Amnesty International recently released a report “Ethnic Cleansing On A Historic Scale: Islamic State’s Systematic Targeting of Minorities In Northern Iraq,” which added new detail to the mass killings and imprisonment of Yazidis in Iraq’s Ninewa province. The Islamic State (IS) attacked the Sinjar area early on the morning of August 3, 2014. The Kurdish peshmerga withdrew without telling the local Yazidis leaving them to fend for themselves. Immediately after the fall of the area there were stories that IS was carrying out massacres and kidnapping women. Amnesty’s paper has documented many of these murders and abductions, which highlight the Islamic State’s attempt to wipe out the Yazidis of northern Iraq.
As soon as the Islamic State entered the Sinjar area on August 3 they began carrying out mass murders. Amnesty interviewed survivors and witnesses to massacres at Qiniyah, Qahtanya, Solagh, and Kojo. In each village the routine was the same pointing to the insurgents following a coordinated plan for how they were going to wipe out the Yazidis. IS fighters would pull up in vehicles, divide the men from the women and girls, and then shoot the males. In Solagh they took the women and children away and then killed 20 men. Qiniyah took in refugees who were fleeing the town of Tal Qasab who were heading for Mount Sinjar. Militants caught them, carried off the women, and then killed 85-90 men. IS fighters were also able to catch up with people trying to get to Mount Sinjar at the crossroads between Qahtanya and Sinjar. The militants opened fire on the fleeing crowds before they were subdued. Afterward 50-60 men were executed. Finally on August 15 the town of Kojo fell and 90 more were shot. There the males were taken to different locations and killed at different times. Many more men and boys were captured and placed in unknown locations in Ninewa province. It was originally believed that these people were shot as well, but then on August 21, IS released a video showing Yazidi men converting to Islam raising hope that some of these disappeared are still alive. It’s likely that a lot more people have been killed in the weeks since Sinjar was taken. Their fate will not be known until more people are able to escape from IS controlled territory or the insurgents are pushed out of the area.
As the Yazidi men were being murdered the women and girls were being taken to several locations throughout the province. Some were placed in Badush Prison outside of Mosul, others to public buildings in Tal Afar, and still more to Mosul, Biaj and west of Tal Afar. One report Amnesty heard had up to 2,000 women being held at the village west of Tal Afar. Some still posses cell phones and are in contact with their families. The Telegraph for example, interviewed the family of a 17 year old Yazidi girl being held with 40 others in a town south of Mosul who was able to keep her phone. She claimed that IS fighters were raping their prisoners. The Washington Post reported that Yazidi women were being forced to convert to Islam and some were married off to insurgents. There have been other stories that females were being sold as well, but Amnesty could not confirm them. They talked with families who said their relatives had not been turned into slaves, but were afraid that women who were taken away were. Some women who escaped the militants said that they were told if they did not marry IS men they would be sold. Again, this points to a systematic policy by the Islamic State to break up families, enslave, convert and sexually abuse Yazidi females. This is another move to destroy the community. It’s unknown how many women are being held and if they will ever be able to escape their current circumstances.
In the territory captured by the Islamic State in central and northern Iraq the Yazidis are the only ones going through such a calculated campaign to kill and imprison them. Other minorities like Christians have been told to convert to Islam as well, but have not faced the massacres and the taking of their women. Shiites have been killed too, but not in such a systematic fashion. The Islamic State hates Shiites and Christians, but Yazidis seem to be placed in a completely different category. They are considered devil worshipers, which is probably the reason why they are going through such harsh treatment. That is leading to their mass murder and abduction in Ninewa. It is no surprise then that many from the community who escaped do not want to return to their homes because they feel like they will never be safe again. Yazidis have gone through years of terrorist attacks, but the wholesale capture of land is leading to the destruction and displacement of much of the community, which may never be able to recover. The result is that Iraq is losing part of its great diversity.
Amnesty International, “Ethnic Cleansing On A Historic Scale: Islamic State’s Systematic Targeting of Minorities In Northern Iraq,” 9/2/14
Morris, Loveday, “Islamic State seizes town of Sinjar, pushing out Kurds and sending Yazidis fleeing,” Washington Post, 8/3/14
Sly, Liz, “In Iraq, captured Yazidi women fear the Islamic State will force them to wed,” Washington Post, 8/16/14
Squires, Nick, “Yazidi girl tells of horrific ordeal as Isil sex slave,” Telegraph, 9/7/14