Pari Ibrahim

Revisiting Horrors of Yazidi Genocide in Sinjar 10 Years On


NEW YORK — On June 12, the Armenia-based Institute for Security Analysis sponsored an online discussion about the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the genocide inflicted upon the Yazidi (Yezidi) population in Sinjar, Iraq, by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or Daesh, where many were killed and thousands of women and children were kidnapped and enslaved.

(The abbreviation for Islamic State [ISIS] and ISIL are used interchangeably. In addition, the spelling Yazidi and Yezidi are both used.)

The discussants were Pari Ibrahim, executive director, Free Yezidi Foundation (FYF); Murad Ismael, president of Sinjar Academy and Elisa von Joeden-Forgey, executive director of the Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention. Khatchig Mouradian, a lecturer at Columbia University, served as moderator.

The genocide was launched on August 3, 2014, and by August 8, the US and UK responded with airstrikes on ISIL in northern Iraq.

Around 10,000 Yazidis were killed and 6,800 women and children were kidnapped by ISIL.

A theme frequently touched upon in the discussion was that the Yazidi population has not just experienced one genocide, but that throughout its existence, it has undergone many.

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Ibrahim established FYF in August 2014 to support Yezidi survivors of the ISIS-perpetrated genocide. The foundation’s core values include advocating for women’s rights, justice for gender-based and sexual violence, and the rights of ethno-religious minorities. Pari, from Iraq, advocates for equal opportunities and rights for Yezidis and promotes women’s empowerment and gender equality in Iraq. She holds a law degree from the University of Amsterdam.

Ibrahim praised the Yazidi community for being “very strong in their advocacy,” leading to the message of desperation being amplified worldwide as “our people were stranded on Mount Sinjar.”

Murad Ismael

She, however, said there has been no justice for the genocide inflicted on the Yazidis in Iraq, Syria or anywhere else.

The United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD), was established in 2017; in 2021 it presented its findings in a video. It has since ended its mission.

“All this information has been gathered. What will happen to it,” Ibrahim asked.

Continued Ibrahim, “How are you going to make sure we don’t see a lot of genocide cases? You want to see perpetrators behind bars.”

Making matters worse, she said, Yazidis don’t have a voice in Iraq or Syria. “It is very important to be politically empowered,” she said.

The effects of the genocide continue, she added. “Our youth have lost almost 10 years of their lives,” Ibrahim said, “losing the chance for continuing their education or working.” One cause she said, is that the Iraqi government is closing schools in camps where the Yazidis live.

The next speaker, Ismael, co-founded the Sinjar Crisis Management Team and was part of a delegation that secured US intervention. Murad co-founded the Yazda organization and the Nadia Initiative, named for one of the most famous advocates for Yazidis, Nadia Murad, and now serves as president of Sinjar Academy, an educational initiative.

Ismael noted that the painful Yazidi history is one they share with the Armenians. He added that while the events of 10 years ago were unimaginably painful, it was nowhere nearly as big in terms of scope as what the ISIS perpetrators had wanted. He said that “ISIS wanted to enslave half a million people but they took 10,000.”

Gaining recognition for the Yazidi genocide took a lot of effort. Once the UK, Germany and the Netherlands recognized it, so did the US.

“I consider these big successes,” he said, adding that in addition, 4,500 enslaved people were rescued.

There is much to rue, however, with 300 villages lost in Turkey and Syria, and 80,000 Yazidis leaving Syria, leading to the “termination of Yazidi existence in Syria,” Ismael said.

“The goal of ISIS was to take our homeland,” he said.

The Yazidi community is much more resilient today, he said, dealing with a new way of life, away from their traditional lands. “We are new to this world. We are a community in the mountains.”

The persecution of the people goes back hundreds of years, he noted, adding that in Yazidi history, they learn there have been 24 genocides committed against them.

What led to the Sinjar attack was the “external versus internal triangle between actors” Iraq, Syria and Turkey. The Sinjar events, he said, comprise “at least 1 million individual crimes.”

If things continue as they do now, there will be no Yazidis left in Iraq either. “We need to protect the [Sinjar] region. We want Sinjar to become a province in the future,” Ismael said, noting that Turkey and Iran are trying to get a foothold there.

Elisa von Joeden-Forgey

Von Joeden-Forgey said that the Yazidi genocide marked the “frontline of the international community to properly respond before, during and after” to a genocide. “ISIS was very open about how they view the Yazidis.”

Geopolitical interests, she said, can affect ancient peoples living there. When such crimes happen, members of the community need to ask, “who is profiting from this?”

There is a failure by the international community, she said, to “consider the fate of small communities. We don’t have sensitive early warning system.”

She had visited Sinjar in 2016 and 2017 and noted that many journalists preferred to focus only on the prurient details of the horrors in Sinjar, and that the governments and international authorities involved with the massacre oversight did not exactly come across well. One example she brought was that the mass graves there were not legally secured, and therefore a lot of evidence was lost.

Von Joeden-Forgey is a distinguished expert in genocide studies, gender issues, and the history of colonialism. She has held prestigious positions as the Endowed Chair in Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Keene State College and as the Dr. Marsha Raticoff Grossman Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Stockton University.

During the question-and-answer portion of the program, Ismael in particular dropped his guard and expressed his deep anger at the United Nations. “To me, the UN was the place to go for things. Now I know it’s an NGO looking for funding. They wanted to use us to get funding. They never asked how to help the people that were rescued. There is no quick reaction system. You have to do the job yourself. Do not expect anyone to protect you.”

He also referred to Karabakh (Artsakh), where, he said to the many Armenian viewers, “your people were removed from your land. The world is a nasty place.”

Ibrahim, who is based in the Netherland, added, “It is very clear to me this was a genocide. ISIS wanted to eradicate us because of who we are.”

It was only when President Obama allowed the start of airstrikes against ISIS that minds in Europe were changed regarding the seriousness of the crimes, she said.

She spoke about the women and children who are still in captivity, often used as sexual slaves. “I went to Syria last year. The world has failed the women and children that are in captivity. We did not get the funding and support we needed. Little girls, 8 or 9 years old, were sold as sex slaves.”

Ismael said populations have to make themselves more valuable so that they can’t be wiped out. He said his “heart and soul” was with the people of Gaza.

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