Yazidis mourn genocide victims after bodies identified

It is believed almost 3,000 Yazidis are still missing.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Yazidi activist Nadia Murad talks to people during her visit to Sinjar, Iraq December 14, 2018. (photo credit: ARI JALAL / REUTERS)
Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Yazidi activist Nadia Murad talks to people during her visit to Sinjar, Iraq December 14, 2018.
(photo credit: ARI JALAL / REUTERS)
Harrowing scenes in Iraq brought back memories of the dark days of the summer of 2014 when Islamic State extremists rounded up members of the Yazidi minority and murdered thousands in what is now recognized as a genocide.
Nobel laureate Nadia Murad was one of the survivors, and now she is mourning the remains of her brother, whose identity was one of those confirmed through DNA testing in the village of Kocho.
The burial ceremony comes more than six years after the genocide occurred because of a lack of international and local investment in helping survivors identify the thousands of missing victims and the victims buried in mass graves. Yazidi survivors continue to live in refugee camps, and some commit suicide due to the continuing struggle.
The US State Department said it stands with Yazidis who are grieving for their community members massacred by ISIS six years ago. Along with US support, the UN in Iraq “worked with the Iraqi government to return the remains of 104 Yazidis to Kocho, Sinjar [District] to be laid to rest,” it said.
Kocho was one of the villages captured by ISIS in August 2014 during an offensive near Sinjar Mountain in northern Iraq. This area is composed of plains and desert below a long mountain that rises from the parched earth. The mountain forms a kind of long shank pointing at Syria.
ISIS was able to roll into this area in August 2014 after having captured the city of Mosul in June 2014, expelling its minorities, particularly targeting Christians and Shi’ites.
ISIS based its ideology on a religious genocidal worldview, replacing the Nazi race theories that led to the Holocaust with extremist religious views that targeted all non-Sunni Muslims for expulsion, ethnic cleansing or genocide. It also murdered Sunnis, including Bedouin tribes, Kurds and others. Its goal was a landscape of only ISIS supporters.
Yazidis were singled out for some of the worst brutality, including the selling of women into slavery for mass rape. Children were also sold, and some are still being found alive in camps where ISIS supporters and others live in Syria.
It is believed that almost 3,000 Yazidis are still missing. Similar to the Holocaust, the mass murder of Yazidis led to thousands of survivors, such as Murad, who still hold onto the scars and horrors they experienced. Bodies of Yazidis dumped in mass graves, much like the Einsatzgruppen did to Jews in Eastern Europe, remain to be dug up and identified.
The Yazidis still live in internally displaced persons camps in northern Iraq, and tens of thousands have fled to other places, with some making a difficult journey to Europe. To get to Europe, they often had to go through Turkey, a country full of former ISIS members and supporters and the financial hub of ISIS today. Yazidis continued to face persecution on the way to Europe via Greek camps, often at the hands of Islamist extremists who hate them.
YAZIDI IS an ancient and complex religion, one of many that used to be more common in the Middle East before the recent genocidal extermination. Yazidis, like Druze, Mandaeans, Shabaks, Jews, Christians, Kurds, Assyrians, Syriacs, Kekei and many other groups, have been massacred and targeted in the region.
ISIS also targeted Shi’ites, murdering around 1,500 Shi’ite cadets at Camp Speicher in June 2014, often through methodical shooting and beheading.
A US-led coalition intervened to help stop the genocide in August 2014, but by then it was too late for many. Around 500,000 fled to Syria and northern Iraq’s Kurdish region, many through a corridor carved out by the People’s Protection Units (YPG). The YPG became partners of the US in Syria and formed the Syrian Democratic Forces, which liberated Raqqa from ISIS in 2017.
Turkey, where many ISIS members came from, claims the SDF are “terrorists.” It often bombs Sinjar, the same area where the genocide took place, killing Yazidi survivors who Ankara claims are members of the “PKK,” the Kurdish Worker’s Party, which Turkey views as a terrorist group.
Ankara’s real goal may be to make sure Yazidis never return, Turkey has often threatened a military operation to occupy Sinjar the way it did in Afrin in northwest Syria, a Kurdish area it ethnically cleansed in 2018.
IRAQ HAS attempted to mark the genocide and care for the victims and also memorialize them. UNITAD, the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Daesh in Iraq, has helped identify the remains. An official ceremony took place in Baghdad prior to the remains being moved to Kocho.
According to reports, some 17 mass graves have been exhumed. There are more than 30 in Iraq holding the bodies of thousands of people. A representative of the Yazidi community of Armenia attended the Baghdad ceremony. Like Jews and Yazidis, Armenians were subjected to genocide.
In 2015, I went to northern Iraq and traveled to the Yazidi region of Sinjar when some of the first mass graves had been discovered. At the time, the remains of the genocide were visible, including clothing discarded by people who fled ISIS.
The mass graves were not well protected, and the remains were harmed by the elements, leaving body parts, pieces of clothing and ID cards of the victims strewn about. There was almost no support to help document the remains in the first years after the mass graves were discovered.
Some work to identify victims increased in 2018. When I went to Dohuk, in Iraqi Kurdistan, in 2019, there were still thousands of people missing, and their files needed more financial investment to be digitized and thoroughly investigated. Survivors were still living in tents.
With limited resources and support, some exhuming of graves happened in 2020, and DNA testing is taking place. The result is the beginning of the burials and identification of victims more than six years after the genocide.