Nishtiman Khalaf Awsman
In August 2014, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) invaded the Sinjar city, in the Iraqi province of Nineveh. The region being a homeland to the Yazidi minority would soon face what has been internationally recognized as an organized genocidal campaign against the community. ISIS practiced different forms of violence against the community with the intent of its destruction. The violent group massacred dozens of thousands of Yazidis, forced thousands of women into sex slavery, and turned dozens of Yazidi children into child soldiers. The catastrophic and destructive impacts of the genocide are still ongoing. The international and national responses have not been proportional to the size of the catastrophe.
The Genocidal Campaign
The 2014 ISIS attacks were an attempt of genocide as outlined by the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The Convention defines genocide as "…acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group". According to the Convention, these acts can include killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; or forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. In what follows, I illustrate in what ways in which these genocidal acts were perpetrated against the Yazidi community.
ISIS mass murdered dozens of thousands of the Yazidi community. On August 3, 2014, the Peshmerga forces, the official army of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), left the Sinjar region to ISIS without any resistance. Yazidis fled their houses towards Mount Sinjar when attacked by ISIS. Those who were not able to flee were killed, especially boys and men. It's estimated that 3000-10,000 Yazidis were killed. A particular example was the village of Kojo, where more than a thousand Yazidis were massacred. The practice of mass killing of the Yazidis was carried on throughout the Sinjar area, as more than eighty mass graves have been discovered in the region so far.
Besides the deliberate mass killing of the community, ISIS caused serious mental and physical harm to its members. This harm was particularly practiced through what can be conceptualized as sexual terrorism. The captured Yazidi women were exploited as sex slaves. These women were forced to marry, give birth to, and serve ISIS members and their families. According to the Guardian, “[by] mid-2016, 2,590 women and children had escaped or been smuggled out of the caliphate, and 3,793 remained in captivity”. Since 2016, a smaller group has escaped, but there are still thousands of women in captivity with an unknown destiny. The physical violation against the women has been accompanied by mental struggle, as many of them are suffering from phycological and emotional issues today.
In addition to that, ISIS deliberately surrounded the surviving Yazidis in mountain Sinjar to bring about their physical destruction. Between August 3rd to 10th, 2014, ISIS trapped an estimated 200,000 escaping Yazidis in Mount Sinjar, without water or food. This long siege led to the death of hundreds of Yazidis, most of them children and the elderly. According to Save the Children, 93% of the people who died on Mount Sinjar, whether due to injuries or the lack of food and water, were children.
Furthermore, ISIS forcefully indoctrinated the kidnapped Yazidi children into their ideology and used them as suicide bombers, child soldiers, and civilian shields. ISIS violently and systematically separated the children from their families and sent them to camps or institutions to be indoctrinated ideologically and trained to carry out suicidal attacks and combat activities. Another report produced by the Save the Children indicates that "using methods and techniques used in other conflicts, such as Afghanistan and Mali, ISIS perpetuated its genocide in Iraq by actively working to erase and replace the culture, dialect, and identities of the abducted Yazidi children”. Thus ISIS in a clear act of genocide forcefully converted the Yazidi children to eliminate the group. The report also indicates that the indoctrination had a deep-rooted impact on the children, including "…emotional distress and adjustment difficulties".
The Ongoing Impact of The Genocide
This year the Yazidis commemorate the 9th anniversary of the genocide, while many of its destructive impacts are still affecting the community. As of 2023, the United Nations, Germany, United Kingdom, Canada, France, European Parliament, The United States, and several other countries have recognized the Yazidi Genocide. Despite these recognitions, many of the Impacts of the genocide are not healed yet and there have not been any serious international or national efforts or actions to help the Yazidis to cope with the genocide.
Most of the forcefully displaced Yazidis still live in IDP camps or have immigrated outside of Iraq. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), “the Yazidi population in Sinjar before the 2014 attacks numbered roughly half a million. Today, official numbers say that roughly 360,000 Yazidi from the Sinjar region live as internally displaced refugees while another 120,000 live as refugees in Europe, the US, Canada, and Australia”. The failure to return the Yazidis to their homes and the constant need for immigration threatens their presence in Iraq, a land they have lived on for thousands of years. This is particularly threatening for a small minority like Yezidism, which has been preserved by the complex social close-knit relationships and their connection to a united land.
Yazidis are unable to return to their homeland due to continued socio-economic and political instability in their areas. Substantial parts of the community have returned to Sinjar; However, they lack security guarantees and suffer socio-economic challenges. Neither the Iraqi government nor the international community has taken any serious steps toward rebuilding Sinjar and helping people to return to their homes. There are many destroyed houses, and many people are living in poverty, which means that they lack the economic and financial abilities to rebuild these houses by themselves. Security-wise, the situation is further exacerbated by the increased number of powerful militias in the region, and the constant Turkish air strikes targeting what they claim to be the Kurdistan Workers Party's bases in the region.
On top of that the Yazidi areas have been strangled by the political conflict between different militia groups and regional powers. The Central Iraqi Government and KRG have failed to solve the political disputes over Sinjar, which have left the area without any legitimate local government that is recognized by both sides. This conflict has hindered the rebuilding of Sinjar, and return of the IDPs, and the rehabilitation and reconciliation of the community.
Besides the inability to return to their areas, the survivors have not been provided with the necessary means to be rehabilitated and cope with the trauma. Germany, Australia, Canada, and France have given refuge to thousands of Yazidi survivors to receive mental support. Yet, the majority of the survivors reside in harsh conditions of the IDP camps in KRG. The women, in particular still suffer the traumatic impacts of rape and physical violence they endured as sexual, to the level that many have attempted suicide. According to the UN, as of 2022, more than 400 women who have survived ISIS captivity remained in IDP camps, struggling to rebuild their lives. As mothers, sisters, and daughters, the continuous phycological struggle of these women affects whole families that are struggling to restore their normal lives.
Despite the survivor’s psychological struggle, there has been no justice and accountability. . In the last 9 years since the genocide, Yazidis and their international friends have demanded a special international court to prosecute the terrorists involved in the genocide. However, the fact that Iraq is not a member of the International Criminal Court has made achieving this goal harder. Out of thousands involved in the Yazidi Genocide, only a small number of ISIS members have been held accountable by the German Federal Court.
Finally, the threat of further violence and persecution against the Yazidis is still present. The rhetoric against the Yazidis has become widespread over the last 9 years due to the social media and there are few legal restrictions to prevent such rhetoric, which has incited violence against the Yazidis or legitimized ISIS' genocidal campaign. Furthermore, the government has failed to build trust and reconciliation between Arab tribes around Sinjar, some of their members joined ISIS and the Yazidis, keeping the door open for further violence in the future.