Yazidi genocide survivors still suffer 7 years later


August 3 is a day engraved in the memory of all Yazidis. In 2014, ISIS invaded its home province of Sinjar and a nightmare of unimaginable proportions began.

The Yazidis have lived for centuries in the deserts of northwestern Iraq, with populations also present in Syria and Turkey. With origins dating back 4000 years, researchindicatedtheir syncretic faith is a unique incorporation of Zoroastrian, Manichean, Jewish, Eastern Church and Muslim elements. And because of these differences, ISIS wanted to eliminate them. An attempt at genocide has begun.

The world looked at men in horror murdered, boys torn from their families and brainwashed to become “little ones of the caliphate“and women and girls forced to sexual slavery . I remember meeting Yazidis in their holy city of Lalish, just outside the territory occupied by ISIS, as a special envoy of the State Department specializing in religious minorities. A father gave me 15 pages of names of family members who had been killed or kidnapped, he didn’t know which ones.

Other groups in Iraq suffered genocide in the hands of the Islamic State too. Christians from the Assyrian, Chaldean and Syriac communities fled as ISIS ransacked their homes and desecrated their churches. Captured Shia Muslims were killed en masse. The shocking barbarism of ISIS was in full view.

Fortunately, the caliphate has fallen. But the specter of ISIS remains, with Iraqi foreign ministerto askcontinued US military assistance. And ISIS’s defeat on the battlefield has not resulted in a victory for religious minorities, especially the Yazidis. Seven years later, the Yazidi community is still struggling to recover.

Thousands of Yazidis linger in tent camps. This summer, their vulnerable existence was reinforced when aFireswept away a camp, forcing more than 1,000 people to flee. And these camps are closing. The Iraqi government has announced itsdecision to closemany internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps, but there is no clear place for Yazidis to go. Conditions in Sinjar are a mess. Reconstruction is patchy and the region is teeming with rival militias. Turkish airstrikes also threaten from above.

The Iraqi government has taken positive steps. On the eve of Pope Francis’ visit, the Iraqi Parliament, the Council of Representatives,passthe Yazidis Survivors Bill, which authorized assistance to survivors of ISIS atrocities. Hopefully the government will distribute these resources quickly.

But more action is needed. Pari Ibrahim, executive director of the Free Yezidi Foundation, said that while Yazidis appreciated the “surge of support” after the genocide, “in some ways the corresponding action did not accompany expressions of sympathy.”

Iraqi Yazidi women hold up signs with photos of victims of the 2014 invasion of their region by the Islamic State (IS) group.
SAFIN HAMED / AFP via Getty Images

His organization describedseveral urgent measuresthat are needed, such as improving conditions in the aforementioned IDP camps and accountability to ISIS genocidaires. While Iraqi courts have tried some ISIS operatives for anti-state terrorism, none have been tried for crimes against Yazidis or other groups. Prosecuting ISIS operatives in Iraq for crimes against Iraqi Yazidis would encourage a besieged community and send a powerful message.

The United States, the United Nations and several other countries have recognized ISIS atrocities targeting the Yazidis as genocide. Yet the international community often overlooks their situation, due to the complexity of Iraq and the surrounding region. However, when governments recognize that the worst abuses known to mankind have occurred, the response from human rights-respecting nations should be equally strong.

To concretely help the Yazidis and overcome platitudes and rhetoric, the international community must approach key issues in new ways before the eighth anniversary arrives next August. Four actions can start now, using next August as a deadline to assess progress.

First, pledge to locate the more than 2,000 women and girls who remain missing, which Ibrahim described as “emotionally frustrating and distressing.” The United Nations, with the support of the United States, France and the United Kingdom in the UN Security Council, could launch a “Find Our Daughters” effort in refugee camps in Syria and Jordan to locate those lost souls. And for those rescued, providing desperately needed psychosocial assistance to equip survivors to cope with trauma. UN Member States can provide funds to help Yazidi children reintegrate into their families and communities, as well as leverage the Global Fund for Community Engagement and Resilience (GCERF).

Second, the important work of finding mass graves and documenting lives lost must continue, both for evidence and to ensure the closure of families. Finally, and this is the most difficult, devote renewed political and financial resources to see the militias withdrawn from Sinjar and accelerate reconstruction. The leadership of the UN Security Council of the United States, France and the United Kingdom will be required.

The Yazidis are vulnerable, with no strong tribal ties or an international community to support them from abroad. Their unique way of life is in danger of disappearing, which would tear another thread from the multicolored religious tapestry of Iraq. Defeating ISIS and its ideology will come in part by restoring the Yazidis to their homeland, ensuring their safety, security and future.

Knox Thamesserved as the State Department’s Special Advisor on Religious Minorities under the Obama and Trump administrations. He is writing a book on 21st century strategies for combating religious persecution. You can follow it onTwitter.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.


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