Even those who made it to safety remain traumatized. Thousands of people were trapped for almost two weeks without food on Mount Sinjar before Syrian Kurdish militiamen opened a safe corridor to get them out and the Peshmerga sent helicopters with food and medicine that evacuated those most in need. Some, like Sheikh Murad Pishi Rashu and his family, saw one of his sons die of dehydration along the way, if not worse.
“From a nearby hill I observed with binoculars how four trucks full of people arrived. There were over 300 people. They lowered them and forced them to kneel before murdering them in cold blood. When the bodies lay on the ground, they were shot in the head with a coup de grâce,” Adil, one of those Yazidis who was saved by abandoning everything and taking the mountain path, told Diego Ibarra Sánchez, the author of the photos that accompany this report. In that place where Adil saw his neighbors murdered there is now an improvised graveyard: five mounds of earth surrounded by barbed wire. “Respect the fence. Victims have the right to rest in peace,” reads a poster. Yazda has located 35 mass graves like this around Sinjar.
A Kurdish Peshmerga patrol who liberated Sinjar from ISIS terror in December 2015 with the help of US aircraft; next to it, a mass grave in Hardan (Sinjar). Diego Ibarra Sanchez
The living would also like to rest, but they cannot. Not all the disappeared have been found, nor have all the bodies been identified. Rare is the family that is not still looking for a loved one. Of the 4,000 enslaved women and girls, some as young as nine years old, Yazda has counted the return of 2,070. A few managed to escape from their captors; others have been bought by their families through intermediaries; fewer were released during military operations. And there were those who could not bear the horror and committed suicide, according to the survivors’ account.
“Women continue to be sexually enslaved and children indoctrinated and used in combat,” according to the UN.
The UN Human Rights Council, which in June concluded that “ISIS has committed genocide against the Yazidis”, estimates that “at least 3,200” women and children from that minority remain captive. According to his research, “most of it is in Syria, where women continue to be sexually enslaved and children indoctrinated, trained and used in combat.”
One of the few Yazidi families still living in the area. 50,000 people fled. Diego Ibarra Sanchez
In an effort to make their cause visible, Yazda has managed to get the media lawyer Amal Clooney to agree to represent Nadia Murad, a young survivor who has testified to the harassment she suffered at the hands of ISIS. “We need to find legal avenues to prosecute those responsible for the crimes and Amal can push the case in the right direction,” explains Jameel Chomer, the organization’s director of operations.
For now, the Yazidis are asking for help to be accepted as refugees in safe countries. It is humanly understandable. But if they leave Sinjar, it will be a triumph for hardliners who deny the diversity of a mosaic country of ethnicities and confessions.