4 years have passed since the 73rd genocide of the Êzîdîs in Sinjar (Şengal), but tens of thousands of people are still displaced from their homes, and thousands remain captive in the hands of the terrorists who perpetrated this crime against humanity. However, the people of Sinjar survived and emerged from the genocide to build a new life.
Throughout history, the Êzîdî society has faced many genocides, and in 2014 this happened once again – this time occurring in front of the eyes of world. On the fourth anniversary of this genocide, though the wounds of Sinjar have not completely healed, the Êzîdî society has created a new life for themselves after surviving the killing, kidnapping, torture, and pain of this most recent genocide.
What actually happened to the Êzîdî people, how were they freed, what were the developments in the region after the genocide, and how is the current situation? On the anniversary of the genocide, we briefly recount the events of those days and provide an overview of the situation of the region.
The occupation of Mosul
The ISIS (Islamic State) terrorists invaded and occupied large parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014 and committed great atrocities, targeting both Kurdish society and followers of the region’s ancient religious beliefs. On 10 June 2014, ISIS occupied the second largest city of Iraq, Mosul, committed large massacres and blew up many religious sites.
Iraqi military forces withdraw from Sinjar
With the occupation of the Nineveh plain, the district of Sinjar, part of the Nineveh (Mosul) province and the ancestral home of many Êzîdîs (a non-Muslim religious minority), faced a grave and imminent threat. The Iraqi Army, which had withdrawn from Mosul, also withdrew from Sinjar. ISIS continued perpetrating massacres in the region and threatened all who they deemed “nonbelievers”. Thus, the danger facing Sinjar and the Êzîdî community intensified.
Peshmerga forces arrived to protect the region and then withdrew
After the Iraqi military withdrew from the region, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) sent 12,000 peshmerga fighters to Sinjar. At this time, ISIS continued its attacks around Mosul and occupied many villages and towns in the area of Sinjar. The people of Sinjar, now under serious threat, put their faith in the peshmerga forces and prepared to defend their homes. However, the peshmerga forces left the area without notice.
The 73rd genocide
As people fled, ISIS continued attacking Sinjar. With the exception of a road to the border of Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) through Rabi’a, all roads from Sinjar were controlled by ISIS. The road to Rojava was under the control of the forces affiliated with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), but supplies were unable to pass through. At the beginning of August 2014, ISIS was shelling the center of Sinjar, but citizens were not allowed to use the Rabi’a road to pass through to secure regions within southern (Iraqi) Kurdistan. During these days, the terrorists occupied the town of Rabi’a and Sinjar was completely surrounded. There was no way for the people to leave.
Massacres during a time of celebration
ISIS attacked Sinjar from four sides and perpetrated a massacre. 2-3 August were the bloodiest days. On 2 August, as the Êzîdîs prepared to celebrate Çilê Havînê (“the Forty [Days] of Summer,” a festival following the completion of 40 days of fasting and worship in the middle of the summer), at 2:00 AM ISIS attacked the villages of Siba Sheikh Khidir and Gir Zerik in southern Sinjar. The Êzîdî youths resisted the attackers in both villages for hours and waited for assistance from the peshmerga. However, help from the peshmerga did not materialize and the villagers did not have sufficient ammunition, and a massacre occurred.
3 August – the greatest brutality
As the ISIS terror intensified its attacks, the peshmerga forces, during the early hours of 3 August, withdrew completely from the region. According to reports on the departure of the peshmerga forces, an order was issued to withdraw. Despite this order for withdrawal, a small group of peshmerga resisted in a few locations. Sinjar was left defenseless and its civilian population was abandoned to ISIS. According to reports, at the time 500,750 people remained in Sinjar. ISIS attacked the center of Sinjar on 3 August and killed those who they encountered. Thousands of men, women and children were kidnapped. Hundreds of thousands of Êzîdîs fleeing ISIS headed to Mt. Sinjar, including children, women and the elderly. Tens of thousands were not able to escape with their lives. Thousands were kidnapped or disappeared. Concerning the mass killings, kidnappings, those who were tortured and otherwise disappeared, much remains unclear and differing figures are often presented. Per various studies, selected statistics concerning the genocide can be presented:
People killed: 1,293
Children left without a father: 1,759
Children left without a mother: 407
Children left without a father or mother: 359
Children whose parents’ fate is unknown: 220
Total number of children left without a father or mother, or whose parents’ fate is unknown: 2,745
People kidnapped: 6,417 (of whom 2,760 women, 788 girls, and 2,869 men and boys)
Mass graves discovered: 68 (to date, the victims in these graves have been exhumed)
Holy sites destroyed: 68
Hundreds of thousands displaced
During the genocide, Mt. Sinjar provided shelter to hundreds of thousands of people from Sinjar and its villages. Surrounded on all sides by the ISIS terrorists, young and old alike, hundreds of thousands in total, fled to Mt. Sinjar. Press coverage of the events of those days chronicled the tragic results of a large-scale crime against humanity as it unfolded. Children, parents, and even over 70-year-old men and women were stranded on the mountain without food and water. Fleeing from the ISIS assault, many children and elderly people died from the heat of the summer, as well as hunger and thirst. Research indicates that 360,000 people were displaced from their homes. Hundreds of thousands took shelter on Mt. Sinjar, facing the threat of a massacre at the hands of ISIS.
OPENING OF THE HUMANITARIAN CORRIDOR AND THE LIBERATION OF THE REGION
After hundreds of thousands of Êzîdîs who fled to Mt. Sinjar were surrounded by the ISIS terrorists and found themselves under imminent threat of massacre, the Kurdish liberation movement intervened and undertook a historic defensive operation, with efforts beginning after the threat to Sinjar was initially perceived. A small group of guerrillas from the People’s Protection Forces (HPG, the armed units of the PKK) who travelled to the region engaged in a historic defense of the Êzîdî people and prevented a large-scale massacre. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) sent additional groups of guerrillas to protect the region, and the fighters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) of Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) together opened a humanitarian corridor for the displaced Yazidis between Sinjar and Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan). The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) had sent 12,000 peshmerga fighters to the region, but these peshmerga were withdrawn after the ISIS attacks of 3 August.
The PKK and YPG intervene
One of the main forces who protected Sinjar (Şengal) was the PKK. When ISIS occupied Mosul, the PKK initiated its efforts and alerted other Kurdish groups to the danger facing Sinjar. A specialised team of 12 guerrillas was sent to prepare for the defense of Sinjar, but the forces of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) detained 3 of them.
People’s Defense Central Headquarters Commander Murat Karayilan appeared on Sterk TV one day later and spoke about this topic, “We are ready to defend Sinjar, Kirkuk and Makhmour. We made a call and our colleagues in foreign relations presented recommendations in relevant meetings, but they were not accepted. If certain measures were taken, it would not have unfolded this way. Our recommendations were not accepted, and a specialised team was sent to Sinjar to make preparations. However, when the peshmerga forces became aware of this, they detained 3 members of this team, and after 20 days in custody they have still not been released.” In this same program, Karayilan indicated that they would intervene in Sinjar and protect the Êzîdî people.
Writing the modern epic of Derweshê Evdî
Though the Êzîdîs were surrounded by the ISIS terrorists, the PKK had made the decision to intervene. At this time, the guerrillas who were tasked with the protection of Sinjar stepped in. Of these 12 guerrillas, 3 were detained, though the 9 remaining guerrillas arrived and defended Mt. Sinjar and hundreds of thousands of people. In the Kursi Valley, the guerrilla forces were able to prevent ISIS from advancing. On the outskirts of Sinjar, the guerrillas used heavy weaponry left behind by the peshmerga forces to strike at ISIS and repel them.
The famous Kurdish epic of Derweshe Evdi recounts how Derwesh, with 12 horsemen, heroically resisted against 1,500 enemy fighters, and in this same way the guerrillas, on the same land, wrote a new epic of resistance. Of these 12 guerrillas, 3 were detained by the KDP, and the 9 others resisted until 2 additional battalions of guerrilla fighters reached Mt. Sinjar.
The establishment of the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBŞ) and the opening of the humanitarian corridor
With the intervention of the guerrillas of the HPG and YJA-STAR (the autonomous women’s army of the PKK) and the fighters of YPG and YPJ, an operation was initiated on 4 August from the town of Jaz’a in Rojava against the ISIS terrorists, who now faced significant resistance from these forces. Concurrently, with the assistance of the guerrilla forces, the Êzîdî people established the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBŞ).
The intervention of the HPG, YJA-STAR, YPG and YPJ forces inflicted a heavy blow against ISIS. These forces were able to secure Mt. Sinjar and also open a humanitarian corridor 70 kilometers long between Rojava and Sinjar. Using this corridor, hundreds of thousands of displaced Êzîdîs were able to flee to secure locations.
The refugee crisis and the world’s silence
Utilising the corridor opened by the resistance forces, displaced people, young and old alike, entered Rojava by the thousands. Their journey was one of great pain and extreme difficulty magnified by the heat of the summer. In the face of this tragedy of epic proportions, the world nonetheless remained silent – seemingly seeing and hearing nothing of this humanitarian disaster. Rojava’s Democratic Autonomous Administration prepared as much as possible for the arrival of these people, readying vehicles as, group by group, they migrated to Rojava. Research indicates that 360,000 people were displaced from Sinjar, and approximately 10,000 remained at Mt. Sinjar under the protection of the resistance forces.
As the Êzîdîs arrived in Rojava, the Kurdistan Red Crescent and other organisations there welcomed them with lifesaving aid, food and water. A large group had entered Rojava, and, though Rojava itself was under an embargo at the time, strong efforts were made to assist these refugees. Despite the obstacles faced, the Newroz Camp was established for these refugees in the city of Derik (al-Malikiyah), and thousands settled there.
Thousands of Yazidis migrated from Rojava to southern and northern Kurdistan (i.e. Kurdish regions of Iraq and Turkey) and camps were established for them there as well. Among these camps were the following:
South Kurdistan (Iraq)
Sulaymaniyah province: Arbat
Dohuk province: Bajit Kandala, Sharya, Kabarto 1, Kabarto 2, Khanke
Zakho: Qadiya, Bersive
North Kurdistan (Turkey)
Amed (Diyarbakir), Mardin, Sirnak
The camps in northern Kurdistan were established and supplied by the municipalities run by the DBP (Democratic Regions Party). However, after Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) seized control of these municipalities, these camps for the Êzîdî refugees were closed and the refugees were relocated to camps administered by the Turkish government’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), which also hosted many people from Syria and other areas. In these camps, living under difficult conditions, the refugees experienced additional suffering.
LIBERATION OF THE REGION, RETURN AND A NEW LIFE
After the opening of the humanitarian corridor, the region was liberated in stages and, within a year, the Êzîdîs’ holy land was cleansed of the presence and threat of ISIS terror. The people of the region began to return, and the Êzîdîs began to express their will to engage in self-defense and protect themselves through politics, culture, education, health and economic efforts. Hundreds of thousands of Êzîdî civilians were protected and helped to migrate to safer areas in the face of the savage attacks of ISIS. However, ISIS continued to occupy part of the region and pose a grave threat to the Êzîdîs. Thus, the most urgent task was to protect the people and establish security for the region.
The Sinjar Resistance Units (YBŞ) and the steps to liberation
After the guerrillas of the HPG and YJA-STAR (the armed units of the PKK) and the fighters of the YPG and YPJ took control of Mt. Sinjar and opened the humanitarian corridor between Sinjar (Şengal) and Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan), the campaign to liberate the region had begun. At this time, the Êzîdîs who had resisted the ISIS offensives alongside the guerrilla forces began to organize themselves with the assistance of the HPG and YJA-STAR. In September 2014, the formation of the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBŞ) was officially proclaimed, and thus, for the first time, the Êzîdî society established, through its own will, a protection force. Thousands of Êzîdîs joined the YBŞ.
Along with organisation for defense on the current war front, initial steps were taken toward the campaign to liberate occupied areas. On 19 December 2014, the YBŞ, backed by the guerrillas of the HPG and YJA-STAR, launched an operation against ISIS. In this historic resistance operation in which many YBŞ fighters and HPG and YJA-STAR guerrillas were martyred, the community’s holy land was liberated bit by bit. In December 2014, the town of Khanasor, which would become a base for the new institutions of the people, was liberated along with surrounding villages.
The establishment of the Sinjar Women’s Defense Units (YJŞ) and liberation of the center of Sinjar
In 2015, the liberation efforts were broadened, especially to the west and south of Mt. Sinjar. At the same time, the strength of Sinjar’s defense forces grew, with more people joining their ranks. Most notably, the participation of women increased and, that same year, the Sinjar Women’s Defense Units (YJŞ) were established. With breakthroughs in the liberation campaign, areas such as Mediban, Sikeniye, the Shilo Valley (the Valley of Martyrs) and tens of nearby villages were freed. Then, the large step was taken to liberate the center of Sinjar. Finally, on 13 November 2015, the HPG and YJA-STAR guerrillas and the YBŞ and YJŞ fighters together with Iraqi forces eliminated all ISIS presence from the center of Sinjar.
The liberation of those captured by ISIS
Together with the liberation campaign, special operations were undertaken to free the children, women and men who had been captured by ISIS. Until now, 3,300 people have been freed from ISIS captivity and returned to their families.
The people’s return and the foundation of a new system
Once the region was liberated and security was established, the Êzîdî people who survived and had not migrated abroad returned to their ancestral holy land. Despite many obstacles and attacks, this return continues to the present day. However, ISIS occasionally attacked certain villages – for example, in 2017, a group that was said to have been assisted by Turkey attacked Khanasor and, at the same time, Turkish military jets bombed Mt. Sinjar. At present, the roads to Dohuk and Erbil are closed and only the road to Mosul is open. However, now the people have a true belief in their power of self-defense, and they continue to return. Because the process of return is ongoing, precise figures are not available, though the leadership of Sinjar state that over 50,000 have returned to their homes.
With the return of the people, the Êzîdî society began to organize itself. The primary slogan of this effort was, “We have gained much from history, therefore now we must build our own system according to our own will.” And thus, institutions were established addressing all realms of life and society. On 14 January 2015, the Sinjar Constituent Assembly was established, and, under this umbrella assembly, many other institutions were created. That year, the assembly, in the name of Êzîdî society, demanded that the world powers officially recognize the 73rd genocide as a genocide, and that Sinjar be recognised as an autonomous region. The Êzîdî Women’s Assembly was also established, after growing, was renamed the Êzîdxan Women’s Freedom Movement (TAJÊ, with Ezidxan meaning “the land of the Yazidis”).
Security, education and culture
With the return of the people and the formation of a new order, there was a pressing need for internal security. To address this issue, the Êzîdxan Asayish (Security Forces of Êzîdxan) was formed in 2016, and thousands, women and men alike, joined its ranks.
One of the main elements of the new order was education. For the first time, a system for mother tongue education was implemented. In this framework, public and independent academies were established, and they educated and trained hundreds of teachers. Efforts were also made to open schools in Khanasor and Sardasht, and hundreds of children were educated there. At present, education in Kurdish, Arabic and English is offered in Sinjar, Sinune, Sardasht and Khanasor, and discussions with the Baghdad government concerning the educational system are ongoing.
Steps have also been taken in the cultural realm to preserve and protect the faith of Êzîdism as well as the culture and language of the Êzîdî people, and culture and art centers have been opened in the region.
Public services, the economy and health
An important step in the construction of the new system was the provision of public services. At the beginning, a municipality was established in Sardasht and issues related to roads, water, and other matters were addressed. In recent years, municipalities have also been established in Zorava, Guhbal, Borik, Dihola, Dugura, Sinune, and Khanasor as well as in the center of Sinjar, and are serving the people.
With respect to the economy, efforts were undertaken to establish cooperatives. At present cooperatives have been established addressing water and sewerage in the region, and work has also been undertaken to form a farming cooperative. To provide health services, hospitals have also been opened in Khanasor, Sardasht and Sinjar.
One of the most important steps was taken in the political area. The Êzîdîs who, in 2003, established the Êzîdî Democratic Freedom Movement (TEVDA), held a congress on 24 August 2016 and changed the party’s name to the Freedom and Democracy Party of Êzîdîs (PADÊ). In 2017, PADÊ was officially recognised by the authorities in Baghdad as a political party, and participated in Iraq’s most recent parliamentary elections on 12 May 2018, winning over 6,000 votes in Sinjar.
With the growth of these new systems, the Sinjar Constituent Assembly held its second congress on 30 May 2017 and changed its name to the Sinjar Democratic Autonomous Assembly. On 20 August 2017, the assembly issued a statement entitled the “Project for Democratic Autonomy of Sinjar” which included 23 points, making their goals known to public opinion.
The guerrilla forces withdraw from the region
After 4 years, the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) Executive Council, in March 2018, issued a statement announcing that security had been established in Sinjar and, having accomplished their goals, the guerrillas were withdrawing from Sinjar.
After 4 years, it can be said that a new life has been established in Sinjar and, within the framework in which it was built, the will of Êzîdxan has been accepted. The Êzîdxan defense forces, the YBŞ and YŞJ, have been officially accepted as a part of the region’s defense force. PADE has been acknowledged as an expression of the political will of the people and their work continues. Work is ongoing with the Baghdad administration with respect to education, culture, and religion in the region, along with efforts concerning the acceptance and sanction of the autonomous administration per the constitution of Iraq.
Originally published in Kurdish on ROJNEWS: https://rojnews.news/ku/kurdistan/fermana-73-yan-u-ji-nuve-vejin-3-23810