Yazidis continue to face unknown future with cultural heritage under unprecedented threat
The future of the Yazidis remains under critical threat. Sinjar, known to the Yazidis as the core of their ancestral homeland, continues to be in turmoil against the backdrop of complex geopolitics, hindering the chances of a comprehensive community recovery from genocide. In August
2014, Sinjar was the target of a systematic extermination of community and identity by the so-called Islamic State (ISIS), resulting in the killing and enslaving of tens of thousands of men, women, and children.
Almost 3,000 are still held captive. The Yazidi people and the international community have acknowledged this atrocious ongoing crime against humanity as an act of genocide.
Today, five years since genocide, the security situation of this ancestral homeland remains fragile, with ongoing attempts by ISIS to re-infiltrate and cause harm, amidst the presence of multiple security players.
Most recently, two Yazidi civilians were killed in northeastern Sinjar on July 23 by an ISIS squad. The local administration of the district has not been re-established since the 2017 vacuum of state institutional presence. Negotiations on disputed areas, including Sinjar, between the Iraqi Central Government and Kurdistan Regional Government have finally seen the re-opening of Dohuk-Sinjar and Dohuk-Bashiqa main roads.
However, critical administrative and security issues instrumental to the stabilization of Sinjar remain unresolved.
Community healing and collective rebuilding is deeply challenged by a recent past of invasive identity annihilation. ISIS not only systematically targeted Yazidis, not only by breaking down their personal sense of identity and sense of belonging, but also by committing a mass-scale cultural genocide and obliterating many Yazidi religious and heritage sites.
“We continue to learn more of the heinous forced-conversion practices by the so-called Islamic State. Many children whom we were able to rescue have come back completely rejecting their families and their identity.
Some have even called their parents ‘devil worshippers,’” explains Yazda President, Haider Elias. “Today, we ask the international community to really support us in either staying in our homeland or leaving to safe host countries.”
According to the Department of Yazidi Affairs in the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs in the Kurdistan Regional Government, 68 Yazidi sites were destroyed by the so-called Islamic State. RASHID International examined satellite imagery of 24 sites, 16 sites in the Bahzani/Bashiqa area and 8 in the Sinjar area of Iraq.
To highlight the significance of the culture-targeting genocidal tactics, Yazda today announces the publication of a co-authored report with RASHID International, titled Destroying the soul of the Yazidis: Cultural heritage destruction during the Islamic State’s genocide against the Yazidis. The newly-released investigative report begins with a moving preface written by His Holiness Baba Sheikh, the Spiritual Leader of the Yazidi faith.
International law clearly identifies the destruction of religious and cultural sites as a war crime and a crime against humanity. This new report calls on the International Criminal Court (ICC) and national prosecutors in Iraq to open investigations and begin to inspect the decimated sites identified to-date.
“There is strong evidence of the systematic, intentional destruction of tangible cultural heritage by the Islamic State, coupled with the systematic attempt to destroy Yazidi traditions, memories, customs and other forms of intangible cultural heritage through a coordinated policy of murder, slavery, sexual exploitation, and brainwashing of children,” explains Roger Matthews, President of RASHID International.
Historic and sacred places of worship are an essential dimension of the Yazidi identity. The destruction of Yazidi cultural heritage significantly threatens the community’s survival. Safeguarding these cultural assets is vital to enabling the Yazidi people to return to a safe and peaceful life in Iraq and Syria.
“The road to justice is a long one and we welcome all local and international efforts to achieve a sustained peace. While we have received state and institutional recognition for our genocide and the significant hardships borne by our people, the future of the Yazidi people remains uncertain in the face of many political, security, and economic challenges in Yazidi areas, especially Sinjar. We must now look towards the building of a prosperous and safe homeland where Yazidis, Christians, and other persecuted communities can live in their land with dignity,” insists Yazda Executive Director, Murad Ismael.
The Iraqi government and international community must act now with urgency to address three essential pillars of stability – administration, security, and reconstruction – in order to facilitate safe and voluntarily return of more than 80 percent of the Sinjar displaced population.
On the occasion of the fifth anniversary of genocide, Yazda calls upon the Iraqi Central Government, the Kurdistan Regional Government and all international actors to:
1. Immediately resolve without delay the issue of a dual local administration in Sinjar, in coordination with the Yazidi community;
2. Restore and maintain security in Sinjar by increasing the size of competent local security forces and addressing the serious issues related to the many non-state armed groups still operating in the region;
3. Ensure smooth access to and from Sinjar, including the re-opening of roads between Duhok and Sinjar, to strengthen the efforts of non-governmental organizations, humanitarian organizations, and other actors seeking to provide aid, medicine, livelihood support, and / or reconstruction activities;
4. Accelerate reconstruction efforts in Sinjar, by including Yazidi representatives – importantly, Yazidi women – in all decision-making processes that are determining the future chances of survival of the community at large;
5. Urgently ensure the provision of basic services to Sinjar, including electricity, water, healthcare and education;
6. Protect, preserve and exhume mass graves in Sinjar to allow families of victims to bury their loved ones properly and achieve closure, while also ensuring comprehensive safeguarding and documentation of all evidence of genocide;
7. Take all necessary steps to hold those responsible accountable for the crimes committed against the Yazidis and other minority groups. This includes the necessary forms of justice against citizens of all countries who joined the ISIS and participated in committing these crimes, while pursuing a discourse that openly acknowledges the nature of the Yazidi Genocide;
8. Enact legislation nationally and internationally with clearer definitions for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide;
9. Ensure an internationally-coordinated cooperation effort across all investigations of crimes against the Yazidis; and
10. Once retributive justice is served, design reconciliation programs in consultation with the Yazidi community and thoroughly implement these in Sinjar to ensure peaceful cohabitation between different groups.