While the Turks are celebrating the conversion of the ancient Hagia Sophia church into a mosque and the British debating whether 20-year-old Islamic State (ISIS) bride Shamima Begum should be allowed back in Britain, the genocide of the Yazidis from the same region almost lies forgotten.
August 3 marks the sixth anniversary of the Yazidi genocide when ISIS fighters swarmed Sinjar in 2014, in northwest Iraq on the Syria border, and began their senseless slaughter of this ancient ethnic group of people. While the men and boys were killed, the girls and women were kidnapped, raped, sold and re-sold.
The ISIS campaign against the Yazidis in August 2014 led to the killing of nearly 5,000 men and the kidnapping of 7,000 girls and women—some as young as nine—for sexual slavery. The rampaging ISIS fighters destroyed Yazidi homes and villages with a view to completely wiping out one of the most persecuted minority groups in the world. The large Iraqi force safeguarding northern Iraq fled once they saw the small black-clad ISIS militia advance into Yazidi areas.
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Even now nearly 3,000 Yazidi girls are believed to be in captivity and dozens of mass graves of Yazidi men have not yet been examined. Even now hundreds of thousands remain displaced in makeshift camps in northern Iraq living in inhospitable conditions. Poverty, weather and relentless fear has weakened them further six years after the massacre.
Considered to be one of the world's oldest ethnic groups, they follow their own religion ‘Yazidi’ which has elements from Christianity, Islam and Zoroastrianism. They follow a mix of rituals including pagan ones due to which they have faced numerous genocides over centuries. As most people in the region think Yazidis are devil worshippers, the ISIS began its brutal extermination as the Yazidi culture did not fit in with their Islamic notions.
Believed to be around seven lakhs, most Yazidis live in northern Iraq and smaller numbers are settled in parts of Syria, Iran and Turkey.
As the ISIS made advances in northern Iraq, the men and boys were told to convert to Islam and the others were executed. The ISIS collected all personal valuables and money from the males before they were led away for mass executions. The Yazidi girls and women were separated according to their age and whether they were married. They too were robbed of their valuables and then taken sold off for sexual slavery and domestic work. As the conflict raged in Iraq, the girls were exchanged between fighters, gifted away, sold and resold—in accordance with the wishes of the fighters.
As the ISIS pushed further into villages and towns, many Yazidis fled into Kurd-controlled areas in Iraq and Syria. Despite the odds, the Yazidis fought back and many escaped from ISIS clutches. Others collected money to bribe or pay ransom to the fighters. Others used networks to free up relatives and women from ISIS.
Nadia Murad, who was kidnapped in August 2014 and sold into sex slavery, escaped to tell her tale. Murad, a 2018 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is an advocate for survivors of sexual violence. She has since then launched the Nadia Initiative to talk about and fight for justice for Yazīdī women. On the sixth <a href="https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/08/1069432"><strong>anniversary of the Yazidi genocide</strong></a>, she urged the international community to strive for justice for the Iraqi minority.
In a similar appeal, Amal Alamuddin Clooney, noted Lebanese-British lawyer and activist, who has taken up the cause of the Yazidis too spoke about the urgency to <a href="https://ezidi24.com/en/?p=5839"><strong>deliver justice to the victims</strong> </a>and also protect the other ethno-religious minorities in Iraq from future atrocities.
The fear that time is running out for the Yazidis and that the world is beginning to forget the violent war crimes and inhuman treatment meted out to them, many Yazidi groups had even in 2019 initiated the campaign, #DoNotForgetUs, to seek justice.