Islamic State committed an ethnic massacre in Sinjar

The Islamic State committed an ethnic massacre in Sinjar two years ago. They murdered thousands of Yazidis in northwestern Iraq. The UN Human Rights Council recognized this genocide in June. We return to the region, now liberated, where the traces of barbarism remain.

SILENCE. The silence of the empty streets. The silence of lifeless houses and schools without children. The silence of the mass graves that bear witness to the barbarism that Sinjar has suffered before the eyes of a world that is as interconnected as it is powerless against the so-called Islamic State (ISIS). There is only silence and destruction in this burned land to which its inhabitants do not want to return. The memories are too harsh, too recent.

Sinjar, in northwestern Iraq, is the ancestral homeland of the Yazidis, a minority that has become an exponent of ISIS’s cruelty. It is an ethno-religious group, with Kurdish culture and speech, whose creed dates back to Zoroastrianism. Since the Ottoman era they have been victims of popular prejudice that considers them worshipers of the devil. They worship the fallen angel that other faiths call Lucifer or Satan. The followers of this syncretic and secretive faith, with pre-Islamic roots, number around half a million, half of them in Iraq and the rest distributed among Syria, Turkey and the Caucasus.

Sinjar was besieged by jihadists in 2014 and was freed from her barbarism at the end of 2015. .
Sinjar, or Shingal in Kurdish, is the name of its sacred mountain, the city at the foot of its southern slope, and the region dotted with villages that stretches around it. Some 300,000 people lived there, mostly Yazidis , but also entrenched Sunnis and Turkmen who had taken refuge from the jihadist advance. Until August 3, 2014.

An emblem of the Islamic State, still present on the walls of a city reduced to rubble. Diego Ibarra Sanchez

That day, the army of Islamist fanatics that shortly before had taken control of Mosul , Iraq’s third largest city, advanced on that corner of the country close to Syria. The forces in charge of protecting the area and its inhabitants, the Kurdish Peshmerga, withdrew towards fronts of greater strategic value for the Government of the Autonomous Region of Kurdistan. A massacre ensued.

The attackers, encouraged by their apocalyptic interpretation of Sunni Islam, entered the city of Sinjar with blood and fire. Then, they persecuted those who managed to escape and take refuge in the mountains. They were offered an ultimatum: convert to the invaders’ creed or die. Many, especially the oldest, did not even have an alternative. Hundreds were killed. The women, after being beaten and raped, were given away or sold as sexual slaves. The kids, forcibly enlisted and used as cannon fodder.

Portrait of Busra, a 16-year-old local Yazidi woman. She was captured by ISIS and sold as a sex slave. Diego Ibarra Sanchez

“We are still compiling the figures of the genocide,” says Ali Alkhayat of the NGO Yazda, dedicated to keeping Yazidi culture alive. They have found evidence that ISIS killed some 2,000 members of that community in the first few days. To them are added two groups of 280 and 740 men about whom there are only indirect testimonies of their death, but of whom there has been no further news. Another 400 people, mostly children and the elderly, died in flight due to lack of water or medicine.

Last December, the Peshmerga, with the help of US aviation and a symbolic participation of Yazidi militiamen, managed to expel ISIS from Sinjar . For months, the soldiers have worked to deactivate the mines that the jihadists left behind in their retreat. Even so, the inhabitants are reluctant to return.

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