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We pub­lish this text built of tes­ti­mo­ni­als col­lect­ed in the dis­trict of Sin­jar, lib­er­at­ed from ISIS con­trol at the end of 2015.


Yazi­di fight­er in the ruined town of Sin­jar
pho­to ©PYB

The cap­ture by ISIS of these ter­ri­to­ries large­ly occu­pied by Yazidis had led to killings, rapes and abduc­tion of women, while the exo­dus of part of the pop­u­la­tions was facil­i­tat­ed by PKK fight­ers who had come to their res­cue fol­low­ing their appeal for help. The atti­tude of the Perhmer­gas, Ira­ki Kur­dish troops, was sub­ject to con­tro­ver­sy in August 2014, dur­ing mas­sacres com­mit­ed by ISIS.

Since then, the Yazidis and their polit­i­cal and reli­gious lead­ers are attempt­ing both to have their rights acknowl­edged and to obj­tain the lib­er­a­tion of their women and chil­dren, still in the hands of ISIS.

If they have joined forces with oth­er fight­ers work­ing at lib­er­at­ing and pro­tec­tion the region, and along­side the forces of Roja­va, inte­gra­tion and polit­i­cal coex­is­tence are not easy, giv­en the dis­putes of 2014 and earlier.

The mat­ter is a recur­ring one between Ira­ki and Syr­i­an Kur­dish movements.

So why pub­lish a text that will rub salt into the wound instead of anoth­er describ­ing the speech at the UN by a Yazi­di rep­re­sen­ta­tive seek­ing the recog­ni­tion of a genocide?

Sim­ply because the ongo­ing process  of frag­ile polit­i­cal con­struc­tion in Roja­va in a con­text of per­ma­nent war that must take into account the exo­dus of pop­u­la­tions with ongo­ing dis­putes does not allow for the avoid­ance of prob­lems and difficulties.

With its short tes­ti­mo­ni­als, already dat­ed, the authors of this text are aware of pro­vid­ing a Kur­dish ver­sion to the “dis­agree­ments”.

The text is a tiny stone brought to a debate that deserves atten­tion, if only so as not to for­get the killings of 2014, and to talk about the future of a raped minor­i­ty relearn­ing how to sur­vive. The arti­cle was writ­ten in 2015.

And in order to pro­vide oth­er view­points on the mat­ter for once, you will find here a series of use­ful links (some in French, some in English).

Were the Yazidis abandonned?

Sin­jar city was recap­tured from ISIS last Novem­ber 13 by the Kur­dish forces (2015). Despite the lib­er­a­tion of the town in North­ern Irak, the Yazi­di pop­u­la­tion fears for its future. Indeed, this minor­i­ty com­mu­ni­ty is caught in the polit­i­cal con­flicts oppos­ing the var­i­ous Kur­dish move­ments and entities.

Sin­jar City is a field of ruins. The town, lib­er­at­ed last Novem­ber 13 by the Kur­dish forces, tes­ti­fies to the hand to hand com­bats led for months against ISIS. Streets are barred by heaps of rub­ble. Black smoke still streams from burn­ing hous­es. Trucks move back and forth attempt­ing to sal­vage what can still be saved. Fur­ni­ture, blan­kets, fridges, memen­tos hang from them. Some of the for­mer inhab­i­tants are return­ing for the first time to the town after a year away. They take the mea­sure of the dev­as­ta­tion caused by war and by the occu­pa­tion by ISIS since August 2014. “Here stood my broth­er’s house, now there is noth­ing left”,  an afflict­ed man calls out, show­ing a build­ing shat­tered into rem­nants of con­crete blocks. “It was bombed dur­ing the offen­sive, mine is next door”. An adjoin­ing wall was car­ried away by the strike.

At the heart of this sin­is­ter the­ater are pro­gres­sive­ly found numer­ous traces of the Islam­ic State: walls are cov­ered with Dji­hadist graf­fi­ti.  “Mud­jahidins, be patient” one reads. A mosque, lit­tered with Corans in ash­es gives off a smell of sul­phur all the way to the street. A still-iden­ti­fi­able corpse decom­pos­es in the sun on a pile of stones. Some of the hous­es brim with tun­nels, mines and var­i­ous boo­by traps, mak­ing their reclaim­ing long and dan­ger­ous. “Some of the tun­nels are all of 100m long. They used them to pro­tect them­selves from the air strikes, to flee dur­ing the offen­sives or to put togeth­er their home­made bombs” explains Kour­tay, com­mu­ni­ca­tion offi­cer for the Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Par­ty (PKK) in Shengal.


Beri­tan (on the right) is a Kur­dish fight­er from Roja­va, fight­ing along­side the Yazidis in Sin­jar
pho­to ©PYB

The Yazidis all join one camp or anoth­er. Some out of con­vic­tion, oth­ers by default. Bereft of finan­cial, polit­i­cal and mil­i­tary resources required for inde­pen­dence, this minor­i­ty com­mu­ni­ty of North­ern Irak has been dragged into a polit­i­cal con­flict that exceeds its capabilities.

Cohab­i­ta­tion is dif­fi­cult with the pesh­mer­gas. Indeed, the Yazidis who make up half of the army sta­tioned in the dis­trict of Sin­jar, fight along­side Kurds who are most­ly Sunnis.

As their reli­gion does not belong to that of “the book”, some rig­orist Mus­lims among the perhmer­gas call them “dev­il worshippers”.

For their part, the Yazidis remem­ber that Mus­lims have been their main oppres­sors through­out his­to­ry, all eth­nic groups com­bined. Despite their alliance against the men of ISIS, this ancien quar­rel is still very much alive.

Last Novem­ber 20 in the vil­lage of Sowlakh, pesh­mer­gas, Yazidis and Kurds were charged with evac­u­at­ing the inhab­i­tants, Sun­ni Arabs, towards the inte­ri­or of Kur­dis­tan. For the Yazdis, these peo­ple who had lived for some fif­teen months under ISIS had sup­port­ed the Dji­hadists in the mas­sacre of their pop­u­la­tion. From the Kurds’ point of view, if was a ques­tion of help­ing civil­ians, “broth­er” Mus­lims. The dis­agree­ment among the perhmer­gas degen­er­at­ed into a shoot-out.

The skir­mish caused sev­er­al dead and wound­ed on both sides.

It was a mis­un­der­stand­ing between broth­ers. It will have no fur­ther impact, the prob­lem was resolved. The fighers involved are now side by side on a check­point” explains Qas­sim Shesho, com­man­der in chief of the pesh­mer­ga forces in the region. Accord­ing to the local pop­u­la­tion, sim­i­lar inci­dents have hap­pened before.


Aza­di (on the left) next to Kur­dish and Yazidis fight­ers
pho­to ©PYB

Unforgivable treason

Accord­ing to the tes­ti­mo­ny of sev­er­al of the town’s inhab­i­tants, on the eve of the mas­sacre of August 3 2014, the pesh­mer­gas took advan­tage of the night for a pull­back from their posi­tions in the dis­trict of Sin­jar. More numer­ous, but less well armed, they decid­ed to pull back with­out warn­ing the local pop­u­la­tion. Leav­ing behind their mate­r­i­al as well as  3000 Yazidis who worked as secu­ri­ty agents for the PDK. The feel­ing of trea­son has remained very strong in the pop­u­la­tion of Sin­jar. Qasim Shesho con­sid­ers that his pre­de­ces­sor, in charge at the time of the offen­sive, was noth­ing but a “cow­ard”.

I was there on August 3. I did­n’t see any ISIS fight­ers, not even a vehi­cle. I saw the perhmer­gas flee­ing and aban­don­ing their mate­r­i­al, we recu­per­at­ed their weapons and attempt­ed to resist. They did not fight, I think their depar­ture was planned. The Kurds were pulling back, the Yazidis stayed on to fight. In my opin­ion, they want­ed to let them get killed” says a for­mer PDK secu­ri­ty agent.

Not all the Kurds aban­doned the Yazidis to their sin­is­ter fate.

The men of the PKK arrived as rein­force­ment to fight against the Dji­hadists. Thanks to their inter­ven­tion, a human­i­tar­i­an cor­ri­dor was put in place to break the encir­clement of the pop­u­la­tions tak­ing refuge on the moun­tain.  Agit Kalani, com­man­der among the HPG forces, explains the rea­son for their com­ing: “We are here for two rea­sons, to lib­er­ate Sin­jar and to pro­tect its pop­u­la­tion. It is thanks to our inter­ven­tion that the 3000 Yazidis aban­doned by the PDK could be saved and it’s with the Yazidis’ coop­er­a­tion that we were able to open the cor­ri­dor allow­ing the refugees to sur­vive the siege”. An impor­tant part of the Yazidis are very grate­ful for the role played by the PKK in the region. “My three daugh­ters have been fight­ing in the YBS for the past fif­teen months. The men and the women of the PKK came to help us and, if some day, they need our help some­where else, my daugh­ters will go and fight by their side” explains Saeed Has­san, liv­ing in the Sair­dashty refugee camp. How­ev­er, for oth­ers, the grat­i­tude is more mit­i­gat­ed: “We thanks the PKK for help­ing us in defend­ing our peo­ple and our land. But now, they want to stay, we are very grate­ful, but we do not want to be under their con­trol”, says the for­mer PDK secu­ri­ty agent.

Even if the PKK enjoy almost-unan­i­mous grat­i­tude with­in the Yazi­di com­mu­ni­ty, a great num­ber of them still fight among the Peshmergas.

Dersim, regarde sa ville dévastée photo ©PYB

Der­sim look­ing on her dev­as­tat­ed town pho­to ©PYB

Accord­ing to Qasim Shesho “The Yazidis who like the PKK come from poor fam­i­lies and have no edu­ca­tion. Even if for some of them trust was bro­ken with the Kurds, it will come back. Only the Pesh­mer­gas put up with and pro­tect the Yazidis. We have trou­ble trust­ing the Kurds but Pres­i­dent Barzani is the only one who will help us”. How­ev­er it should be recalled that Qasim Shesho leader of the “Êzidîx­an” force (HPE), lost part of his legit­i­ma­cy in front of his men, and his sta­tus as a com­man­der was ques­tioned. He stayed in com­mand thanks to the active sup­port of the PDK. The rift even affects the Yazi­di lead­er’s fam­i­ly. His nephew, Hey­dar Shesho, paid the price of his oppo­si­tion to the PDK. Barzani’s men jailed him for some twen­ty days because of his symathy for the UPK and the PKK.

If many Yazidis fight with­in the ranks of the Per­sh­mer­gas, it is more a ques­tion of prag­ma­tism than of polit­i­cal affin­i­ty. Indeed, con­trary to the PKK, still con­sid­ered a ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion by many Occi­den­tal coun­tries includ­ing France, the PDK has access to impor­tant resources. From a mil­i­tary point of view, the men from the region­al gov­ern­ment of Kur­dis­tan have more men, more equipement but, most of all, more mon­ey. These funds will not only be use­ful for the main­te­nance of the armed forces, they will also be of great use to the Yazidis for the recon­struc­tion of their dev­as­tat­ed vil­lages and town in Sinjar.

Despite their enroll­ment with the pesh­mer­gas, many Yazidis would like to have the means to pro­tect them­selves in order to avoid new occur­rences like those of August 3rd. Com­man­der Agit Kalani of the PKK shares this opin­ion : “It would be good for the Yazidis if they had a cer­tain auton­o­my with­in Ira­ki Kurdistan”.

Many Yazidis fight­ers have joined the ranks of the PKK, of the pesh­mer­gas or of the Shin­gal alliance and con­tin­ue to fight for a bet­ter future. “We are here to pro­tect our close ones and our lands after what hap­pened last year” says Sila­va, a young fight­er with­in the YBS. “We are stronger all the time but we need mil­i­tary and logis­ti­cal sup­port. ISIS has effi­cient tech­niques, lots of fight­ers and heavy weapons” one of her friends explains.

Armed con­flicts are mov­ing away from the out­skirts of Shen­gal. Mis­ery and appre­hen­sion con­cern­ing the Yazidis’ future will be hard­er to dis­lodge. “I hope to obtain a nation­al and inter­na­tion­al pro­tec­tion. Then, I’ll be able to think of a future for my fam­i­ly” explains a Yazi­di refugee. “Only aid from out­side the coun­try can bring us com­fort. We want mil­i­tary sup­port and an inde­pen­dent Yazi­di con­sul to rep­re­sent our community”.

C.T. and P.Y.B.

Trans­la­tion by Renée Lucie Bourges

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