Social media campaign aims for awareness on 4th anniversary of Yazidi genocide

Activists on social media hope to raise awareness for thousands of missing people kidnapped by ISIS in 2014, hold events around the world and online

A displaced woman from the minority Yazidi sect, who was kidnapped by Islamic State militants of Tal Afar but managed to flee, reacts in Duhok province, northern Iraq, November 24, 2016.  (photo credit: ARI JALAL / REUTERS)
A displaced woman from the minority Yazidi sect, who was kidnapped by Islamic State militants of Tal Afar but managed to flee, reacts in Duhok province, northern Iraq, November 24, 2016.
(photo credit: ARI JALAL / REUTERS)
A large online campaign to remind people about the ISIS genocide of the Yazidi minority in Iraq kicked off this week. It includes personal testimony from people raped and kidnapped, as well as photos from August 2014 and descriptions of people who are still missing.

“The Islamic State started its attack on Shingal (Yazidi area) on the 3rd of August 2014. Thousands of people lost their lives and many women were kidnapped. These women were brutally raped and sold on streets as sex slaves,” tweeted an account for Kurdish students in the UK on August 1. It included the hashtag #NeverforgetShengal. It is part of a large campaign around the world by Yazidi and other activists raising awareness for the fourth anniversary of attacks by ISIS the UN and other groups have labeled genocidal.
Nadia Murad, a Yazidi survivor, was recently in the United States where she met US Vice-President Mike Pence, Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and also visited the Holocaust Museum. She wrote that the images of the Shoah reminded her of the suffering of Yazidis. She has been seeking to encourage religious freedom and help for minorities as well as pushing for investigations of ISIS crimes.

ISIS conquered a swath of northern Iraq in the summer of 2014, capturing Mosul in June and other major, mostly Sunni Arab, cities. It expelled Shi’ites from Tel Afar and massacred thousands of other Shi’ites near Mosul and at Camp Speicher. It also expelled all the Christians of Nineveh plains around Mosul, an area Christians had lived in for almost 2,000 years. On August 3 it attacked the Yazidi areas near Mount Sinjar and attacked the Kurdish region. On August 7 US President Barack Obama ordered airstrikes to stop the ongoing genocide. By then around 10,000 Yazidis had been systematically kidnapped and murdered. Many were buried in around 30 mass graves.
Since 2014 Yazidis and their supporters have tried to raise awareness for their suffering, often with their pleas falling on deaf ears. Although media reported widely on the salacious details of “sex slavery” no resources were invested by the International Coalition to find the victims. In addition around 350,000 Yazidis remain displaced, unable to return to their homes which were blown up and their villages which were laced by tunnels and IEDs by ISIS. Sinjar city lacks basic resources. While the international community and Iraq have invested in rebuilding Mosul, sources say almost nothing has gone to Yazidi areas. The March Inspector General report at the US Department of Defense says only $55 million has been invested in areas where there are religious and ethnic minorities, “including Christians, Yazidis and Sunnis in northern Iraq.”

Another account puts photos of Yazidis fleeing the ISIS attacks in ISIS, when hundreds of thousands made their way in the hot summer towards the protection of Mount Sinjar and eventual safety in Syria. “Thousands of Yazidis remain missing to this day or in ISIS captivity,” writes one activist, calling on the US Vice-President to raise awareness for “#YazidiGenocide.” An account tweeting on behalf of “Yazidis in France,” writes “no, the Yazidis are not doomed to disappear.”
The activists encourage ask to participate. “Change your profile picture until August 3,” one writes, with an image showing women fleeing ISIS in 2014. Supporters have been tweeting in Arabic as well. One man writes that the perpetrators of the genocide are still in Iraq, they say the perpetrators returned to their homes while the victims are in IDP camps.  Others have followed up the campaign in German, Kurdish and other languages.
The campaign effectively uses images and quotes, many of them shocking. One account with 24,000 followers shares an image of a young woman crying. “He (ISIS terrorist) tied me up and put me at the end of his prayer rug. When he was finished praying he would untie me and rape me,” the account of a 12 year old victim. Those tweeting are often angry that nothing has been done to bring the perpetrators to justice. Even though 40,000 ISIS members have died in battle and Iraq has sentenced hundreds to death, there has been no specific attempt to track down those who carried out the genocide. “Four years later we have not made good on any of these promises [to bring people to justice].” Another man writes “1000s of yazidis are still lost and no any effort to search for them.” According to Murad Yazidi, one of the activists, 3,201 people are still missing. A trickle of survivors are still being found. Several children were found in Syria and a man was found in Turkey who was apparently kidnapped when he was in his teens.

Images posted don’t only show victims and photos of people fleeing, some of them also show Yazidi religious sites, such as the cone-shaped temples of the faithful. ISIS blew up any Yazidi sites they captured, including cemeteries. Some of them have been rebuilt in areas that were liberated since 2015. A man who goes by the handle Billy Biketruck posted a photo with Yazidi youth in the holy site of Lalish in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. The area never fell to ISIS and many sought shelter there in 2014. “Lovely kids, just like my kids except their stories would keep you awake at night. We remember what ISIS did in 2014, slaughter, kidnap, enslave, rape, torture,” he writes.
As the activists seek to raise awareness, Iraq is still under major threats from ISIS. The government has launched a three phased campaign called “revenge of martyrs” to track down ISIS cells in three governorates north of Baghdad. But attacks appear to come everyday, with assassinations of local police, ISIS setting up fake checkpoints and carrying out hit and run raids. With each victory that Iraq declares, it appears ISIS pops up somewhere else. Tensions are also running high with local Sunni tribal members clashing with Shi’ite militias and widespread protests months after the elections with Baghdad unable to form a government.
Commemorations of the genocide will take place online as well as in different places around the world. In Sweden Yazda, an organization supporting Yazidis, will host an event on August 3. There will also be ceremonies in Germany, Australia, New York City and Baghdad.