The entrance to Sinjar City, northern Iraq.
(photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)
On Wednesday, hundreds of Yazidis, members of a religious minority in Iraq, gathered in the village of Kocho to commemorate the 2014 genocide perpetrated by Islamic State. Hundreds of families in the village were systematically separated. The women and children sold as slaves, while the men machine-gunned, and their bodies dumped in mass graves. An hour after the ceremony was over, an air strike hit one of the trucks that had departed, killing several people.
Among the victims was a mustachioed 66-year-old man nicknamed Zaki Shingali, known among local Yazidis as a brave fighter who had fought ISIS and saved people in 2014. Sometimes called “Mam Zaki” or “Uncle Zaki,” he was a wanted man across the border in Turkey. His convoy of several vehicles were all struck, according to locals.
Ankara says it “neutralized” one of the most wanted Kurdistan Workers Party members in Wednesday’s raid. Shingali was a senior figure in Sinjar,
the area around Kocho that includes a mountain and city by the same name. It is called “Shingal” in Kurdish. His original name was Ismail Ozden, Turkish media reported. “He was neutralized in a joint operation by Turkish Armed Forces and intelligence (MIT) in Sinjar,” Turkish authorities said.
Many Yazidi activists are outraged over the air strike. Regardless of his party affiliation or Ankara’s accusations, they say that he saved many people in 2014 from ISIS. New York Times correspondent Rukmini Callimachi, who interviewed Shingali in 2015, says he was “a beloved figure among the Yazidi minority.” Murad Ismail, a co-founder of Yazda, an organization that supports Yazidis, said the death was received with “great sadness.” The sadness was compounded by the fact the air strike took place soon after the Kocho ceremony where many Yazidis had gathered to heal in a place of so much suffering.
Pari Ibrahim, a member of the Free Yezidi Foundation, told Kurdistan 24, a Kurdish-language broadcast news station based in Hawler, Iraqi Kurdistan (also spelled Arbil or Irbil), that there were five explosions. “We are often asked when Yazidis will be ready to return to Shingal [Sinjar], among so many concerns about reconstruction, demining IEDs, and basic needs like water, electricity, housing and employment, the top concern is security. Today a NATO member conducts air strikes in Shingal, targeting Yazidis,” she said.
Paul Curtis Bradley, whose Free Burma Rangers group had helped Yazidis in the past, also wondered “how a NATO ally gets away with this. Continue praying for the Yazidi people in the Shingal (Sinjar) area.”
Nadia Murad, a Yazidi activist who was recently in Washington where she toured the Holocaust Museum and met US Vice-President Mike Pence and Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, said the Turkish air strike brought conflict back to the area. “Today Turkey carried several air strikes in different locations in Sinjar. Sinjar continues to be a war zone. How can Yazidis recover from this genocide or go back home,” she tweeted.
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Khal Ali, a Yazidi official in Sinjar, said four other Yazidis from the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS) were killed, and a second commander wounded. Turkey views the YBS as part of the PKK.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was in Ankara and held talks with Turkey just before the air strikes where he talked about creating a second border crossing to Turkey near Sinjar.
The air strikes are not the first by Turkey. In April 2017, Turkey bombed what it said were PKK positions on the mountain, wounding Kurds. It also targeted a cemetery for PKK fighters. Yet in April of this year, the PKK and its local YBS members said they had withdrawn from Sinjar under pressure from Turkey and Baghdad.
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