Sinjar is a district of the Nineveh province located West of Mosul, in the Iraqi desert near the Syrian border. It is the most prominent stronghold of the Yazidis, who are surrounded by Arab tribes. On the Sinjar Mountain, there are small villages whose inhabitants are mostly Yazidis. Back in 2014, it has been the theatre of a terrible genocide orchestrated by ISIS militants, the latest in the history of Yazidis.
“Because the tragedy is black, the grief is black, and so is the death… And because the massacre was carried out in black clothes as well, that episode had to be documented in a black color…” Thus spoke Khadr Al-Domali, a journalist and civil activist, in his book (The Black Death) where he documented the stories of dozens of Yazidis survivors from the Sinjar Incursion in 2014.
Al-Domali is not the only one who wrote about this tragedy that still haunts its survivors. Dozens of other chroniclers have documented this genocide, among them Doctor Nagham Nawzat Hasan, who told more than 200 stories about Yazidi women who were kidnapped from their homes by the “ISIS” organization before they managed to escape.
Nagham is currently dedicated to helping these women recover from their ordeal.
The struggle endured by ISIS’s ex slaves is not over. Rather, these victims have begun a new chapter of ordeals in displacement camps, which are embroiled by the ambitions of governmental actors, party struggles and even non governmental organizations (NGOs), as the case of Manal Safil demonstrates:
“I took on the role of father and mother to my younger sisters.” This is how the Yazidi survivor Hala Safill began her conversation. She now lives with her family in the Persfi camp for Yazidi displaced persons in Dohuk governorate, within the Kurdistan region of Iraq.
Safil escaped from the grip of “ISIS” three years ago. Today, she is still living the bitterness of the imprisonment journey: the fate of her parents and three of her brothers is still unknown. “Despite what I have been through, I see myself as strong and courageous, and I defend my rights and the rights of all the oppressed, until justice takes its course,” says Safil. But this journey to emancipation is barred the lack of support by local actors, the same actors who say they are dedicated to alleviating the suffering of the yazidis.
Hala is not the only survivor trying to find out the fate of her loved ones. Indeed, this tragedy affected the majority of the Yazidi community who has virtually no means of obtaining quick reparation for their ordeals.
The Rescue Office for Abducted Yazidis, which receives support from the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, indicates that 3,530 Yazidis out of 6,417 kidnapped have been liberated since August 3, 2014. Another 2,887 remain in the grip of “ISIS” or have faced an unknown fate.
A total of 83 mass graves have been discovered in Sinjar so far, in addition to dozens of individual grave sites, while approximately 2,745 yazidi orphans have been counted since the massacre of their parents.
The report also accounts for hundreds of thousands of yazidis emigrating outside Iraq.
Survivors’ living conditions
Safil describes the situation of the Yazidi survivors as “tragic”, adding that she has not found any support from the Iraqi government. She said she has reintegrated into society, but she and her peers are facing difficulties to find work. “The economic situation is very bad,” she summed up.
After completing psychological and medical rehabilitation program for survivors, Hala, whose family was left with only one brother and three sisters, began to search for work, but she was unable to find any opportunity, because she does not have a degree, let alone how far her residence is from the work centers in Dohuk.
Despite this, Hala did not give up. She continued searching for a source of income until she got a job opportunity in the health center inside the camp. She now works for PUI (a non governmental organization) that provides support and assistance for the displaced.
Hala does not want to waste her life in the traumatizing memories of her captivity, “I encourage other survivors to work and participate in various humanitarian activities.” She aspires to have a bright future, “we hope justice will be on our side”, she said.
Neglect leads to suicide
Manal Luqman (another yazidi survivor) told us what happened to her and her family in the village of Tal Qasab, south of Sinjar district. She and all her siblings survived and managed to escape from the grip of “ISIS”.
She says that the journey of her kidnapping was divided into three cities: Tal Afar, Mosul and Sinjar.
Manal added, “The majority of the Yazidi survivors are still suffering a lot and the conditions are not available to ensure a return to normal life. They need psychological treatment” noting that “they were neglected in many cases,” which led some of them to commit suicide, she said.
Manal is now receiving regular lectures on computer technology at an institute in Dohuk Governorate.
Manal says that during her time in captivity, she was subjected to the most severe forms of torture. “Now we are suffering in the camps as well, as the governments in Iraq (the federal government from Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional government in Erbil) have not taken any step towards building and rehabilitating our areas.”
The negligence that Manal Luqman talked about, in addition to the lack of the most basic necessities of life, was often exploited by governmental agencies and organizations. The Yazidi survivor added that these corrupt actors are known to everyone. “The government must be made accountable and provide to the vulnerable ones”, she concluded.
A law is awaiting implementation
Seven years after the genocide campaign, the conditions of the Yazidi female survivors have not changed significantly. “Everyone is living in a tragic situation, whether in the camps or in Sinjar,” confirms the Yazidi representative in the Iraqi parliament, Mr. Hussein Hassan Nermo.
Mr. Nermo hopes that the situation will change after the implementation of the Yazidi Women Survivors Law : “We made great efforts to pass it and ratify it.”, he explained. On March 1, the Iraqi parliament passed this law, which recognized the crimes committed by “ISIS” against women belonging to the Yazidi minority and classified them as crimes against humanity.
The Yazidi Female Survivors law provides for the establishment of a general directorate whose mission is to take care of survivors’ affairs. It will be linked to the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers. The main office will be located in the Nineveh Governorate and managed by a Yazidi general director. One of its missions will be to compensate female survivors with a monthly salary of up to one million Iraqi dinars (about $ 685) alongside providing a residential plot of land for each one of them. The program also has a rehabilitation project to reintegrate victims into society and to provide educational opportunities and work for them.
In addition to this, the law calls for the opening of health centers for women victims and adequate structures to handle the legal status of children born in captivity, providing a monthly allocation to them.
Article seven of the law stipulates that the search for the abducted men, women and children of Yazidi, Turkmen, Christian and Shabak communities should be undertaken in coordination with their families and the competent authorities, granting them legal assistance and compensations.
Manal Safil, who also commented on this legislation, considers it a good and important step for all Yazidi women”, yet noting that its implementation on the ground is probably not going to be swift.”
On her side, despite her constant optimism, Manal Luqman doubts the implementation of the Yazidi Women Survivors Law. “For years, we have been waiting for a commitment from the Iraqi government and from international actors to bring justice to us. We doubt that this law will be implemented.”, she admitted.
The parties trade with the fate of survivors
On his side, Mr. Nermo points out the law is compensatory as the Presidency of the Republic requested before transmitting it to the government. Now Mr. Nermo and his colleagues are working on implementing the legislation and forming the General Directorate of Survivors’ Affairs.
Still, the Yazidi representative is afraid that non Yazidi political parties will interfere with the nominations of the management body of the directorate. “They must be Yazidi, and away from partisan conflict.”, he stated.
According to Mr. Nermo, the political rivalries and partisan conflicts have a very negative impact on the reality of the Yazidis. “This is particularly true on the issue of the kidnapped and survivors.”, he stated, pointing out that he has recently noticed the exploitation of survivors for political goals: “some parties are working to mobilize and indoctrinate them in a way that serves their interests.”
Problems inside the Yazidi house
The Yazidi community suffers from internal problems, which were analyzed by the Iraqi journalist Maysar Al-Adani, who previously worked in the Office of Rescue of Abducted Yazidis, affiliated to the Kurdistan Regional Government, based in Dohuk. He explains that these exacerbating problems exist due to “the lack of a unified leadership within the community.”
The Yazidis have notably suffered for decades long tribal rivalries for the nomination of their spiritual leader, the Baba Sheykh. The dichotomy between the Shingal community, rather uninterested in an alliance with the KRG (incarnated by the Barzani leadership who rules the KDP party) and the Yazidis of Lalesh, more under the direct influence of the KDP has not helped unifying this already small and scattered community.
According to Al-Adani, this situation leaves the Yazidis caught between two options: staying in the camps or migrating to a safe place. “What we hope is to rescue the Yazidis from their suffering, to rebuild their areas and to bring support and security,” he stated.
The Hell of the camps
Mr. Al-Adani described the conditions of the Yazidi survivors as catastrophic: “They live in the hell of the camps, many of them have lost their families and have no income. Many suffer from PTSD. Their psychological condition is very bad.”
“Yazidis expected to return to their original areas under the protection of the Iraqi government that would provide them with services” Al-Adani says. “They had big dreams, but they all faded, and their reality became worse.”
Earlier this month, the yazidi camp of Sharia burned to the ground, leaving its Yazidi IDPs in an even more desperate condition.
Displaced people from Sinjar .. and Palestine
The member of parliament Hassan Nermo remains pessimistic regarding the future of the community, making an interesting parrallel between theirs sufferance and the plight of the palestinian refugees: “After the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948, the Palestinians were forced to flee. Until now they are still in camps.” The spokesman fears a repetition of this bitter experience in Sinjar in light of the political conflicts the country is experiencing.
Mr. Nermo maintains that closing the camps will remain contingent on the outcome of these conflicts and of political meddling. “As long as there are manipulated elections”, the Internally Displaced People’s camps will constitute a profitable tool for political candidates. Even more, the camps still have a high potential for corruption.
It is worth mentioning that Mr. Narmo has repeatedly warned against the massive corruption in the IDPs’ camps. This corruption deviates parts of the humanitarian investment and maintains a state of misery in the camps where security measures are not guaranteed. This explains the fire incident that destroyed many tents in Sharia camp. “There have been more than 20 serious fire incidents in the camps. This only adds more suffering than is already there.”, the Yazidi representative noted.
In a study conducted on behalf of the International Organization for Migration by Saad Salloum (an academic and expert on religious diversity in Iraq), the return of the displaced Yazidis is linked to “complex situations in Sinjar,” which remains fueled by internal conflicts between political and armed forces. There is also a regional conflict between Turkey and Iran over the region due to its geopolitical importance. Whoever controls it actually controls the Iraqi-Turkish-Syrian border triangle, the report explained.
In his report, Mr. Salloum stressed that the return of the Yazidis in Sinjar is not only vital for their well being. Ensuring a sustainable return of the displaced from the camps of the Kurdistan region is also important for the general stability of the region.
The expert stated that the implementation of the Sinjar agreement would unify the multiple security factions in Sinjar.
On October 9, 2020, an agreement was concluded between the governments of Baghdad and Erbil, to jointly administer Sinjar, and to expel all non governmental armed groups from it, in preparation for the return of the displaced people.
Mr. Salloum stresses that the implementation of the agreement would prevent further conflicts in the region. Indeed, the divisions and partisanship within Sinjar’s district pose a constant threat to stability that could lead to more tragedies.