On Yazidi genocide anniversary, failure to support survivors decried

It has been six years since the genocide began, but little has been done for the hundreds of thousands of survivors.

A general view of Sharya camp near Dohuk, Iraq July 3, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/ARI JALAL)
A general view of Sharya camp near Dohuk, Iraq July 3, 2020
(photo credit: REUTERS/ARI JALAL)

On August 3, 2014, thousands of Islamic State members invaded the Sinjar area in northern Iraq, surrounding communities where the Yazidi minority lives. After years of terrorist attacks by Islamist extremists against Yazidis, ISIS sought to put into action a planned genocide against the non-Muslim minority.

They kidnapped and sold into slavery thousands of women and children and systematically murdered thousands of men and elderly women, whose bodies they dumped into mass graves.

It has been six years 
since the genocide but little has been done for the hundreds of thousands of survivors.
Much like after the Holocaust, when the international community did almost nothing to revive and invest in destroyed Jewish communities throughout Europe, often taking half a century to even build Holocaust memorials, the Yazidis have been abandoned and ignored.
While money is invested to help revive the city of Mosul, where ISIS once ruled, Sinjar is still festooned with checkpoints, militias and ruins. Most mass graves, of which there are some 40 containing Yazidi bodies, have not been fully documented by international professionals and forensically cataloged.
Yazidi genocide survivor Nadia Murad and Amal Clooney, a Lebanese-British attorney who specializes in international law and human-rights abuses, have signed a letter commemorating the genocide and calling for more to be done. They note that 2,800 women and children remain missing.
According to other reports, some of those women and children have been trafficked to Turkey and to Turkish-occupied Idlib in Syria, where Islamist extremist groups backed by Turkey hold slaves.
In Sinjar, “over 120,000 Yazidis who have returned still lack access to basic services and infrastructure,” notes the Murad and Clooney statement, published by the NGO Nadia’s Initiative. Yazidi communities have basic needs such as clean water and educational facilities.
Important work is being done by disparate voices who have remained committed to shedding light on Yazidi suffering and commemorating the genocide. Nadine Maenza of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom; Murad Ismael, co-founder of the group Yazda; and Dr. Amy Austin Holmes and Ewelina Ochab are participating on a panel of the Free Yazidi Foundation regarding security threats to Yazidis.
This is one of many panels and events to be held on August 3 to commemorate the genocide. Horrifying videos posted online that show ISIS gunmen gunning down Yazidis, while grinning, laughing and celebrating, are being posted online to show the face of mass murder that was behind the genocide.
THE UN has recognized the genocide against Yazidis, and Murad received the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize. However, the international community does almost nothing to bring ISIS genocide criminals to justice.
Those who tortured a generation of women and girls deserve to see those who are guilty punished for their crimes, according to the letter, which adds: “Only a handful of European countries have taken the lead in holding their foreign nationals accountable.”
More than 5,000 Europeans joined ISIS, and many engaged in some of the worst abuses of Yazidis. For instance, one German woman was accused of shackling a Yazidi child and letting her die outside. Key European members of ISIS are accused of harming Yazidis.
Many Europeans who joined ISIS, such as the Dutch-born Islamic convert and husband of the British teenager Shamima Begum, appear to have treated Syria and Iraq like a kind of colony, where they saw locals as subhuman, to be enslaved and subjected to genocide.
For German members of the jihadist organization, the extermination of minorities has direct parallels with the Holocaust; the method of killing of Yazidis was eerily similar to how Jews were murdered by the Einsatzgruppen.
It is unclear if the hundreds of Germans who joined ISIS were inspired by the Nazi role in murdering Jews or if they adopted the Islamist worldview that informed ISIS ideology as an excuse to justify their new crimes. Germany is one of the few countries that have tried to put several of its citizens on trial for the genocide.
ISIS is thought to have received support from 40,000 foreign fighters from 110 countries, the Murad-Clooney letter notes. They call on states to assume responsibility for their citizens and prosecute them.
Instead, many countries have sought to prevent their ISIS citizens from returning and demand they remain in Syria, where several thousand ISIS members are held by the Syrian Democratic Forces.
ISIS crimes are often in the news. Two members of the ISIS European leadership known as the “Beatles” may be brought for trial in the US if the US agrees to take the death penalty off the table for them. Recent news reports note they were involved not only in beheadings but also in holding hostage Kayla Mueller and James Foley.

The crimes committed in 2014 are still ongoing. Not only are hundreds of thousands of Yazidis still in refugee camps and lacking basic support, many of the survivors do not receive psychological counseling either. In addition, Yazidis continue to be ethnically cleansed in Turkish-occupied Afrin in northern Syria, where Ankara-backed Syrian rebel extremists abduct them and destroy their villages.
ANOTHER ONGOING tragedy affecting Yazidi survivors is the fate of children who were abducted from their parents and traded as slaves by ISIS. After many years of being held by the terrorist group – with some still being rescued from Al-Hol camp where ISIS members live openly in Syria – they receive almost no support. There are 2,000 Yazidi children who have been “abandoned,” according to a new report by Amnesty International. The report notes that they need physical and mental-health support.
In a world that is still trying to come to grips with the long-term impact of slavery in the US, which ended in the 1860s – and which seeks to understand what the Holocaust did to people two or three generations after the horrors of Auschwitz – the Yazidi children are a living example of survivors of genocide and slavery who receive little support.
It illustrates that despite much of the lip service in the West about recognizing genocide and slavery, when it comes to current survivors, little is done today.
Nevertheless, many are trying to highlight the story of the genocide to keep its memory current. Another panel at the Free Yazidi Foundation includes journalists Brenda Stoter Boscolo and Wladimir Van Wilgenburg, who will speak about telling the Yazidis’ story in a fair and non-exploitative way.
The attempt by organizations and activists to push for more support amid years of complacency among the international community continues almost half a decade since these efforts began. The anti-ISIS coalition, made up of some 70 nations and organizations, continues to fight ISIS but does little for the survivors.
Meanwhile, the uncertainty over stability in northern Iraq and Syria, continued ISIS threats and Turkey’s bombing of areas where Yazidis live, such as Sinjar, have spread fear that six years after the invasion of August 3, 2014, attacks could begin again on the vulnerable minority.
In addition, women and children who were enslaved continue to be found, making the genocide not a living memory, but an ongoing horror for families awaiting the possible return of loved ones.