More than 200,000 Yazidis live in internally displaced persons camps and more than 2,700 are still missing
"It will take hundreds of years to feel that genocide will not happen again against us," says Dilo Haskany, a journalist for Ezidi 24, eight years after the great massacres committed by Daesh against the Yazidi people. Haskany is part of the only independent media outlet for this minority, created in 2018. Until then, the Yazidis did not have media platforms that allowed them to express themselves, so, according to Haskany, "it was easy to spread lies with ease".
"Devil worshippers". This has been the most severe lie and accusation levelled against this ethno-religious group. Supported by this claim, based on complete ignorance about this millenary faith, different radical groups have carried out dozens of campaigns against the Yazidi people.
The genocide perpetrated by Daesh was the latest, but not the only one. Throughout their history, the Yazidis have been subjected to 74 genocides because of their religious beliefs. "Sunni Arabs, Turks, Muslim Kurds, British and the Ottomans have perpetrated genocidal attacks against this religious/national group," says Manuel Férez, professor of Middle East and Caucasus at the Alberto Hurtado University in Chile.
"Their belief system has been misunderstood by their Muslim neighbours because of the secrecy of their religious rites, the little contact the Yazidis had with the outside world and because it is not a religion that seeks followers outside the group," adds Férez.
Eight years after their last genocide, survivors continue to call for visibility and support as they demand justice. Eight years later, the massacres, kidnappings, rapes and forced exoduses are still very much present within this community.
It was the summer of 2014 and Daesh was spreading panic in parts of Syria and Iraq. After taking Mosul, hordes of jihadists moved into other areas of Iraq with the aim of expanding the caliphate - announced by its leader, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, after taking the city - and subjugating through violence all those who did not comply with the Sharia.
The terrorist group stormed Sinjar on 3 August 2014. Thus began the brutal genocide against the Yazidi people.
According to UN data, approximately 5,000 Yazidis were killed by the terrorist group, although the number could be higher, as more than 80 mass graves were found after the liberation of Sinjar.
In addition to mass executions, Daesh fighters abducted more than 6,000 Yazidis, mostly women and children. While minors were brainwashed into child soldiers, women were sexually enslaved and trafficked. After the defeat of Daesh, many were able to return to their families - others managed to escape earlier - although today more than 2,700 are still unaccounted for.
They are likely to be in areas formerly under the control of the terrorist organisation or in the Al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria, which houses thousands of family members of jihadist fighters. Also, as Wahhab Hassoo, survivor and co-founder of the Dutch organisation NL Helpt Yezidis, recalls, many of the abducted Yazidi women were sold to Gulf sheikhs, while others are being held by Daesh women and are afraid to escape.
Abducted and sexually abused Yazidi women face another major problem. Although most have been accepted and welcomed by their people, those who have had a child as a result of rape have not been able to return to the Yazidi community as these minors are registered as Muslims under Iraqi law, explains Hassoo. "They are doubly victimised: by Daesh and by Islamic law," he adds.
Today, more than 200,000 Yazidis live in IDP camps, many of them in unsanitary conditions with no access to electricity and problems obtaining clean water.
Moreover, the survivors do not feel safe in their own country, where they are still the target of attacks and crimes. During this month - and coinciding with the eighth anniversary of the genocide - a six-year-old girl and her father were abducted in Zakho, Iraqi Kurdistan. A few days later, their bodies were found lifeless, the girl's body bearing signs of sexual violence.
Farouq Mirza, a Yazidi IDP & his 6 years daughter Akheen were murdered few days ago. Zakho Security Forces captured the criminal & he is in custody. A lot of info are out there including this criminal kidnapped & killed other kids in the past. We demand proper justice for them. pic.twitter.com/cjyPzmwpmi— Murad Ismael (@murad_ismael) August 12, 2022
"Yazidis face unimaginable discrimination and persecution in their daily lives, forcing them to hide their identity, work in certain jobs and avoid going to certain areas," says Khari Shabo, an activist with the NGO Yezidi Emergency Support.
Nor do they feel safe in their own home, Sinjar, a recurrent target of Turkish air strikes and the scene of clashes between armed groups. "Sinjar is still considered a disputed area between Iraq and Kurdistan on the one hand, and the PKK and Turkey on the other," Shabo adds. This is preventing the return of Yazidis to Sinjar, as well as the reconstruction of infrastructure.
NI is supporting Sinuni General Hospital with a new x-ray facility & laboratory, rehabilitated drug store & garden area, & new shaded outdoor spaces for staff & patients. The completion of this project will help promote quality #healthcare in the Sinjar region. @AustrianDev pic.twitter.com/gCJJBkUVy8— Nadia's Initiative (@nadiainitiative) August 25, 2022
The genocide has meant that many Yazidis do not feel part of Iraq. "After the fall of Mosul and the surrender of Sinjar to Daesh, the Yazidis no longer trust anyone," says Hassoo. However, the activist is grateful for the treatment of the survivors by the Kurds. "I think they are doing their best to help the Yazidis. However, their capacities are limited due to interference from neighbouring countries such as Turkey and Iran, as well as dependence on the Baghdad government," he explains.
However, another survivor acknowledges that both the Iraqi and Kurdish governments have failed to deliver on their promises. "They pledged to do everything they could to bring the Yazidis back to their homes, to rebuild their villages and to work to find the disappeared, but these promises are not being fulfilled," says the Yazidi, who chooses to protect his identity.
The future for Yazidis in Iraq and the region is bleak. As a result, an estimated 160,000 people have left the Middle East, according to figures from Yazda, one of several organisations providing aid to survivors of the genocide.
Yet violence pursues them even in places where they should be safe. In Hanover, Germany - home to a large Yazidi refugee community - a Yazidi man was recently killed during a genocide commemoration event by a radical Islamist.
Likewise, Yazidi refugees in Europe admit that their cause does not receive the support it deserves from governments. In the Old Continent, the vast majority of countries do not recognise the genocide. "France, Portugal and Germany are the only ones that have taken it seriously," says Hassoo. These three countries have facilitated the arrival of Yazidis and supported their cause. However, he notes that this recognition and support has been achieved thanks to pressure from Yazidi organisations. In Germany, moreover, two genocide convictions have already been handed down.
By contrast, other European nations such as the Netherlands have not been sufficiently involved. "They only help their citizens in Syria and Turkey," he says. Hassoo also admits that UNHCR's settlement programme in the country has not helped any Yazidis: "We have asked them several times, but they have not given us any information", he explains.
This lack of support and visibility also extends to the country's media, since, according to Hassoo, "they always report about the Dutch Daesh fighters and their children, but they hardly talk about the Yazidis".
In this regard, the Yazidis regret that the media sometimes fail to report on their current situation. According to some survivors, the main reason for not talking about the massacres committed and still being committed today is the fear that certain media or journalists will be accused of Islamophobia. "Any media coverage of radical Muslims killing innocent people will cause loss of profits and, of course, will be labelled as discrimination and Islamophobia," says Hassoo.
This is not the first time that Yazidi voices have been silenced for this reason. In November 2021, the Toronto school board cancelled a lecture by Yazidi survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad. The Canadian institution considered that her book The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, in which she recounts her captivity as a sex slave for Daesh, could be "offensive" and "promote Islamophobia".
Although Férez considers that this lack of visibility is due to the way in which the Middle East is viewed. "Normally the region is approached from the paradigm of the nation state and minority communities, such as the Yazidis, are marginalised and even made invisible," he explains. "As long as we do not look at ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity, we will continue to ignore the structural problems of the region", Férez concludes.
One of the main goals of the Yazidi survivors is to bring all those involved in the genocide to justice. Not only the fighters and their wives - who actively participated in the enslavement of many Yazidi women and girls - but also those citizens of other countries who were in some way involved in the genocide.
In this regard, a group of lawyers known as the Yazidi Justice Committee (YJC) has accused Turkey of complicity in the massacres, claiming that it failed to control its borders to stop the transit of Daesh fighters, including a high number of Turkish nationals. Férez also adds that the fighters "even received medical treatment" from Turkey. Meanwhile, Shukri Hamk, a Yazidi survivor, also recalls that many Yazidis have become victims of the recent Turkish bombardment of Sinjar.
The report, published by The Guardian, also points to certain Gulf countries such as Qatar as accomplices, although insufficient evidence was presented.
"Many countries have financially supported Daesh, this is not a secret, everyone knows it. The evidence is sufficient, but no one will dare to hold the perpetrators of crimes against innocents accountable," says Haskany.
In addition to countries, Hassoo claims that several big tech companies were also involved in the massacres and trafficking of Yazidis. "Facebook allowed Daesh to promote its propaganda, Telegram allowed fighters to use chat rooms to sell women and children," he says.
Every August since 2014, the Yazidis commemorate the anniversary of the genocide at the hands of Daesh and remember the centuries of discrimination and persecution. Year after year, the more than 200,000 Yazidis who survive in displacement camps in appalling conditions wonder when they will be able to return to their villages and rebuild their homes. The same is true for the families of the more than 2,700 missing persons, who yearn for the return of their loved ones.
The story of the Yazidis is one of violence, suffering and pain, but also of strength, resilience and courage. The Yazidis have realised that they are the only ones who can save themselves, and the only ones who are willing to do so. While the world looks the other way, Yazidi NGOs both in Iraq and in the diaspora are working hard to rebuild the lives of the survivors, as well as to gain more support, international visibility and justice.
"The support given to Yazidis is nothing compared to the support given to Ukrainians. I am not against helping those in need, but if you treat people on the basis of their nationality you are discriminating against them," Hassoo reflects.
Most survivors share this view and call for the international community, especially Europe, to become more involved in the cause. The states of the Old Continent must do so because, as Hassoo reminds us, "citizens of these countries have contributed to killing and enslaving the Yazidi people", alluding to the thousands of Europeans who travelled to the Middle East to join Daesh. "They have to take responsibility," he said.
Despite everything, the Yazidi community is carrying out projects that represent a ray of hope for this minority, such as the plans developed by Nadia Murad's organisation, Nadia's Iniciative. Through this organisation, the survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate advocates for the empowerment of women, education and Yazidi culture, among many other projects that aim to make Sinjar a safe place for Yazidis.