“We will never return to Sinjar”

Núria Vilà                   Diyarbakir

Originally this report was published in Catalan at ARA newspaper.

The genocide of yazidis, perpetrated by the Islamic State, constitutes one of the most serious massacres in modern history. Now, three years after the tragedy, few remember that morning on August 3, 2014 in the mountain of Sinjar, in northern Iraq, where hundreds of yazidis were killed or taken as slaves into the hands of the Islamic State, who considers them infidels. Raed -fictitious name-, about 25 years old, has been able to escape for a few hours from the refugee camp where he lives in Midyat -in the Kurdish territory of Mardin, in Turkey, near the Syrian border-, to move to Diyarbakir, where he has enjoyed some hours of freedom outside the camp.

photo by Rodi Said, Reuters

For the massacre’s anniversary -considered in 2016 by the United Nations Security Council as genocide-, “our idea was to organize a demonstration, but the administration of the camp [controlled by the Turkish government] warned us that we had to explain everything we wanted to do. We told them that the Islamic State had killed the yazidis, but they did not give us permission to write the words ‘State’ and ‘Islamic’ together”. Deceived, the yazidis, who share the refugee camp with other Syrian refugees, decided to abandon any commemoration of the massacre. “If they do not allow us to quote our murderers, we will not protest against what happened on August 3, 2014,” explains Raed, that before having to flee to Turkey with the entrance of Daesh -acronym of Islamic State- in Sinjar he worked as a teacher of Arabic language.

August 3, 2014

In the memory of the thousands of yazidi survivors, the events that happened  three years ago will be remembered also for feeling abandoned by their protectors. “I do not want to go into political issues, but when Daesh began to attack us, some yazidis that collaborated with the Kurdish regional government told us they would protect us but they were the first to flee with peshmergas in big cars. And ordinary people were trapped in the midst of chaos and clashes”. Then, the Jihadists executed boys and men who refused to convert to Islam, and about 2,000 women were kidnapped and used as sex slaves of the Jihadists.

From the year 2015 –when Daesh was expelled from Sinjar- until April 2017, 1,500 bodies of yazidis have been found in northern Iraq, and also a minimum of 35 common graves have been discovered in Sinjar, although the numbers can be much higher.

Refugee life

It’s been three years now and the situation of refugees in Turkey has only worsened. Although before Raed lived only with yazidis in a camp in Diyarbakir, where they enjoyed parks, free access to outside and organizations that energized the daily life in the camp, now complains about the current situation in Midyat, where they were reallocated at the end of 2016 by the Turkish government. “In the new camp we do not have trees, although the temperatures are very high now in summer; The camping tents where we sleep are very small, there are no external organizations and we have few permits to leave the camp”. In addition, Raed also regrets some sporadic conflicts that occur with the Syrian refugees in the camp.

A future far from Sinjar

Although the presumed caliphate loses ground in Syria and Iraq for the offensive of the international coalition, according to Raed most of the yazidis living in the camp do not plan to return to the Sinjar mountain. “We will never return to Sinjar. There is a lot of violence, many groups control different areas and there is a lot of instability; We will never feel safe in our region. You can only come back if you are part of a side, but the groups are changing territory and then you are in the middle of problems again”.

The yazidis are a minority religious community with beliefs and practices that exceed thousands of years. Those who have not been killed in recent years by Daesh have moved to different Kurdish territories -about 450,000. Others live in camps in Turkey or Syria and others have been able to reach Europe. This last option is what Raed sees more viable. “The only thing I’m looking for is a place to live quietly and peacefully, away from bombs, murders and blood”.

Now, the yazidi community will have to face the difficult path towards rehabilitation, with the uncertainty and anxiety of not knowing if a new massacre against them will be repeated in the future. Disappointed so many times, Raed no longer expects anything specific from anyone, even though any help could be useful to them. “We do not ask for anything specifically, basically because we have nothing.”