In the summer of 2014, the Islamic State (ISIS) committed genocide of the Yezidis in their largest city in Iraq and the world, Sinjar.
The Yezidis are a religious minority in the Middle East; their main center is Iraq. At the time that the genocide began, their number was no more than 550,000 people, according to the United Nations when it was evaluating the crimes committed by ISIS against the Yezidis, which were classified as genocide and crimes against humanity.
It seems clear that what happened at the time had a goal, namely to wipe out the presence of the Yezidis. While it appeared initially that the world had grasped the significance of these crimes, now the Yezidi cause is largely being neglected amid the many crises and regional wars around the world.
Iraq historically has been an area of great religious diversity; the genocide of the Yezidis was one aspect of the Islamic State’s efforts to destroy that. The captivity and rape of Yezidi women, using them as commodities and even opening slave markets in the twenty-first century, was not just mass exploitation and sexual assault; this type of attack was used as a means of ethnic cleansing.
One of those who observed these events, “Salloum,” an iraqi researcher and writer living in Baghdad and working at a Baghdad university, explains: “It was the commitment of women in war with the aim of intimidating and humiliating a religious minority and taking away their dignity, and also with the aim of influencing the ethnic composition of this religious minority, and therefore this act is part of the efforts (genocide) that tried to change the Yezidis and their beliefs and to influence the ethnic and religious composition of the region.”
Salloum’s words make it clear that the main goal of the Islamic State’s capture and rape of Yezidi women was to ensure that there would be no Yezidi society in the future, and that other such minorities would be neglected, regional conflicts prolonged, and protective measures undertaken between Erbil and Baghdad on the one hand and Turkey and Iran on the other hand.
Today, the surviving Yezidi community in Iraq is still suffering from the effects of the genocide, which continues to this day. This suffering is largely due to the fact that displaced persons, who are estimated to be more than 250,000 people, are still trying to return home. Yet their return is made difficult, and often impossible, by the lack of political consensus between the conflicting parties in Iraq around Sinjar, and repeated attacks by Turkey on the region, under the pretext of pursuing the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.
The conflict between the PKK and Turkey complicates the return of the displaced Yezidis to Sinjar, according to journalist Saman Daoud, who points out that the political differences between Baghdad and Erbil are also a reason for the delayed return of the displaced are their areas of origin.
Daoud argues that the solution lies in the existence of an international agreement that urges the parties to the conflict to solve the question of Sinjar in such a way that the Yezidis are guaranteed a safe and sustainable return and, given the immense destruction, a reconstruction fund for Sinjar. The region suffered immensely during the war with ISIS, and more than 80% of Sinjar was destroyed.
Yet it seems that the international community has begun to neglect the question of the Yezidis. The media also have forgotten what happened to the Yezidis, as they are absorbed with the Russian-Ukrainian war, which gets the most media coverage and has overshadowed all other problems, although to some extent the crises are similar.
The neglect of the Yezidis has also led them to put their internal differences aside. The public interest prompted Yezidi youth in Sinjar to break their silence about the neglect of their cause by community leaders, as well as the neglect of the Sinjar question by the Iraqi government and its inability to solve the problem. All this forced the youth to begin issuing warnings and get involved.
There were violent clashes between the Iraqi armed forces and the Sinjar protection units “Al-Yabsha” in some civilian areas in Sinjar at the beginning of this month, which led many families back to the refugee camps in the greatest wave of displacement after the events of 2014. This has prompted many Yezidi young people in Sinjar to join vigils to denounce the violence and to call for the withdrawal of armed groups from the city, with security handed over to the Iraqi security forces. Members of the Yezidi community point to their destroyed houses and accuse the international community, for all of its humanitarian posturing, of neglecting their persistent suffering.