Next August 3 will mark seven years since the Daesh offensive against Sinjar, a region in northeastern Iraq inhabited mostly by the Yazidi community. This date also marked the beginning of massacres, looting, displacement and rape against this historically persecuted religious minority in the Middle East. However, Yazidism is also one of the oldest religions in the region, with origins dating back to 2000 BC and influences from ancient Persia such as Zoroastrianism.
The Yazidis have been a persecuted group from Ottoman times to Saddam Hussein's Baathist Iraq. The US invasion of Iraq did not improve their situation either; the religious community, due to its location in the country, became embroiled in a confrontation between the northern Kurds and the Iraqi state.
However, the real hell for this religious community came with the rise of Daesh. The terrorist group targeted the Yazidis, accusing them of being "devil worshippers". The hatred sown by Daesh, together with the traditional discrimination they suffered from other religious groups, turned the years prior to 2014 into a repetition of the multiple persecutions they have suffered throughout their long history. Years of fear and rejection that culminated in one of the last genocides committed and from which thousands of people have still not recovered. "Our psychological, social and religious identity has been destroyed," Khidar Domle, a Yazidi researcher and activist, told Al-Jazeera.
Yazidis who have not been able to relocate to other countries still find themselves in a vulnerable situation in Iraq. In addition to lacking real support from the state, they face insecurity and sectarian tension in the country. However, in March the Iraqi parliament passed a landmark law for the Yazidis, a major achievement that is the result of tireless work by NGOs such as Yazda, the Free Yezidi Foundation and the Coalition for Just Reparations. This law recognises the crimes perpetrated against the religious community as genocide and mandates compensation and assistance for survivors.
This measure, in theory, would be what thousands of Yazidis need, as it ensures a monthly salary, land, support for children to re-enter school and access to psychosocial and health services. Unfortunately, it will be very difficult to implement due to Iraq's critical economic situation. Moreover, trust in the government is very low. "It is difficult for the Yazidis to trust the government again. So far, they have done nothing for our people. They came with this law now, but we don't know if they will comply with it," one survivor told Al-Jazeera. Azzad Alsalem, a Yazidi activist, also points out that the Iraqi government helps Daesh families more than Yazidis. "The Yazidis pay their own way back to their homes while Daesh families are brought from Syria in buses," Alsalem laments.
It is not only the lack of resources that makes it difficult for the Yazidis to live a normal life. The political landscape in the area has a profound impact on the situation of the community. The presence of PKK Kurds in areas where Yazidis live has exposed them to Turkish attacks. Yazidis are also wary of the influence that Iranian-backed Shia militias are gaining in the face of the weakness of the Baghdad government.
In addition to the political situation, the Yazidis, as has been the case throughout their history, do not feel completely safe in the region. According to a survey conducted by the US Institute of Peace, 53% of Sinjar residents do not feel safe in the area, while 96% believe they are at risk of violence and assassination. The same is true for the nearly 200,000 Yazidis still living in refugee camps in northern Iraq, almost seven years after the genocide. "How long will this last, how long will we remain displaced in our homeland?" asks Laila Taalo, a survivor of the genocide.
For all these reasons, the wounds of the Yazidis are still far from healing. Thousands of people are still missing and it is not known whether they are dead or kidnapped. "There are still almost 2,880 women and children in captivity and there is no plan to save them," says Alsalem. Another particularly difficult process for the Yazidis is the exhumations of the many mass graves in the Sinjar area.
Last February, a funeral for the first 100 victims was held in the small town of Kocho, the birthplace of Nadia Murad, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and survivor of Daesh captivity. "I am happy to be able to offer them a dignified burial, but my heart remains broken for the thousands of families who still have their relatives in mass graves. The longer the exhumations and burials take, the greater the collective trauma," Nadia said at the time.
The Nobel laureate is one of the main supporters of the community. Nadia has met with world leaders in an effort to get help for genocide survivors. She has also set up Nadia's Initiative, an organisation that rebuilds villages destroyed by war. It is currently rebuilding temples and public facilities, such as schools, in Yazidi areas.
Another of Nadia and her organisation's objectives is the fight against sexual violence as a weapon of war, for which she received the Nobel Prize in 2018 along with the Congolese gynaecologist Denis Mukwege. Nadia, like thousands of other Yazidi women and girls, suffered sexual violence at the hands of Daesh. She recounted this ordeal in a book entitled 'I will be the last', in which she also tells part of the story of her community until Daesh broke into her life. She also explains the long legal process she went through together with the famous lawyer Amal Clooney to demand justice. A process that has not yet yielded results.
"Although he represents Yazidi victims before national courts, there is still no strategy to prosecute the crimes of Daesh. The UN-led investigations are an important step, but they have not led to an international prosecution," reproaches Clooney. Murad agrees with his lawyer. "Most of the perpetrators of the Kocho attack have still not been identified, arrested and tried. They remain at large and continue to impede my community's dreams of security in our homeland," he laments.
Despite the fact that most Western countries have recognised the Yazidi genocide, the community regrets the behaviour of some countries towards Daesh terrorists, such as the return of Daesh terrorists to their places of origin in Europe. "We strongly oppose the West letting any of these fighters or their brides back in. They should be imprisoned and tried in Iraq by an international court for what they have done," says Nawaf Ashur Yusif Haskan.
Another of the Yazidis' criticisms of the international community is the lack of media coverage of their case. Yazidi voices point out that sometimes Daesh brides, who in many cases participated in the crimes of genocide, receive more attention than the victims themselves. However, they believe that this problem also exists in Iraq. "Even the local media do not cover the consequences of the genocide except for propaganda purposes", Azzad Alsalem stresses.
Nearly seven years on, survivors of the genocide are trying to get their lives back on track as instability in Iraq increases. The Yazidis still have a long way to go in their healing process. The help and support of the international community and international organisations is essential during this difficult journey. Local authorities also have a key role to play in ensuring that survivors can feel safe in their own country.