthrown during a popular uprising in 2019, and is wanted by the International Criminal Court for charges of genocide and other crimes during the conflict in Darfur in the 2000s.
According to the panel, the “RSF’s takeover of Darfur relied on three lines of support: the Arab allied communities, dynamic and complex financial networks, and new military supply lines running through Chad, Libya and South Sudan.”
While both the Sudanese military and RSF engaged in widespread recruitment drives across Darfur from late 2022, the RSF was more successful, the experts said. And it “invested large proceeds from its pre-war gold business in several industries, creating a network of as many as 50 companies.”
The RSF’s complex financial networks “enabled it to acquire weapons, pay salaries, fund media campaigns, lobby, and buy the support of other political and armed groups,” the experts said.
United States Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who visited Chad in September, called the report’s findings “horrific” and expressed “deep disappointment” that the UN Security Council and the international community have paid such little attention to the allegations.
“The people of Sudan feel that they have been forgotten,” she said.
In light of the humanitarian catastrophe in Sudan and the broader region, Thomas-Greenfield demanded that the Sudanese military lift its prohibition on cross-border assistance from Chad and facilitate cross-line assistance from the east. She also demanded in a statement Wednesday that the RSF halt the looting of humanitarian warehouses and that both parties stop harassing humanitarian aid workers.
“The council must act urgently to alleviate human suffering, hold perpetrators to account, and bring the conflict in Sudan to an end,” the US ambassador said. “Time is running out.”


Iran begins voting in first parliament election since 2022 protests as questions over turnout loom

Iran begins voting in first parliament election since 2022 protests as questions over turnout loom
Updated 01 March 2024
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Iran begins voting in first parliament election since 2022 protests as questions over turnout loom

Iran begins voting in first parliament election since 2022 protests as questions over turnout loom
  • Some 15,000 candidates are vying for a seat in the 290-member parliament
  • Terms run for four years, and five seats are reserved for Iran’s religious minorities

DUBAI: Iran began voting Friday in its first parliamentary elections since the mass 2022 protests over its mandatory hijab laws after the death of Mahsa Amini, with questions looming over just how many people will turn out for the poll.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 84, cast one of the first votes in an election that also will see new members elected to the country’s Assembly of Experts. The panel of clerics, who serve an eight-year term, is mandated to select a new supreme leader if Khamenei steps down or dies, giving their role increased importance with Khamenei’s age.
Khamenei voted before a crowd of journalists in Tehran, his left hand slightly shaking as he took his ballot from his right, paralyzed since a 1981 bombing. State television showed one woman nearby weeping as she filmed Khamenei with her mobile phone.
Khamenei urged people to vote as soon as possible in the election, saying that both Iran’s friends and enemies were watching the turnout.
“Make the friends happy and make the enemies hopeless,” he said in brief remarks by the ballot boxes.
Initial election results are expected as soon as Saturday. Some 15,000 candidates are vying for a seat in the 290-member parliament, formally known as the Islamic Consultative Assembly. Terms run for four years, and five seats are reserved for Iran’s religious minorities.
Under the law, the parliament has oversight over the executive branch, votes on treaties and handles other issues. In practice, absolute power in Iran rests with its supreme leader.
Hard-liners have controlled the parliament for the past two decades — with chants of “Death to America” often heard from the floor.
Under Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, a former Revolutionary Guard general who supported a violent crackdown on Iranian university students in 1999, the legislature pushed forward a bill in 2020 that greatly curtailed Tehran’s cooperation with the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.
That followed then-President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of America from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018 — an act that sparked years of tensions in the Middle East and saw Iran enrich enough uranium at record-breaking purity to have enough fuel for “several” nuclear weapons if it chose.
More recently, the parliament has focused on issues surrounding Iran’s mandatory head covering, or hijab, for women after the 2022 death of 22-year-old Amini in police custody, which sparked nationwide protests.
The protests quickly escalated into calls to overthrow Iran’s clerical rulers. A subsequent security crackdown killed over 500 people, with more than 22,000 detained.
Calls for an election boycott have spread in recent weeks, including from imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi, a women’s right activist, who called them a “sham.”
The boycott calls have put the government under renewed pressure — since its 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran’s theocracy has based its legitimacy in part on turnout in elections.
The state-owned polling center ISPA hadn’t put out election data prior to the vote until Thursday, something highly unusual as their figures typically get released much earlier. Its polling, based on a survey of 5,121 voting-age people, predicted a turnout of 23.5 percent in the capital, Tehran, and 38.5 percent nationally. It said the margin of error in the poll was 2 percent.