Eight years has passed since the genocidal attack of the Islamic State (IS) in Sinjar which marked one of the most tragic chapters in the history of Yezidis in Kurdistan. On 8th August 2014, the extremist group stormed Sinjar in northwest of Mosul, massacred thousands of innocent people, abducted thousands more and the rest only managed to leave their whole life behind and escape.
Out of 6,417 Yezidi men and women abducted by IS, a total of 2,761 are still missing, according to Saood Misto, head of Yezidis Office at Kurdistan Region’s Ministry of Endowment and Religious Affairs, who spoke to BasNews for an exclusive interview on the anniversary.
[Below is the translation of the interview, slightly modified for clarity.]
Yezidis’ message on the eighth anniversary of the genocide
BasNews: Eight years have passed since the genocide of the Yezidis. What have you done in these eight years and what is the message of your people to the world?
Misto: Eight years on, unfortunately there has not been much done to help the Yezidis heel. There has been no effective legal actions to face those involved in the massacre with justice, there has been no effective compensation for those affected by this tragedy, there has been no reconstruction of the devastated homeland of the Yezidi region, and there has been no initiative to help the displaced Yezidis safely return home. These have all together led the Yezidis to despair and hopelessness.
Kurdistan Region’s Ministry of Martyrs and Anfal Affairs, together with Duhok Governorate and General Directorate of Yezidi Affairs, have organized a ceremony on 3 August to mark the eighth anniversary of this tragedy. There are also subsequent events taking place in Erbil and elsewhere. We want to deliver a message to the people, policymakers, and the international community and the sufferings of the Yezidis is not over; that the Yezidis are still struggling with traumas which hurt them more than the genocide itself. Up to this date, Sinjar is the battleground for political and military confrontations for external actors. This has forced the Yezidis to see migration to other countries the only option. More than 20% of the Yezidis have already left for other countries and the rest are mainly living in IDP camps in the Kurdistan Region.
The Erbil-Baghdad Agreement of 2020 is the only thing we are hopeful about. We call on the international community to pressure the Iraqi Federal Government to implement the agreement in full so state administration, security, and stability are restored in the area and the Yezidis would finally be able to return to their homes. It is important to remember that the living conditions at IDP camps are dire — there have been several deadly incidents, the people are exhausted, and the international organizations have limited their support for the displaced people.
Therefore, our message is simple: help us end the displacement of the Yezidis and return them home with dignity, and help us bring those who were involved in the genocide of the Yezidis to justice.
BasNews: You visited the EU Parliament as part of an official government delegation to discuss the designation of the massacre of Yezidis as genocide. What happened to the case? How many countries have so far designated the genocide of the Yezidis?
Misto: A total of 11 European Parliaments have so far designated the massacre of Yezidis as genocide. Germany is planning to vote on it after the summer recess of the legislature. While we welcome any initiative by the international community to recognize the genocide of the Yezidis, everyone should realize that such actions alone do not heel the bleeding wound of the victims if they are not followed by practical actions.
As it is evident, nothing practical has happened in reality when it comes to the living conditions of the Yezidis. We need decisions which can have positive impacts on the lives of our people, not only expressing sympathy and condemning the atrocities. But we are still hopeful that these decisions on papers will be translated into actions so the Yezidis would finally feel peace.
BasNews: Do you think the word entirely sympathizes with the Yezidis and ready to designate the case as genocide, or there are some countries reluctant to do so?
Misto: We don’t believe there is any country not feeling the Yezidis, but states carefully consider their own interests before taking any decision, especially the major powers. For example, the United Kingdom supported the UNSC’s resolution 2379 which was the result of the investigations by the UNITAD [Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL]. The world countries are all principally united on the case, but the designations remain on the level of legislatures and not executive bodies in those countries. That’s why there have not made remarkable impacts on the lives of the Yezidis.
BasNews: How helpful is the Iraqi Federal Government to secure more designations for the case of the Yezidi genocide?
Misto: Since the very beginning, the Iraqi government has not full filled any of its responsibilities, not from a humanitarian viewpoint, not legal. And there is not political will in prospect for Baghdad to fulfill its duties. If it was not an international initiative by the UNITAD, we believe that the Iraqi government would have not even taken part in the process of documenting the IS atrocities against the Yezidis and the exhumation of the Yezidi mass graves.
The Iraqi government, up to this date, has not even taken any practical steps to help the case of the Yezidis. Quite the opposite, it has created some obstacles in some cases. For instance, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) prepared a draft bill to establish a specialized court for trial of IS members involved in the genocide of the Yezidis, but the [Supreme] Federal Court [of Iraq] soon rejected the initiative, saying that the regional government of Kurdistan does not have the authority to establish such a court. The Iraqi government itself shows no commitment to the case, but the question is that why it blocks initiatives by others who are willing to respond the the plea of the Yezidis.
Article 132 of the Iraqi Constitution has made it clear that the government of Iraq is obliged to compensate all those people affected by such tragedies. Baghdad is just not willing to fulfill its duties, but he KRG has done what is within its capacity, from forming the committee to introduce the genocide of the Yezidis across the globe to forming a specialized committee for documentation of the genocide.
Latest updates on Yezidi abductees
BasNews: How many people have so far been rescued from IS and how many are still missing?
Misto: From 6,417 Yezidis abducted by IS, a total of 3,353 people have so far been freed, including 1,207 women, 393 men, and 1,050 children. The children include 956 boys and 94 girls.
The total number of those still missing is 2,761. They are scattered around Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, but the majority are believed to be trapped inside Camp Hol in northeast Syria. Those recently rescued were all in Camp Hol, mistakenly arrested with families of IS militants. Germany, France, Canada, and Australia had projects to help the rescued, but the most effective project was the one by Germany.
BasNews: What is the problem that the rest have not been rescued yet?
Misto: If the Iraqi government felt responsible for this case, we could have rescue many more through official channels, like reaching out to the governments in Turkey and Syria. Concerning those trapped inside Camp Hol, the issue is negligence in the local administration [of the Syrian Kurdistan].
BasNews: It has been a year since the opening of the General Directorate for Yezidi Women Freed from IS in Mosul, which is under the administration of the Iraqi Council of Ministers. Is this office effective?
Misto: This office, chaired by a Yezidi director, works under the jurisdiction of the Iraq’s Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. However, it has not been granted any budget to fund projects to help the rescued Yezidis. A few months ago, the general directorate organized a conference in Baghdad to mark its first anniversary. The prime minister of Iraq and several other high-ranking officials were present there. But they only read speeches without drawing a roadmap to help the Yezidis and show commitment to support the office.
Those who have helped so far are the Kurdistan Regional Government and the people of Kurdistan, who opened their arms to the Yezidis from day one after they escaped Sinjar. Several foreign countries and international organizations also played a significant role, including the German GIZ, which have implemented important humanitarian projects to help the Yezidi IDPs. The first days after the genocide, when the international organizations were yet to respond, the Barzani Charity Foundation was on the forefront to help the displaced, and they are still on the forefront of delivering daily humanitarian support to the IDP camps.
Current Situation in Sinjar
BasNews: How is the situation in Sinjar now?
Misto: I would say it is more difficult that before. It is about hope and people’s optimism concerning the future of the region. When Sinjar was under the control of IS, people had the hope that it will be liberated one day. When the Peshmerga and Coalition forces finally liberated Sinjar, people had the hope that it will be reconstructed one day. But after 16 October 2017, when Hashd al-Shaabi militias and the armed groups of the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] entered the region, it was the time when people lost hope. The Iraqi government’s failure in implementing the 2020’s Erbil-Baghdad Agreement just made it more difficult for the people to stay optimistic about the situation in Sinjar.
BasNews: Who is responsible for the chaos in Sinjar?
Misto: The Iraqi government is responsible because the Kurdistan Regional Government is not present there to implement the Sinjar agreement, therefore, Baghdad is required to take the step and restore administration and security in Sinjar through the deal it has signed with Erbil.
BasNews: The militia groups and armed forces currently in control of Sinjar claim that the indigenous people of the region are happy with their rule. Is that true on the ground?
Misto: It was only last year when the parliamentary elections revealed the truth about people’s opinion. Not a single candidate of the Hashd al-Shaabi or the PKK was election. But the Yezidis voted for the candidates of the Kurdistan Region, especially those from the Kurdistan Democratic Party. This is the answer; it shows the who is the choice of the people of Sinjar to govern the area. They have chosen the Peshmerga over the Hashd al-Shaabi and PKK.
BasNews: Why some parties create obstacles to the implementation of Erbil-Baghdad Agreement for stabilization of the situation in Sinjar?
Misto: Because they only think about their own interests, for which the people of Sinjar have to pay the price with their fate and future.
BasNews: What is a viable solution to this ongoing instability in Sinjar?
Misto: The solution is, again, the same agreement of 2020 that was signed by Erbil and Baghdad. The articles in the agreement fairly serve the interests of the people of Sinjar and they are aimed to restore stability, security, and services in Sinjar to pave the way for the return of the displaced families.