4 years after the tragic attack caused by Islamic terrorists, the situation of this Middle Eastern population is still dramatic. And so is the one of other religious minorities in that area, including the Christian one.
4 years have passed since the 3rd of August 2014, the day on which the Daesh fighters, or ISIS, in full territorial expansion, started to penetrate in the territory of Sinjar, Northern Iraq, home of the majority of the Yazidis in the world. More than 3,000 Yazidis died and just less than 7,000 have been kidnapped.
WHO ARE THE YAZIDI
Yazidi is a multimillenary community whose creed comes from a mix of pre-Islamic religions. We’re talking about a very ancient and, under some aspects, mysterious population, which is present mainly in the Mesopotamic Region. They’re considered as apostates by terrorist fanatics as their religion is a sort of syncretism born from the contact and contamination of different religions, including Christianity and Islam. The core of their cult is Tawusi Melek, “Peacock Angel”, that jihadists see as a personification of Satan. Considered as devil worshipers, Yazidis have always been persecuted.
Thousands of those who didn’t make it to escape the advance of the Islamic State in Iraq in 2014 have been captured.
This is a story that, despite having struck emotionally in the days of the jihadist advance, has never been analyzed much in detail.
ISIS HAS EXTERMINATED A COMMUNITY
In early August 2014, ISIS fighters defeated the Kurdish peshmerga forces in several areas of Northwest Iraq. Their goal was to gain control of oil rigs. The attacks in the Sinjar region, on the other hand, had the main objective of exterminating the Yazidis.
Tens of thousands of Yazidis have fled their villages in the surrounding mountains, where they were then surrounded by ISIS forces. Hundreds died in a matter of days, despite humanitarian aid, while thousands were captured and deported to Iraq and Syria. The men who refused to convert were killed, others condemned to forced labor, while the women were forced to convert and then were sold as domestic and sexual slaves, or were forced to marry against their will.
Girls up to 9 year-old were separated from their mothers and the same fate awaited them as adult women: they were to be either slaves or brides. The boys over 10, however, were sent to military training camps.
In 2016, Daesh still held more than 3,500 Yazidi girls and women in a state of sexual slavery. And it is not surprising that the 2016 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought was won by Nadia Murad Basee Taha and Lamiya Aji Bashar, two Yazidis who managed to escape the Caliphate. This award was a way to bring the attention of the news on the tragic fate of this community, victim of hatred and intolerance of ISIS jihadists.
The Islamic State has carried out a mass genocide of the Yazidis in Iraq, confirmed by the discovery of 68 mass graves at Sinjar.
3,000 Yazidis are still missing and since Daesh has started occupating Sinjar in 2014, 68 mass graves have been discovered, states Khairi Bozani, the General Director of Yazidian Affairs and Ministry of Religious Affairs of the Regional Government of Kurdistan. From the 3rd of August 2014, ISIS has destroyed almost entirely the religious sanctuaries of the village, kidnapped 6,417 Yazidis in total, of wich 3,547 were women. So far 3,300 have been released: 1,150 women, 337 men, 1,813 kids. 3,137 belonging to the minority, however, are still dispersed. Bozani states also that the current Yazidi population in Iraq and in the Kurdistan region is about 550,000, of which 360,000 have been driven out of their homes since 2014, while more than 100,000 have emigrated abroad.
ISIS killed 1,293 Yazidis and destroyed up to 85% of Sinjar, which became a ghost town
During the last 4 years in Iraq, Daesh killed 1,293 Yazidis and about 3,000 children lost a parent. In Sinjar, in August 2014, the religious minority has been subjected to atrocities and mass murders, forcing thousands of persecuted to flee their homes. Many elderly and women unable to leave their homes were forced to suffer abuse. The militiamen of the Islamic State carried out mass executions and enslaved thousands of women and girls, selling them in their markets. The Kurdish Peshmerga forces, with air raid support of the International Coalition, liberated the area in November 2015. But the fight against ISIS has destroyed up to 85% of the city, causing instability and leaving crumbling infrastructure. That’s why Sinjar is now considered as a ghost town.
CONCLUSION: WHICH FUTURE FOR YAZIDIS?
The future of the Yazidis as a free community in Iraq is still uncertain. Although the Iraqi Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and worship, the Yazidis are still a discriminated minority. The Iraqi government, very weakened by the fighting, the terrorist attacks and the tensions with the regional government of Kurdistan, does not have a real plan for the future of the minorities in the country.
Thousands of displaced Yazidis in the Sinjar mountains in Northern Iraq are still suffering and afraid four years after the Islamic State attacked Yazidi villages. “The situation of the Yazidis in Iraq is of great concern. It is an ongoing humanitarian catastrophe with still close to 400,000 internally displaced scattered throughout the provinces of Northern Iraq.” Said Lisa Miara, founder of Springs of Hope Foundation, to the NGO Voice of America (VOA). Miara also added that three-and-a-half years after the Yazidi genocide, some villages are still unreachable and no major effort has been made to enable thousands of Yazidis to restore their lives and businesses.
Given the large-scale humanitarian demand among displaced Yazidis, a number of local and global organizations are pleading to remain focused on the plight of the Yazidis.
Saad Babir, communication manager at Yazda Organization, told VOA that basic needs such as electricity, water and education are lacking. In addition, more than 70% of houses have been destroyed, and many religious temples targeted by ISIS are in rubble.
Babir said the atrocities committed by ISIS have created mistrust in the region between minorities and their communities in general. USAID and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) are working jointly on the recovery of minority groups. “One thing we are doing is working to help restore some of the cultural diversity that has been a hallmark in Iraq,” USAID’s Mark Green, the United States’ top foreign aid official, said at United States Institute of Peace last week.
“In Northern Iraq, we have been helping Yazidis and Christian minorities to be able to return home, to feel secure enough to be able to re-establish their communities,” Green said.