housands of people were trapped for almost two weeks

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.

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.