Iraq: Yazidi Victims of Genocide Still Cannot Go Home

Vicken Cheterian
Armenian Journalist and Writer
Published on 17.05.2023
Reading time: 4 minutes

While many former ISIS members and their families are returning home, most Yazidis remain in camps. Iraqi politicians do not take the genocide seriously.

Barzan Jurdo is 29, 9 years of which he spent in a refugee camp. We are sitting in front of his plastic tent in his temporary home Qasr Yazdin. 

Jurdo managed to escape his house in Sinjar on August 3, 2014, when the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS) attacked the town and surrounding Yazidi villages – raping, killing, kidnapping and enslaving. 

While it has been years since ISIS was defeated and driven out of Sinjar, Jurdo still cannot return home. 

“Our house has been destroyed, and we do not have the means to rebuild it,” he explained, “But also, Sinjar is not safe. There are numerous armed groups out there.”

Qasr Yazdin is located in the Duhok province in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. It is a makeshift camp, which houses some 200 Yazidi families that all have a horror story to tell. 

The little refugee “village” is not far from the Khanke camp under supervision of the United Nations, which offers health and education services. Why does Barzan Jurdo not live there? 

“Because there is no place in the camp”, he replied. “I think I will try to leave Iraq. There is no future here. Especially not for Yazidis.”

ISIS spread terror in Sinjar from August 3, 2014, until November 13, 2015, when Kurdish and Yazidi fighters, supported by coalition airstrikes, retook the town. 

Yet, only a few of its former inhabitants have since gone back. The city was once home to some 70,000 inhabitants. Today it has no more than 2,000.

“Hardly 150,000 from the original 400,000 have returned to their homes” said Mirza Dinnayi, a prominent Yazidi rights activist and community leader. Most returned to villages north of Mount Sinjar. 

“Another 100,000 people have left the country,” he continued. “No Yazidi, no Christian feels secure. Because they ask themselves: what will happen if another ISIS comes?” 

Security is the main obstacle for Yazidis to return home. Sinjar (or Shingal for the locals) has become a bone of contention between rival political groups and their armed factions.

The Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), the Kurdistan Workers party (PKK), the Iraqi army, the Hash al-Shaabi or Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) all control parts of the region. 

In addition, the Turkish military regularly carries out air-raids against Kurdish guerrillas based in the Sinjar mountains, while from time to time it threatens to launch a major military attack. 

This power struggle, in addition to the lack of any serious aid to rebuild what was destroyed, makes a Yazidi return home virtually impossible. 

No Reconciliation

While many Yazidis still cannot go back, some former ISIS members and their families do return. 

On April 28, a demonstration took place in Sinjar. Several Arab families, who had previously joined ISIS, were returned home by the Iraqi army. 

A Yazidi woman identified one of them. His nickname was Haji Ayad. He was an ISIS member who had kidnapped and raped her. In a video she says she recognized him, adding that her father and brother, who were both kidnapped by ISIS, remain unaccounted for. 

Dozens of Yazidis started a demonstration to express their anger, demanding that the families who had committed crimes would not be allowed to return. Yet, what followed shows to what extent hate speech against Yazidis continues in Iraq. 

Rumours started circulating, spread by some religious leaders and the mass media, claiming that Yazidis had attacked and burnt down a Sunni Muslim mosque in Sinjar.  

The video footage, which actually dates from a 2014 attack against the Mosib ben Omar mosque in Dayala, circulated on social media and several Sheikhs made fiery sermons during Friday prayers. The Yazidis feared that the rumours of an attack on a mosque could trigger new acts of violence against their community.

The event illustrates how ISIS families, who for years lived in camps, are being returned through political deals, without a proper process of reconciliation in place regarding their victims. 

“Sunni Arab are still not ready to apologize for what happened to Yazidis, Christians, Shabaks, and others,” said Dinnayi. 

Hassan Jindi Hammo is both a refugee from Tal Banat and a police officer in charge of security in Qasr Yazdin camp. He was working in the early hours of August 3, 2014, when ISIS attacked Sinjar. 

“We did not expect an attack,” he said. “We were surprised and forced to escape to the mountain.” 

In the massacres that followed he lost 14 of his family members, including his father. 

Who were the attackers, I asked. 

“In the first two days, those who attacked us were our neighbours from villages next door,” he said. “Now, these ex-ISIS fighters are returning under the protection of the army. They do not apologise. They are proud of what they did, and then say they are innocent.”

Adding: “Until now, politicians in Iraq don’t take the genocide of Yazidis seriously.”

Vicken Cheterian
Armenian Journalist and Writer
Published on 17.05.2023
Reading time: 4 minutes

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